The State Government have announced that they have strengthened the Model Code of Conduct for Local Councils in NSW as "part of its commitment to improving the integrity, transparency and accountability of the local government sector." The changes include strengthening investigation processes and penalties for councillor misconduct to target the small minority engaging in bad behaviour and protect the good reputation of the majority of councillors in NSW. The Government introduced strict new standards for local councils in the new Model Code of Conduct in December 2018 to help ensure the ethical, accountable and transparent operation of local government across the State. The State Government says that code, which applies to 48,000 staff and 1,300 councillors at 128 councils, 10 county councils and 13 joint organisations across NSW, is again being strengthened to further enforce high standards of conduct in our local councils. The changes include:
Expanding the Office of Local Government’s role in code of conduct breaches with councils limited to formally censuring councillors only. OLG will step in and impose more serious penalties, if appropriate, including requiring a public apology, suspension of payment of fees, and suspension or disqualification from office. This new process will also reduce time and cost to investigate complaints and take action.
Requiring councils to publicly disclose the findings of an investigation when censuring a councillor to ensure the public is aware of the misconduct and therefore act as a deterrent to bad behaviour.
Allowing councillors to avoid formal censure by their council for minor offences by making voluntary undertakings including apologising and attending training, mediation and counselling. This will ensure resources are directed to investigating more serious breaches.
Removing the requirement for councillors to formally appoint panels of conduct reviewers to investigate code of conduct breaches. Conduct reviewers can be appointed by the council general manager.
Requiring webcasts of council meetings to be kept on council websites for at least 12 months.
Strengthening the language in the Model Code of Conduct describing the various grounds of discrimination to reflect more contemporary standards.
Providing councils with the option to increase the $50 cap on gifts and benefits to $100 so it does not capture items of relatively low value. The changes also clarify application of the cap in certain circumstances such as at council events.
The new Model Code of Conduct and Procedures have been published in the Gazette. The changes will formally come into effect when the necessary Regulation is made prescribing the new Model Code of Conduct and Procedures.