Be on your best behaviour: New integrity framework now in force
On 17 November 2022, several of the most noteworthy elements of the Statutes Amendment (Local Government Review) Act 2021 commenced operation. The result is that, effective immediately, all council members and council employees are subject to new provisions concerning conduct and integrity.
For council members, the situation is a mix of old and new. While there is certainly a raft of new terminology to learn, many concepts should be familiar.
It is still the case that the State Government promulgates enforceable conduct standards (now called ‘Behavioural Standards’ rather than a ‘Code of Conduct’) for council members, and it is still the case that councils must develop procedures for dealing with breaches of those standards (such procedures now being called ‘Behavioural Management Policies’ — noting there is an LGA model which applies for all councils for the next 12 months, or until they adopt their own policy). While councils may supplement the State-imposed conduct standards with further requirements by way of ‘Behavioural Support Policies’, this too is not entirely new — many readers will recall that councils prepared their own codes of conduct prior to 2013.
Further, while the previous ‘three’ categories of conflict of interest have now been reduced to two, the legal tests and concepts with respect to declaring and dealing with conflicts of interest are in some cases carried over into the new scheme and in others, revised.
Significant mechanisms which are entirely new include powers to issue work health and safety directions to council members, and for council members subject to an intervention order to be suspended in certain cases. The creation of the Behavioural Standards Panel is also a significant new inclusion, although it is necessary to note that councils and the Ombudsman will continue to play a substantial role in investigating council member behaviour and integrity, as was already the case under the old provisions.
Councils should also note a variety of important obligations regarding the completion of primary and ordinary returns, and mandatory training, which now lead to suspensions from office if not completed in accordance with statutory deadlines.
For council employee behaviour, the most significant change is the removal of any State-imposed code of conduct and the creation of an express power by which a council may develop its own ‘Employee Behavioural Standards’. This again harkens back to the pre-2013 situation, when councils were required to adopt employee codes of conduct. However, an important distinction is that the adoption of ‘Employee Behavioural Standards’ is optional, not compulsory.
Norman Waterhouse has been closely involved in all aspects of the rollout of the Statutes Amendment (Local Government Review) Act 2021. We have provided extensive advice and training regarding the new integrity framework in particular.
For more detailed information or advice about any of the matters discussed in this article, please contact Felice D’Agostino on +61 8 8210 1202 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Dale Mazzachi on +61 8 8210 1221 or email@example.com or Chris Alexandrides on +61 8 8210 1299 or firstname.lastname@example.org .