The Local Government Act 1989 establishes a councillor conduct framework that provides out a clear hierarchy for the management of councillor conduct issues.

Under the councillor conduct framework:

  • councils have responsibility for dealing with breaches of the councillor code of conduct by councillors
  • complaints of misconduct or 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:

  • reinforce the responsibility and authority of councils to manage breaches of councillor codes of conduct through a mandatory internal resolution procedure
  • only escalate management of misconduct and serious misconduct to councillor conduct panels when councils cannot resolve the matter internally
  • give councillor conduct panels greater powers to manage and resolve misconduct and serious misconduct by councillors
  • retain the capacity for the Chief Municipal Inspector to manage gross misconduct through VCAT.

On this page:

The role of councils in managing councillor conduct

Prior to the improved governance reforms, councils had little capacity to manage and resolve issues arising from conduct in breach of accepted standards of behaviour by individual councillors.  

Councils now have a clear role in doing so.  Under the current requirements, each councillor must read the councillor code of conduct adopted by their council and must make a written declaration stating that they will abide by the code. Failure to comply with these requirements will result in the councillor being disqualified.

A council’s councillor code of conduct and internal resolution procedure must make it clear how alleged breaches of the code of conduct are to be handled.  The procedure must provide an independent arbiter to consider alleged breaches of the code and make determinations on them, fairly and without bias.

These measures provide councils significantly greater authority to shape and enforce acceptable standards of conduct by their councillors.

The Act also requires each council to appoint a principal conduct officer to assist the council in the implementation and conduct of the council’s internal resolution procedure. 

Councils can impose sanctions through their internal resolution procedure for breaches of the councillor code of conduct.  These may include:

  • requiring an apology
  • suspending a councillor for up to two council meetings
  • directing a councillor not to attend or chair an advisory or special committee for up to two months
  • directing that a councillor be removed from a position where they represent council for up to two months.

Failure by a councillor to comply with a council’s internal resolution procedure or with a written direction given by the council at the conclusion of the internal resolution process constitutes misconduct. The matter can then be referred to a councillor conduct panel.  This gives the council authority to enforce its code.

Councillor conduct panels

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

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

Misconduct includes failure by a councillor to comply with the internal resolution procedures in the councillor code of conduct. This is designed to reinforce the primacy of council processes dealing with councillor behaviour.

Misconduct also includes repeated contraventions of the councillor conduct principles in the Act.  If the conduct principles are also included in the council’s councillor conduct code, the internal resolution process provided in the code must be followed.

Serious misconduct includes the failure to attend a councillor conduct panel hearing, to provide information to a panel, or to comply with any direction of a panel.  It also includes continued or repeated misconduct after a finding against a councillor by a panel.  These provisions reinforce the authority of the panel process and panel determinations.

Bullying another councillor or a member of council staff is also 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.  

The remaining grounds of serious misconduct are attempting to direct council staff, or releasing confidential council information.

If a councillor conduct panel makes a finding of misconduct against a councillor, the panel may:

  • reprimand the councillor
  • direct the councillor to make an apology
  • direct the councillor to take leave of absence for a period of up to 2 months
  • direct that the councillor is ineligible to hold the office of mayor for a period not exceeding the remainder of the council's term.

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
  • direct the councillor to take leave of absence for a period of up to 2 months
  • suspend the councillor from office for a period of up to 6 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.

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.

The Councillor Conduct Panel List is established under section 81U 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 $1072 per day, and for non-legal members at $969 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 Registrar must publish the determination and the reasons for its 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 (PDF, 154.4 KB)

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 principal conduct officer who is responsible for assisting the council to implement and conduct its internal resolution procedure and to support the 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 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 81C 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 81C 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.

Website

http://www.vic.gov.au/lgici.html

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@lgici.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.

Website

www.ombudsman.vic.gov.au

Address

Level 2, 570 Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000

Phone

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

Email

ombudvic@ombudsman.vic.gov.au

Page last updated: 21/11/2018