More variations to Local Government Act 1999: Principal offices, inspection of documents, and public consultation
The second tranche of variations to the Local Government Act 1999 (LG Act) have today been made under the emergency variation power in section 302B of the LG Act.
Specifically, Local Government Minister Knoll has issued the Public Access and Public Consultation Notice (No 2) 2020 (Notice No. 2), which deals with matter relating to council principal offices, inspection of documents, and public consultation.
Notice No. 2 is available here.
The Local Government Association has provided an explanatory paper regarding the new variations set out in Notice No. 2. That guidance paper and other supporting documents are available here.
Significantly, a council may now entirely close its public office, if it is satisfied that this is reasonably necessary as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency. There is no longer a need for a notice under the South Australian Public Health Act 2011 to achieve this. Alternatively, a council can vary its principal office business hours rather than implement a complete closure. It is important to note that a closure or variation of hours of the principal office triggers an obligation under the LG Act (as varied by Notice No. 2) to make alternative arrangements for the provision to the community of services which would ordinarily be available at the principal office.
Another effect of Notice No. 2 is that councils may make various documents available online or in other alternative ways, rather than making those documents available at the principal office. This is the case even if a council has not decided to close or restrict business hours at its principal office.
Notice No. 2 also removes mandatory public meetings from the public consultation requirements of that LG Act. This means that, for so long as Notice No. 2 remains in force, public meetings are not required for public consultation on matters including draft annual business plans and changes to the basis of rating (requirements regarding written submissions remain in force). Further, Notice No. 2 enables councils to alter or substitute their public consultation policies without needing to conduct public consultation on the alteration or substitution.
Any council seeking to remove public meetings from its public consultation practices should take this opportunity to do so, by altering or substituting its public consultation policy. However, it is necessary to note that these changes – as with all variations made under section 302B of the LG Act – are only temporary.
We look forward to continuing to advise the sector as and when further variations to the LG Act are made. For more specific advice about the matters discussed in this article, or about COVID-19 and Local Government generally, please call the LGA COVID-19 hotline on 8224 2099, or Felice D’Agostino on 8210 1202 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Dale Mazzachi on 8210 1221 or email@example.com or Chris Alexandrides on 8210 1299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.