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Making a Complaint to the Local Government Standards Panel

What to Do if a Violation has Occurred

Firstly, before making a complaint, understand the Council and Committee Meeting Due Process here. A Guide to Local Council and Committee Meeting is attached below:

a-guide-to-council-and-committee-meetingsf4ca79ee07e24c90a8b44158c22c954a
.pdf
Download PDF • 318KB

If your rights or voice have been violated at a local council level or at a recent meeting, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Write a letter of complaint to the Mayor, CEO and Councillors;

  2. Ask to meet with them to discuss the matter;

  3. Put together a Report of concerns and issues raised, with the purpose of sending it to all Members at all levels of Government;

  4. Seek to call another Special Electors Meeting and draft more/new/other motions for your matter;

  5. Call for round table consultation form your Council - you can get funding for this form the Council;

  6. Call for a Community Impact Statement from your local Council;

  7. Meet with specific Councillors asking for a no confidence vote of the Mayor, based on their conduct, backed by evidence;

  8. Make a complaint to the Local Government Standards Panel;

  9. Go to the media; and/or

  10. Book me in to train you, your organisation/team/community in lobbying/advocacy, or book me in to represent you and your human rights issue!

Here, I will be dealing with the second last suggestion.

Recently, I have made a complaint to the Local Government Standards Panel in relation to the treatment I received at some of the Special Electors Meetings and others.


In one instance, although I was provided permission in writing prior to the meeting by the Governance Officer of the Council as a subject mater expert, I was disallowed to soak at the last minute - as I got up to walk down to the microphone.


Under our Constitutional Democracy, we should always have the right to engage our politicians - no matter what level of government, and what the matter you bring forward is - your voice should never be restricted.


In fact, as part of the Mayor and Councillor's role in good governance in good faith is to ensure that they are transparent, collaborative, listen to their members and beyond, and that they advocate and represent the people groups and issues raised to their State and Federal counterparts.


Acts, Regulations and Departments

Effective contribution to and representation at meetings by elected members increases the quality of council decisions. Elected members should have knowledge of the following Acts, Regulations, and Department of Local Government and Communities (Department) guidelines to assist them at meetings:

  • Local Government Act 1995

  • Local Government (Administration) Regulations 1996

  • Local Government (Rules of Conduct) Regulations 2007

  • Defamation Act 2005

  • Council Local Laws (especially Standing Orders)

  • Department’s A Guide to the Preparation of Agendas and Minutes

  • Department’s Operational Guidelines:

    • No 1 Disclosure of Interests Affecting Impartiality

    • No 3 Managing Public Question Time

    • No 5 Council Forums

    • No 6 Disruptive Behaviour by the Public at Council Meetings

    • No 7 Clarity in Council Motions

    • No 20 Disclosure of Financial Interests at Council Meetings.

The Act specifies that the local government’s employees are accountable to the CEO, that the CEO is accountable to the council. All Council contact with Administration should be through the CEO. Most CEOs have agreed communication protocols in place, and this may include councillor access to senior staff.


No elected member may undertake a task that contributes to the administration of the local government, unless authorised to do so by the council or by the CEO. Consequently, it is inappropriate for Councillors to direct employees or for employees to take direction from Councillors. (s5.104 of the Act and Rules of Conduct Regulations 9 and 10).

The Structure of the Local Government Standards Panel

Tim Fraser is the current Presiding Member of the Local Government Standards Panel. The Hon John Carey MLA, Minister for Housing; Local Government is the responsible Minister overseeing this portfolio. Administration and support services for the Standards Panel are provided by the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.


The Local Government Standards Panel is the primary Standards Panel established under Part 5 Division 9 and Schedule 5.1 of the Local Government Act 1995 (the Act). It provides for a complaints system whereby certain alleged misconduct by council members can be reviewed.

The Standards Panel’s function is to receive and deal with complaints, made by any person, of alleged minor breaches, by a council member of any rule of conduct in the Local Government (Rules of Conduct) Regulations 2007 or a provision of a local government’s code of conduct.


This minor breach system is part of the disciplinary framework for council members in Western Australia under the Local Government Act 1995 (WA).


The minor breach provisions were introduced into the Act in 2007 to address conduct by individual council members, with the aim of responding to disruptive or inappropriate conduct. The system responds to and deters conduct by council members that disrupts the effective functioning of their local government.


The Standards Panel is comprised of three members and three deputy members, all of whom are appointed by the Minister.


