By the end of 2018, Queensland’s integrity regime will include a new independent body charged with investigating complaints against Local Government Mayors and Councillors.
New laws passed by the Parliament this month will see the Office of the Independent Assessor up and running before year’s end, with funding to be provided in next month’s State Budget. Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said the Office of the Independent Assessor would work alongside the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC).
“As with the CCC, the Office of the Independent Assessor will have the power to seize documents and compel people to attend interviews, with stiff penalties applying for non-compliance.
“The CCC will continue to investigate corruption, while the Independent Assessor will focus on official misconduct.
“The new system is designed to put the brakes on bad behaviour long before Councillors reach the watch house door.
“What we have now is not up to the job. It is convoluted, lacks teeth, and – given recent events – clearly fails to act as a sufficient deterrent for some Councillors.
“One of the biggest weaknesses of the current system is the requirement to lodge complaints directly with a Council’s CEO.
“Understandably, potential complainants can be reluctant to ‘dob in’ Councillors, given CEOs close working relationship with Mayors and Councillors. “An independent complaints handling process will see this potential conflict largely removed. “Where complaints are not genuine, the Independent Assessor will have the power to dismiss vexatious complaints, and impose a hefty penalty.
“Overwhelmingly, Councillors are honest and beyond reproach. It is just a shame their reputations are being tarnished by the alleged actions of a tiny minority.
“Our whole reform agenda is about ensuring Queensland has a system of Local Government that’s robust, accountable and transparent, with very clear rules.”
Mr Hinchliffe said that it was intended that the Office of the Independent Assessor would commence operation on 1 December. The Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) has welcomed the creation of the new integrity body.
“The LGAQ has been working towards an overhaul of Queensland’s councillor complaints system for the past three years,’ CEO Greg Hallam AM said. “Council CEOs will no longer be in the position where they are referred to as Caesar judging Caesar. "The powers of the new Office of the Independent Assessor will be sufficient to weed out frivolous complaints which are still a large percentage of the complaints received. “It will deliver the much-needed front end filtering of complaints which the current system lacks.
“Councils are confident the Independent Assessor will be able to quickly dismiss vexatious and uncorroborated accusations. Ultimately, for anyone who is making a genuine complaint they can expect to be dealt with independently, and in a faster and fairer manner than in the past.”