The Local Government Act 2020 establishes a councillor conduct framework that provides a clear hierarchy for the management of councillor conduct issues.

Under the councillor conduct framework:

  • complaints of misconduct by a councillor are heard and determined under the council’s internal arbitration process by an independent arbiter
  • complaints of serious misconduct by a councillor are heard and determined by councillor conduct panels
  • allegations of gross misconduct are dealt with by VCAT.

The framework is designed to:

  • provide for timely intervention in relation to breaches of the prescribed standards of conduct (misconduct) by councillors
  • give councillor conduct panels effective powers to manage and resolve serious misconduct by councillors
  • retain the capacity for the Chief Municipal Inspector to manage gross misconduct through VCAT.

On this page:

  • Council Internal Arbitration Process
  • Councillor Conduct Panels
  • Complaint resolution bodies
  • Council Internal Arbitration Process

The strengthened internal arbitration process is designed to provide for early intervention in response to less serious types of misconduct by councillors.  Under this process, applications for internal arbitration are heard by independent arbiters appointed to the relevant council by the principal councillor conduct registrar.

Misconduct is defined as any breach by a councillor of the prescribed standards of conduct included in the Councillor Code of Conduct. The prescribed standards of conduct are set out in Schedule 1 of the Local Government (Governance and Integrity) Regulations 2020.

The standards of conduct require councillors to take positive action to eliminate discrimination and sexual harassment; and to support the Council in achieving and promoting gender equality.  Councillors are also required to refrain from using abusive, obscene, offensive or threatening language or behaviour; and to treat all persons with respect and have due regard for their opinions, beliefs, rights and responsibilities.

Councillors must undertake necessary training and professional development agreed to by the council; diligently use council processes to inform their decision making; and ensure that they are fit to conscientiously perform the role of councillor.

Councillors must diligently and properly comply with council procedures, policies and practices established for the governance of the council; and must conduct themselves in a manner that does not bring discredit upon the Council, or deliberately mislead the Council or the public about matters related to the performance of their public duties.

If an arbiter makes a finding of misconduct against a councillor, the arbiter may:

  • direct the councillor to make an apology
  • suspend the councillor from office for a period of up to 1 month
  • direct that the councillor be removed from any position where the councillor represents the council for a specified period
  • direct that the councillor is removed from being the chair of a delegated committee for a specified period
  • direct a councillor to attend or undergo training or counselling.

Internal arbitration application and hearing process

If a council, a councillor, or a group of councillors consider that another councillor’s actions or activities breach the prescribed standards of conduct, they can apply to the principal councillor conduct registrar for an arbiter to make a finding of misconduct in relation to these actions or activities.

An application for a finding of misconduct must be made within 3 months of the alleged misconduct occurring.

The arbiter panel list is established under section 142 of the Act by the Secretary of the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions.

The panel list comprises the following members:

  • The Hon Justice Shane Marshall
  • Mrs Jo-Anne Mazzeo
  • Ms Jan Boynton
  • Mrs Helen Buckingham OAM
  • Mr Matthew Evans

The costs associated with council’s internal arbitration process, including the arbiter’s fee, must met by the council.

The registrar has set the fees to be paid to arbiters at $954 per day.

After conducting a hearing, the arbiter must make a determination.  If the arbiter determines that a councillor has failed to comply with the prescribed standards of conduct, the arbiter may make a finding of misconduct against the councillor.

The arbiter must give a copy of the determination and reasons for their decision to:

  • the Council
  • the parties to the matter
  • the principal councillor conduct registrar.

A copy of the arbiter’s decision and statement of reasons must be tabled at the next council meeting after the decision and recorded in the minutes of the meeting.

Councillor Conduct Panels

The independent Councillor Conduct Panel process is designed to deliver a comprehensive and thorough assessment of allegations of serious misconduct.

Under the framework, complaints of serious misconduct by councillors are heard and determined by councillor conduct panels.  The kinds of behaviour that constitute and serious misconduct are set out in the definitions provided in section 3 of the Act.

