Wide-ranging Local Government reform Bill goes straight to Parliament
Yesterday, the State Government introduced the Statues Amendment (Local Government Review) Bill 2020 (Amendment Bill) into Parliament. The Amendment Bill proposes to amend many aspects of the Local Government Act 1999 (LG Act) and other legislation.
The Amendment Bill, along with a Government explanatory paper and a tracked change version of the LG Act, can be accessed here.
The Amendment Bill follows last year’s Reforming Local Government in South Australia: Discussion Paper. However, it is important to note that the Amendment Bill is not a ‘draft’ for public consultation. Rather, the Amendment Bill has been put directly to Parliament. Accordingly, any changes to the Amendment Bill from its current form will be decided by the Parliamentary process.
Many fundamental aspects of Local Government are proposed to be changed by the Amendment Bill. To give some indication of the breadth and significance of the changes proposed by the Amendment Bill, some of the more noteworthy proposals are as follows (noting that this is not an exhaustive list of all proposed changes—the Amendment Bill truly is ‘omnibus’ in nature):
- A cap of 12 council members;
- New roles for councillors and Mayors (and the abolition of ‘chairpersons’);
- Provision for a Ministerial ‘Community Engagement Charter’ which, along with council-adopted policies, will govern public consultation;
- Significant changes to council member conduct requirements, including legislated gifts and benefits provisions, amendments to conflict of interest provisions, two tiers of behavioural standards (one provided by the Minister, and another optional tier set by councils individually), the ability for councils to impose 3-month suspensions from office (on recommendation by the Ombudsman), and the establishment of an independent 3-person investigation panel with its own separate corporate identity (and which can also suspend council members from office);
- Integration of Work Health and Safety concepts in the context of council member behaviour and the ability (in certain circumstances) for the CEO, the principal member or another council member to eject a council member who is creating a risk to health and safety (e.g. bullying);
- Suspension of council members for failure to meet training requirements;
- The removal of ‘informal gatherings’ provisions and the introduction of the concept of ‘information or briefing sessions’;
- Important to changes to the terms upon which CEOs are engaged and managed, including the regulation of CEO salaries by the South Australian Remuneration Tribunal and compulsory performance review requirements;
- Changes regarding employee standards of conduct, including legislated gifts and benefits provisions and the tripling of penalties for conflict of interest offences;
- A mandatory process by which each council annually provides information to a ‘designated authority’ (possibly, the Essential Service Commission of South Australia) regarding proposed changes in revenue, and must obtain and consider advice from that authority before finalising a draft annual business plan in any given year (i.e. external oversight of rate-setting);
- The abolition of declaring rates on the basis of ‘site value’ (as opposed to capital value);
- The removal of the requirement to obtain Ministerial approval for revocation of community land classification in some cases (Ministerial approval will, however, still be required in many cases);
- Changes to section 221 and 222 permits, including an external review mechanism (with the Small Business Commissioner—or, in some cases, the Environment, Resources and Development Court—as reviewer) and the repeal of special provisions for food trucks.
We encourage all readers to become familiar with the detail of the Amendment Bill. It is our understanding that the Government will not move to formal second-reading debate in Parliament upon the Amendment Bill for some time. At this stage, it is unclear which aspects of the Amendment Bill may attract scrutiny or opposition in Parliament, and which parts will be supported, once formal debate commences. However, whatever happens to the Amendment Bill in Parliament, ultimately it is likely that broad-ranging Local Government reform will be passed.
The Local Government Association will be consulting with councils on the content of Amendment Bill. Norman Waterhouse will be working closely with the Local Government Association to examine the full implications of the Amendment Bill. We look forward to assisting all South Australian Local Government authorities to adapt to whatever changes the Amendment Bill ultimately brings about.
For more information about the matter contained in this article, please contact Sathish Dasan on 8210 1253 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Felice D’Agostino on 8210 1202 or email@example.com or Dale Mazzachi on 8210 1221 or firstname.lastname@example.org.