Last month our State Government produced a discussion paper with a view to amending the Local Government Act in a range of areas.
These include councillor behaviour and integrity, financial accountability, electoral matters and other diverse issues.
At the forefront are councillor behavioural issues, most of this stemming from problems in a small number of councils. Enhanced powers for mayors are proposed, to the extent of suspending members from meetings and referral, in extreme cases, to a newly created tribunal.
Personally, I don't believe that you can legislate for good manners and appropriate behaviour. It is the responsibility of mayors to foster and engender a spirit of cooperation between members, and to remind them they have been elected to act in the best interests of their communities.
Matters of integrity are a different issue and should be dealt with by the ICAC.
Matters of financial accountability are proposed to be addressed by strengthening audit committees with a greater number of independent members and have a greater role in the appointment of auditors and the oversight of audits.
It is being considered whether their role should be expanded to risk assessment and providing reports to council on the use of public resources. It has also been suggested there may be a role for the Auditor General in overseeing audits, a practice that I am led to believe, operates in some other states.
With all things that involve greater compliance we need to evaluate the benefits given the financial imposition, particularly on smaller councils.
Another area under consideration is electoral reform, and the items considered for review are; the timing of elections, the Electoral Commission managing nominations and candidate information, and the implementation of a quicker and efficient method of vote counting. Also under review is the current farcical situation of property owners whom live outside of a council boundary having to register to vote at every election. This is something I regard as an insult to the ratepayers concerned whom, in some cases, financially contribute substantially to council resources.
There are a number of smaller areas in the Act being considered for review, including but not limited to; internal reviews of council decisions, informal gatherings and discussions, registers of interest, publication of information and community land revocations.
Given there is a huge variation in councils in this state, both in population and rate revenue consideration, in my view, should be given to flexibility in as many areas as possible, to allow councils to operate in a way that best serves their communities. One size does not fit all!