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Councillor conduct panels

Under the Local Government Act 1989, councillors are expected to adhere to a set of standards that reflect public expectations of their conduct. Section 76B of the Act sets out the primary principle of councillor conduct. Section 76BA sets out the general councillor conduct principles. In addition, each council must have a Councillor Code of Conduct. 

An application can be made to have a councillor conduct panel hear an allegation of misconduct or serious misconduct by a councillor.

Establishing a councillor conduct panel

An application to establish a councillor conduct panel can be made by:

  • the council, following a resolution to make the application
  • a councillor
  • a group of councillors.

Applications must specify the grounds for the application, and set out the circumstances, actions or inactions of the councillor that are alleged to constitute misconduct. The outcome of council dispute processes must also be specified.

As of 1 March 2016, applications need to be made to the Principal Councillor Conduct Registrar (PCCR). The registrar is part of, and appointed by, the Secretary of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. 

Role of the Principal Councillor Conduct Registrar

The registrar will:

  • maintain the list of panel members
  • receive applications to establish panels
  • form appropriate panels to hear applications
  • publish panel findings and decisions.

The registrar will assess the application. If the application is supported by evidence, the registrar will proceed to establish a panel. The panel must be established if the registrar is satisfied that the application is not frivolous or misconceived of lacking in substance and council processes have been fully exhausted or are not appropriate.

If the registrar has refused to establish a panel, a further application can be made regarding the same conduct with supporting evidence or following a further attempt by the council to resolve it.

The registrar can publish any guidelines in relation to councillor conduct panel procedures and processes that the PCCR has determined to be necessary. 

Councillor conduct panel procedures

Councillor conduct panels must not make determinations until they have conducted a hearing.

Proceedings must be conducted with as little formality and technicality as the Local Government Act allows.

There is no right to representation except if the panel considers that a councillor requires representation to ensure the hearing is conducted fairly.

Proceedings must not be open to the public.

If the hearing is based on an application made by a council or a group of councillors, an appointed representative must represent the council or group of councillors.

The panel is not bound by the rules of evidence and can gather information. It is bound by the rules of natural justice.

The councillor must have the opportunity to be heard during the hearing.

Jurisdiction of panels

After a councillor conduct panel has heard an application it may:

  • make a finding of misconduct against a councillor
  • make a finding of serious misconduct against a councillor
  • make a finding that remedial action is required
  • direct that the council amend its Councillor Code of Conduct in a particular way or to address an issue
  • dismiss the application.

If a panel makes a finding of misconduct, the panel may:

  • reprimand the councillor
  • direct the councillor to make an apology in a form or manner determined by the panel
  • direct the councillor to take leave of absence for a period specified by the panel not exceeding two months
  • direct that the councillor is ineligible to hold the office of mayor for a period specified by the panel not exceeding the remainder of the council term.

If a panel makes a finding of serious misconduct, that councillor becomes ineligible to hold the office of mayor for the remainder of the council term unless the panel directs otherwise.

In addition the panel may:

  • reprimand the councillor
  • direct the councillor to make an apology in a form or manner determined by the panel
  • direct the councillor to take leave of absence for a period specified by the panel not exceeding two months
  • suspend that councillor from office for a period specified by the panel not exceeding six months
  • direct that the councillor is ineligible to chair a special committee for a period specified by the panel not exceeding the remainder of the council term.

Determinations of panels

After a panel has made a determination, the panel must give a copy to:

  • the council
  • the parties to the matter
  • the Minister
  • the Principal Councillor Conduct Registrar.

A copy of the decision given to the council must be tabled at the next ordinary meeting of council and recorded in the minutes of that meeting.

A panel must give a written statement of reasons for the decision within 28 days of making a determination to:

  • the council
  • the parties to the matter
  • the Minister
  • the Principal Councillor Conduct Registrar.

Costs

The functions and powers of the registrar include setting and publishing a schedule of fees specifying the fees to be paid to members of a councillor conduct panel. The registrar sends a notice to a council specifying the fees payable by the council following any councillor conduct hearing conducted for or on behalf of the council.