ADJOURNMENT DEBATE ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT

My adjournment matter tonight is for the Minister for Local Government and concerns the flawed Local Government Act 1989 description of the role of councillors and its problematic consequences for the relationships between councillors and the council administration. As I told the house earlier this week, a survey conducted by Lisa Mahood of Markstone consulting revealed that 80 per cent of councillors across the state are concerned about their relationships with council administration. There is clearly a structural problem in local government relating to the relationships between councillors and their CEOs and officers. Presently the role of councillors is unfairly limited to making decisions as a member of the council within the chamber, legally entitling them to only access information associated with those decisions.

The situation is clearly inadequate, given that the vast majority of council decisions are made outside the chamber through delegated authority. This prevents councillors from properly fulfilling their role in assisting residents and investigating issues of their concern that are not put before the council in the chamber by the CEO. The act’s description allows CEOs to manipulate information flow to councillors, negating their capacity to properly serve their function as democratically elected representatives of the municipality. A significant proportion of Councillors report that their organisations run their own agendas, with defensive directors and managers often unable or unwilling to answer questions and be held accountable. It should be of no surprise that, given this limiting description in the act, there is a clearly dysfunctional system in which councillors do not trust their own organisations.

Councils should be governed at a similar standard to other organisations, like hospitals, water boards, statutory corporations and public and private companies, where the members of governing bodies are required by law to understand the operations of their organisations. Peculiarly, in local government, CEOs are able to routinely refuse to provide operational information to their councillors, creating an evident structural imbalance in their governance.  The action I seek is for the minister to review the Local Government Act 1989 to ensure that CEOs cannot refuse to provide information to councillors unless their intended purpose is improper and to expand the representative role of councillors beyond the confines of the chamber, like all the other states of Australia.  

20 June 2019