The Local Government Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 (the Bill) was introduced into the WA Legislative Assembly by the Minister for Local Government, Mr DA Templeman (the Minister), on 14 March 2019 and reached second reading stage in the Legislative Council on 11 April 2019. The purpose of this Bill is broadly stated as being to amend the Local Government Act 1995 (WA) (the LG Act), the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1960 (WA) and certain other Acts, to introduce reforms aimed at improving the governance level of local governments and increasing their accountability to the community. The Bill is the third major piece of legislation introduced by the WA Government to bringing about reforms to the local government sector and complements the transfer of auditing oversight to the Office of the Auditor General and the introduction of the power to suspend individual council members when their behaviour is interfering with the ability of the local government to perform its function.
The explanatory material to the Bill describes the LG Act as providing the framework for local governments within WA. It points out that in
WA local government is a major provider of government services and infrastructure
and that it supports economic development and community "vibrancy and inclusiveness".
However, the explanatory material also points out that the LG Act is an "outdated piece of legislation" and that while there have been many amendments
since it was introduced in 1995, there "have not been substantial amendments to reflect the changing expectations of the community or the
advances in technology" made since the LG Act was introduced.
To achieve this the Bill introduces the following measures:
Because it is considered necessary to ensure that council members have the necessary understanding to carry out their role, the Bill proposes to introduce "universal training for candidates and council members". The proposed training will require candidates to complete an online induction program prior to nominating for election, a measure considered crucial by the Government to ensure that candidates are fully aware of what is involved in being an elected member and the rules around campaigning for election. After being elected, councillors will be required to complete five modules of training within their first 12 months in office. The training will be accessed online and will cover a range of topics intended to equip councillors with the basic skills and knowledge to carry out their duties. The last component of the proposed universal training is a requirement for councils to develop an ongoing professional development training policy. This will enable local governments to tailor training to strengthen their council members’ capacity to perform their role.
There is no proposal to impose penalties for failure to complete the training, with instead the aim being to "encourage cultural change by developing an environment that fosters continual improvement". However, a requirement for councils to report annually on the training completed by all councillors will be imposed by the Bill.
The Bill also proposed to introduce a mandatory code of conduct, which according to the Minister's second reading speech is aimed at "clearly outlining the expected behaviour of council members". The Minister indicated in his second reading speech that the code is a result of feedback received during the consultation phase of a review of the LG Act where the community expectation was that council members need to be accountable for their behaviour. The mandatory code of conduct, is proposed to also apply to candidates. The code is to include:
Further improvement of transparency, accountability and overall outcomes of the minor breach system, is by way of changes proposed to the Standards Panel as follows:
The Bill includes a new framework for the receipt of gifts. The amendments in this respect will require elected members and Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) to declare all gifts over a prescribed amount that are received "in the ordinary course of their duties as an elected member or CEO" and all gifts must be disclosed within ten days of receipt and published on the online gift register within ten days. The receipt of any gift over the threshold (which includes gifts received in other than an official capacity) will prohibit the elected member from voting on or participating in matters before the council concerning the donor of the gift for the period of their term unless approval is given by the council or the Minister. The CEO is prohibited from giving advice on a matter involving the donor of a gift that they have received unless approval is given by the council or the Minister.
To improve transparency, local governments must also prepare and adopt a policy that relates to the attendance of council members and CEOs at events such as concerts, conferences and functions. A gift of a ticket to, or that otherwise relates to a person’s attendance at an event that is in accordance with the policy will be exempted from the conflict of interest provisions. The council member (or CEO) will not be required to disclose the interest if the donor has a matter before council and will be able to participate in the decision making (or the provision of advice for the CEO).
To reflect the importance of the CEO position in local government, the amendments proposed by the Bill will require local governments to adopt model standards for the recruitment, performance management and early termination of the CEO and will also require the development of a policy that provides the processes for filling a temporary CEO vacancy.
The Bill contains amendments aimed at enabling local governments to be more efficient and flexible, and to "ensure that the community and other stakeholders have greater access to information held by the local government". To this end, information currently only available to the community at the local government office during business hours will now "be required to also be made available on the local government’s website."
The list of information required to be published on the local government's website includes:
As well the proposed amendments require copies of the gifts register, the codes of conduct and policies to be published on the local government’s website.
The Bill standardises the appointment of authorised officers across the following pieces of legislation:
The CEO is provided the power to appoint an authorised person or class of persons and includes transitional provisions to ensure that existing appointments continue to have effect.
The Bill is currently at second reading stage, with the WA Legislative Council being scheduled to sit next on 7 May 2019.
TimeBase is an independent, privately owned Australian legal publisher specialising in the online delivery of accurate, comprehensive and innovative legislation research tools including LawOne and unique Point-in-Time Products. Nothing on this website should be construed as legal advice and does not substitute for the advice of competent legal counsel.
Local Government Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 (119 of 2019) [WA] and speeches and explanatory materials as reported in the TimeBase LawOne Service.
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