Serious misconduct includes the failure to comply with the council’s internal arbitration process or with a direction given to the councillor by an arbiter, and failure to attend a councillor conduct panel hearing or to comply with a direction of a panel.  It also includes continued or repeated misconduct after a finding against a councillor by an arbiter or a panel.  These provisions reinforce the authority of the council internal resolution and councillor conduct panel processes and determinations.

Bullying another councillor or a member of council staff is serious misconduct. Bullying is defined as repeated unreasonable behaviour by a councillor towards another councillor or member of council staff that creates a risk to the health and safety of the councillor or member of staff.

Sexual harassment of a councillor or member of council staff is also serious misconduct.

The remaining grounds of serious misconduct are attempting to direct council staff, releasing confidential council information, or failing to disclose a conflict of interest (and exclude themselves from the decision making) where required to do so.

Where a councillor conduct panel makes a finding of serious misconduct against a councillor, the councillor becomes ineligible to hold the office of mayor (unless the panel directs otherwise), and the panel may:

  • reprimand the councillor
  • direct the councillor to make an apology
  • suspend the councillor from office for a period of up to 12 months
  • direct that the councillor is ineligible to chair a special committee of the council for a period up to and including the remainder of the council's term.

A councillor conduct panel also has power to make a finding of misconduct if the panel is satisfied that the councillor has breached one or more of the prescribed standards of conduct and may impose the same penalties as an arbiter.

Regardless of whether or not a finding of misconduct or serious misconduct has been made, a councillor conduct panel may also make a finding that remedial action is required and direct the councillor to attend mediation, training or counselling.

Councillor conduct panel process

If a council, a councillor, or a group of councillors consider that another councillor’s actions or activities amount to misconduct or serious misconduct, they can apply to the principal councillor conduct registrar for a councillor conduct panel to be formed to make a finding in relation to these actions or activities.

An application for a finding of serious misconduct must be made within 12 months of the alleged serious misconduct occurring.

An application for a finding of serious misconduct that alleges that a councillor has failed to disclose a conflict of interest may only be made by the Chief Municipal Inspector.

The Councillor Conduct Panel List is established under section 153 of the Act by the Minister for Local Government.  The panel list comprises the following legal and non-legal members:

  • The Hon Justice Shane Marshall  (legal)
  • Mrs Jo-Anne Mazzeo  (legal)
  • Ms Jan Boynton
  • Mrs Helen Buckingham OAM
  • Mr Matthew Evans

The costs associated with councillor conduct panel hearings are met by the council for which the hearing is conducted.

The registrar has set the fees for legal panel list members at $1193 per day, and for non-legal members at $1078 per day.

After conducting a hearing, a councillor conduct panel must make a determination.  A determination can include a finding of misconduct or serious misconduct against the councillor, a finding that remedial action is required by the councillor, or can dismiss the application.  The panel must also give written reasons for its decision within 28 days of making the determination.

The panel must give a copy of the determination and reasons for its decision to:

  • the council
  • the parties to the matter
  • the Minister for Local Government
  • the principal councillor conduct registrar.

The principal councillor conduct registrar must publish the determination and the reasons for decision.

Councillor Conduct Panel Application 2019-4 (19 December 2019)

West Wimmera Shire Council & Houlihan - Councillor Conduct Panel Determination and Statement of Reasons for Decision

Councillor Conduct Panel Application 2019-1 (5 September 2019)

O'Reilly & Toms (Application 2019-1) Councillor Conduct Panel Determination and Statement of Reasons for Decision

Councillor Conduct Panel Application 2018-3 (4 July 2019)

Wellington & Bell - Councillor Conduct Panel Determination & Statement of Reasons for Decision

Councillor Conduct Panel Application 2018-1 (13 February 2019)

Lancashire & Hedditch (Application 2018-1) - Councillor Conduct Panel Decision

Councillor Conduct Panel Application 2017-1 (28 August 2017)

Chief Municipal Inspector & Buckley (Application 2017-1) - Councillor Conduct Panel Decision & Statement of Reasons for Decision

The respondent applied to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for a review of the Councillor Conduct Panel’s decision.

