Councillors are democratically elected officials, and are ultimately held accountable to their constituents through the electoral process. As independent elected officials, Councillors are not directly accountable to the Chief Executive Officer or the Mayor, but they are required to operate in accordance with specified standards.
Standards of Conduct
Under the Local Government Act 2020, Councillors have a legislative obligation to operate in accordance with the Standards of Conduct set out in the Local Government (Governance and Integrity) Regulations 2020.
It is important to understand that nothing in the Standard of Conduct is intended to limit, restrict or detract from robust public debate in a democracy.
Councillor Code of Conduct
The Councillor Code of Conduct is a document developed by every Council under the provisions of the Local Government Act 2020. Under the legislation, Councillor Codes of Conduct:
- must include the standards of conduct prescribed by the regulations expected to be observed by Councillors
- must include any provisions prescribed by the regulations
- must include provisions addressing any matters prescribed by the regulations
- may include any other matters which the Council considers appropriate, other than any other standards of conduct
It is important to note that Council cannot seek to alter the prescribed standards of conduct or impose additional standards and cannot impose measures which limit, restrict or detract from robust public debate in a democracy.
The arbitration process set out in the Councillor Code of Conduct can only be commenced by a Councillor, a group of Councillors or the Council itself. Members of the community cannot trigger the process set out in the Code.
Commitment to Respectful Community Relationships
The Commitment to Respectful Community Relationships outlines Council's commitment to the manner in which Councillors deal with the community, and sets out the community's obligations in return. The Commitment:
- is based on the principles of mutual respect and cooperation
- supports our values of providing a safe and respectful workplace
- outlines the rights and responsibilities of Councillors and members of the community in Council-related interactions
In addition, the Commitment sets out a responsibility for:
- supporting Councillors in the service of the community
- setting clear expectations for interactions between Councillors and the community
- maintenance of a safe and respectful environment for both Councillors and members of the community
Complaints about Councillors
The dispute resolution process set out in the Councillor Code of Conduct does not apply to a community complaint about a Councillor.
A complaint from a community member in respect of a Councillor will be referred to the Mayor for information. As required under the Local Government Act 2020, the Mayor can and will promote behaviour among Councillors that meets the standards of conduct set out in the Councillor Code of Conduct and assist Councillors to understand their role. In response to a community complaint, the Mayor shall seek to engage with the Councillor who is the subject of the complaint.
There are a range of external integrity agencies that deal with complaints regarding Councillors, depending on the nature of the complaint. A person has the right to lodge a formal complaint about a Councillor to the Victorian Ombudsman, IBAC and the Local Government Inspectorate (see below).
Please contact Council if you need assistance to understand the Councillor complaints process and the options available to you.
Complaint about the performance of a Councillor
Unless it is a contravention of the Standards of Conduct, complaints cannot be made to Council about the performance of a Councillor in their role. The type of complaints that cannot be made include a complaint about the way they voted on an issue before Council or their stated policy position on an issue.
Gross misconduct or serious misconduct
The Local Government Inspectorate is responsible for investigating alleged serious breaches of the Local Government Act 2020, including:
- misuse of position
- conflict of interest
- disclosure of confidential information
- council election offences
- nomination of someone not qualified to be a council election candidate
- authorisation of electoral material
The Chief Municipal Inspector, the head of the Local Government Inspectorate, is also responsible for investigating and making applications to VCAT for findings of gross misconduct against councillors and has power to investigate and initiate applications for councillor conduct panels to be established to determine allegations of serious misconduct by councillors.
Corruption or Improper Conduct
The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) is Victoria’s anti-corruption agency and is responsible for preventing and exposing public sector corruption. IBAC accepts complaints about suspected corruption in the public sector, including about Councillors. The IBAC will also accept protected disclosure complaints alleging improper conduct by Councillors.
Matters unrelated to their role as a Councillor
The avenues set out above can be followed only in circumstances where the individual being complained about is “acting as a Councillor”. If you have a complaint about a Councillor that relates to something conducted in a personal or business capacity, then you will need to follow another pathway. Some common complaint avenues are listed below.
- Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria (neighbourhood disputes, boundary fences, trees)
- Environment Protection Authority (litter and pollution)
- Consumer Affairs Victoria (rental disputes, refunds and services, motor vehicle trading)
- Victoria Police (criminal matters)
- Australian Securities and Investment Commission (business names, insolvency)
- Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (scams, consumer complaints, lotteries)
- Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (investments, loans, insurance)
If you wish to commence private civil proceedings against a Councillor, the Law Institute of Victoria Find a Lawyer Referral Service may be of assistance.