The Local Government Standards Panel Annual Report is found here:

Local-Government-Standards-Panel-Annual-Report-2020-2021
.pdf
Download PDF • 825KB

Complaints Made to the Local Government Standards Panel

The Standards Panel received 154 new minor breach complaints and finalised 175 complaints, and convened 25 meetings in 2020-21 compared to 13 meetings in 2019-20, with a slight increase in the average time taken for complaints to be finalised.


Allegations can include:

  1. Regulation 17 - Misuse of local government resources

  2. Regulation 18 - Securing personal advantage or disadvantaging others

  3. Regulation 19 - Prohibition against involvement in administration

  4. Regulation 20 - Relationship with local government employees

  5. Regulation 22 - Disclosure of interests

  6. Regulation 23 - Compliance with plan requirement

  7. Regulation 34D - Breach of local law relating to conduct at meetings.

In relation to the 175 complaints finalised in 2020-21, the Standards Panel:

  • Made 49 findings that a breach occurred.

  • Made 81 findings of no breach.

  • 10 complaints were withdrawn and 3 were suspended as the respondent was no longer an elected member due to resignation.

  • Refused to deal with 32 complaints.

Section 5.110(3A) of the Act provides that a Standards Panel can at any stage of its proceedings refuse to deal with a complaint if the Standards Panel is satisfied that the complaint is frivolous, trivial, vexatious, misconceived or without substance.


The Authority of the Local Government Standards Panel The Standards Panel does not possess investigative or supervisory powers and makes decisions about complaints regarding minor breaches solely upon the evidence presented to it and, where appropriate, materials published by the relevant local authority’s website.

It is the responsibility of both complainants and respondents to provide the Panel with all information they wish the Panel to consider when making its determination and the Panel must also have regard to the general interests of local government in Western Australia.


Under section 5.110(6) of the Act, the Standards Panel can deal with a minor breach by ordering:

  • that no sanction be imposed under section 5.110(6)(a); or

  • a sanction under section 5.110(6)(b); or

  • a combination of sanctions under section 5.110(6)(c).

The Standards Panel determined that 52 breaches of the regulations occurred in 49 complaints and imposed the following sanctions:

  • 35 orders that the elected member make a public apology

  • 13 orders that the elected member be publicly censured

  • 18 orders that the elected member undertake training

  • 7 orders that the elected member make a monetary payment to the local government

  • 3 complaints where no sanction was ordered


Making a Complaint

Minor breaches of the Local Government Act 1995 (the Act) are dealt with by the Local Government Standards Panel.

Minor breach complaints against a council member must be lodged through the complaints officer at the relevant local government. The Panel does not accept complaints direct from complainants.

A person can only make a complaint of a minor breach within 6 months after the breach alleged in the complaint has occurred. A complaint cannot be made after that time has elapsed.

The legislation governing minor breaches is the Local Government (Model Code of Conduct) Regulations 2021. Things to remember when completing your form:

  • Your complaint must be lodged on a form approved by the Minister (link below).

  • This form is to be used for minor breach complaints only.

  • A failure to complete the required information may render your complaint non-compliant.

  • Your complaint must be lodged with the complaints officer at the relevant local government.

  • The Panel does not have the powers to investigate complaints. It can only make decisions based on the information before it, therefore, detailed complaints are essential for the Panel members to make informed decisions.

  • A detailed account of the alleged breach is required.

  • Any supporting evidence provided should be relevant. Do not send material that does not support your complaint (for example, only provide the relevant pages of the council minutes that support your allegation.).

  • Once your complaint has been lodged confidentiality applies. Under section 5.123 of the Act, it is an offence to disclose information that the complaint has been made or any information about any details of the complaint until the matter has been dealt with and an order has been made by the Panel under section 5.110(6) of the Act.

  • When your complaint has been received by the Panel you will receive an automated notification.

  • If required, you will be contacted by an officer from the department to discuss your complaint.

Please find the Complaints Form attached here:

complaint-of-a-minor-breach-formc19f7e4baba94358b5e228fca9f87c6a
.docx
Download DOCX • 28KB

How to Proceed

If a violation has occurred, put together your statement, consider and include the above, and submit it for consideration.


If a violation has occurred to multiple people, or several times, consider making a joint application or complaint.


If you , or your organisation or community need further assistance, I am happy to provide Lobbying Advocacy training here:



Keep fighting the good fight!

Andrea.

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