Council reforms in the spotlight

The State Government is responsible for setting the parameters of the Local Government Act, under which all councils operate.

In August, the government released a discussion paper on local government reform. This incorporated 72 proposals for change.

While it is not possible to completely cover these reforms in the space of this article, over the coming few months, these articles will detail the reforms proposed.

There is a greater emphasis proposed on the minimum mandatory training requirements for elected members, and this will ensure members complete the required training.

While this training will be at a 'basic' level; it will allow new members the opportunity to have a greater level of understanding and participation, in debate and council business, promptly.

Correcting behavioural issues relating to elected members is at the forefront of the proposed reforms. The kinds of issues relate to integrity and behavioural issues that can occur at council meetings. Also proposed is a simplified set of guidelines in relation to conflict of interest for members. Consultation within local government has showed strong support for a new body to deal with behavioural issues.

The Local Government Association supports a conduct commissioner, empowered to make decisions that impose proper sanctions for poor behaviour. More serious matters will still remain the domain of the ICAC and Ombudsman.

Discussions have also been held in relation to providing greater powers to mayors in order to chair meetings more effectively, which includes the suspension of members from the chamber. There is however, differing views on this matter, and the debate remains open. The Government has shown enthusiasm with regard to tightening the management and remuneration of CEOs of councils.

Broad agreement has been reached that supports a Western Australian model where a remuneration tribunal sets salary bands and allowances for CEOs. Those bands are based on a number of characteristics particular to each council.

However, a council should retain the right to determine a salary in excess of the band set by the tribunal, provided there are justifying reasons, and the decision is reported publicly. The Government also proposes that annual performance reviews of CEOs have independent oversight and annual performances reviews completed and independent advice sought, before the extension or termination of a contract.

These proposals are not necessarily supported by local government, as they come with a significant cost impost that impacts heavily on smaller councils.

Peter Mattey, Mayor,

Regional Council of Goyder