VCAT affirmed the decision of the Panel.  VCAT's decision is available on the Australasian Legal Information Institute website: Buckley v Councillor Conduct Panel (Review and Regulation) [2018] VCAT 1244 (23 August 2018)

The framework also requires each council to appoint a councillor conduct officer who is responsible for assisting the council to implement and conduct its council’s internal arbitration process and to support the principal councillor conduct registrar in relation to councillor conduct panel hearings.

The principal councillor conduct registrar administers councillor conduct panel processes under the councillor conduct framework.

The registrar is also responsible for appointing an arbiter to a council where an application alleging misconduct is made under the council’s internal arbitration process.  Before appointing an arbiter, the registrar must be satisfied that the application is not frivolous, vexatious, misconceived or lacking in substance, and that there is sufficient evidence to support the allegation.

Where an application alleging serious misconduct is received, the registrar is responsible for determining if a councillor conduct panel should be formed.  In deciding whether to form a panel the registrar must be satisfied that the following requirements (set out in section 155 of the Act) are met:

  • the application is not frivolous, vexatious, misconceived or lacking in substance
  • there is sufficient evidence to support an allegation of misconduct or serious misconduct
  • the council has taken sufficient or appropriate steps to resolve the matter or has provided satisfactory reasons for not taking these steps (in accordance with the internal resolution procedure specified in the council’s councillor code of conduct).

Where the section 155 requirements are met the registrar must form a councillor conduct panel, made up by two members selected from the panel list, to hear the application.  The panel must include one legal member (who is the chairperson of the panel) and one non-legal member.

Complaint resolution bodies

There are a number of independent organisations that can consider complaints relating to a council. In the first instance, complaints should be raised with the relevant council.

As a general rule, a complaint should be in writing and should include the following:

  • brief statement about your issue
  • brief history of the case, including important dates or events
  • decision or action taken by the council
  • preferred outcome for this case going forward
  • copies of all correspondence to and from the council or any other material that records the contact made between parties involved.

Local Government Inspectorate

In 2009, the Victorian Government established the Local Government Inspectorate as a separate administrative office of the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

The Local Government Inspectorate is responsible for investigating alleged breaches of the Local Government Act 1989, including failure by a councillor to declare a conflict of interest, disclosure of confidential information and misuse of position, and administering a Compliance Audit program at councils across Victoria.

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.

Further information about the Chief Municipal Inspector and the Local Government Inspectorate is available here.

Complaints to the Local Government Inspectorate can be submitted online or by contacting the office.

Street address

Local Government Inspectorate
Level 27, 1 Spring Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000

Post address

Local Government Inspectorate
GPO Box 2392
Melbourne Victoria 3001

Complaints hotline

1800 469 359

Email

inspectorate@lgi.vic.gov.au

The Victorian Ombudsman

The Victorian Ombudsman is an independent officer of the Victorian Parliament responsible for handling complaints concerning the administrative actions of a council and decisions of council officers. The Ombudsman cannot investigate the actions of an individual councillor, except when investigating a protected disclosure complaint under the Protected Disclosure Act 2012.

Complaints to the Victorian Ombudsman can be submitted online or by contacting the office.

Address

Level 2, 570 Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000

Phone

(03) 9613 6222, or toll free (regional areas only) on 1800 806 314

Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC)

IBAC is Victoria’s anti-corruption agency responsible for preventing and exposing public sector corruption and police misconduct. IBAC accepts complaints about suspected corruption and misconduct in the public sector including the local government sector.

Information can be provided or a complaint can be made to IBAC online.

Postal Address

GPO Box 24234, Melbourne Victoria, 3001

Phone

1300 735 135

Page last updated: 21/07/21