NEW laws introduced by the Labor state government to strengthen council governance and crack down on councillors doing the wrong thing are now in force.
Under amendments to the Local Government Act passed last year, councils now have greater authority to deal with councillor misconduct internally – including improved procedures to address alleged code of conduct breaches.
The changes provide a clear process for dealing with misconduct and empower councils and the Minister for Local Government to take action against councillors doing the wrong thing.
Allegations of misconduct and serious misconduct will be dealt with by independent Councillor Conduct Panels, which will have the power to suspend councillors for up to six months.
“The majority of councillors do the right thing, but in the rare cases when one bad apple does the wrong thing it is important that we have quick and robust processes in place to deal with misconduct,” Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins said.
In extreme cases of poor behaviour, the Minister can now also recommend a councillor be stood down if the councillor has been accused of serious or gross misconduct and a panel or VCAT hearing is pending, the councillor’s behaviour represents a threat to health and safety, is preventing council from performing its functions, or is inconsistent with the role of councillor or a municipal monitor recommends the Minister stand the councillor down.
Councillors still have a right of appeal to VCAT but can no longer bypass Councillor Conduct Panels and have hearings moved to VCAT, before a final decision is made.