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Local Government Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2018 (No. 49)

22 November 2018
Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, on behalf of the Greens I support 
this Local Government Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill. It contains a 
substantial number of amendments. Given the number of councils in 
Tasmania and the time it takes to reach agreement amongst the variety of 
players in the local government sector, this is a comprehensive raft of 
changes. It is very pleasing to see a number of them in particular, 
having been a councillor on the Huon Valley Council, several of these are 
overdue and very welcome.

I have had personal experience of the failings, the silence essentially, 
of the Local Government Act in guiding council laws and councils about a 
number of these issues. In some councils it has led to a certain amount 
of heartache and pain. In other councils it has led to concern about 
appropriate accountability measures and the fact that accountability has 
not been able to be achieved because information has not been made 
available or able to be made available. This appears to fix some of those 
issues.

I want to point to a few of the changes in here. I do support clause 8 
which amends section 28ZB, which relates to the dismissal of code of 
conduct complaints on initial assessment and the inclusion of the words 
'and trivial': Section 28ZB(1)(a) is amended to allow dismissal of a 
complaint made to a code of conduct panel on the basis that the complaint 
is trivial in addition to being vexatious. It has been my experience that 
the code of conduct process can be used by some particularly pugnacious, 
aggressive councillors who end up having highly personal relationships 
with other councillors that boil into a series of code of conduct 
complaints that are used as a type of attack on a councillor, a weapon 
essentially, to bog people down in endless paperwork. 

I have seen it used a number of times against women who speak up and do 
not toe the line. They can be used in a vexatious way and they can be 
used on utterly trivial matters. It is painful, annoying and time 
consuming so I am very pleased to see the end of that process and the 
possibility of the empowerment of the code of conduct panel to dismiss a 
complaint on the basis that the complainant has not made a reasonable 
effort to resolve the issue that is the subject of the complaint.

I would like the minister's view on situations that I have observed where 
a complaint has been made against another councillor who is aggressive, 
pugnacious and difficult. I have seen people behaving incredibly rudely 
in workshops, unbelievably rudely in closed council workshops, because 
there is no-one else around except other councillors. In that situation 
where a person is behaving badly and is not inclined to be reasonable, it 
can be intimidating for a councillor to try to resolve an issue. I hope a 
person would not be expected to try to resolve a situation with a person 
who has presented themselves, particularly in front of other councillors 
in a workshop, as not wanting to change the way they speak to that person. 
What are your views about what would be required in that situation?

I had another question in relation to clause 14. This amends section 55(2) 
of the act by omitting the current section and replacing it with a new 
section which provides that a general manager must advise the councillor 
of any employees or general manager's interests. The general manager must 
keep a register of any such interests and it sets a maximum penalty for a 
breach of that section of 10 penalty units. 

What happens with the register of an employee's or general manager's 
interests? What is its purpose? Is it to record and then be put away? 
We have had conflicts of interest in other situations in government where 
registering a conflict of interest is not enough to satisfy that the 
conflict is not misused. If a general manager has a register of conflicts 
with employees would that mean that the senior planning officer must not 
make a planning determination in relation to the people on the register? 
Or would it mean that person must not be on an interview panel because 
they have an interest?

Mr Gutwein - It would depend on what that interest was.

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes. Presumably it means some action will happen on some 
issues. 

I am pleased to see that clause 15 amends section 56B of the act so that 
the gifts and donations register will be available for public inspection 
at council offices and on the council's website, and would be updated at 
least monthly. That is in line with other changes being made across 
government.

I am pleased to support clause 28 which amends section 228 of the act in 
relation to confidentiality so that board of inquiry documents or records 
used by the Director of Local Government for the purposes of an 
investigation would not be exempt from the Right to Information Act. The 
Government should take on board the fact that there is an exemption in the 
Right to Information Act for decisions made by a minister that are 
delegated to a secretary or to another senior member of government are not 
to be made available to the public. 

That is a flaw, a loophole, an exemption, which the Premier has publicly 
acknowledged and the Ombudsman says should be changed. The Ombudsman 
cannot investigate the appropriateness of actions taken because the Right 
to Information Act prevents them from having any jurisdiction over those 
sorts of decisions and processes. It is not in the state's best interests 
when decisions are delegated to senior public servants so they cannot be 
available for public scrutiny under Right to Information. It is an abuse 
of the public's right to assess and scrutinise the decisions of everyone 
in state government just as much as local government. We support this 
clause and ask that the minister takes the same issue on board at the 
state.

Clause 35 amends section 339F, regarding the customer service charter. 
This means the councils' customer service charter must be reviewed within 
12 months of a council election. It is important that new councillors 
must engage with the customer service charter for their council. That is 
a welcome addition because the way councillors frame the relationship 
between their council and ratepayers is incredibly important. 

Clause 36 which amends section 340A clarifies that a councillor will not 
be entitled to allowances if they are suspended because of a performance 
improvement direction that has been issued under another part of the act. 
That is an entirely appropriate arrangement. It clarifies a difficult 
situation where this is all about putting in place a framework to 
encourage people to behave ethically.

Madam Speaker, what is missing from this bill is an amendment about the 
cost of boards of inquiry. It is thoroughly unjust and outrageous that 
the state government levies the costs of boards of inquiries onto the 
council communities for which they have ordered an inquiry to occur.

We have had two very expensive inquiry processes in Tasmania. The cost of 
those inquiries has been levied on the communities, who can ill afford 
them. I can only speak in relation to the Huon Valley. The minister does 
not like to hear it but the failure of his department, the Director of 
Local Government's Office, to act early enough on consistent and 
persistent complaints of misconduct and other corrupted processes in the 
Huon Valley Council led to a level of internal dysfunction that resulted 
in a board of inquiry having to be called. It was a case of failing to 
discipline people's behaviour. It encouraged them to continue to behave 
badly. It is totally unreasonable for communities to have to bear the 
cost of the state government failing to do its job of resourcing and 
providing the Director of Local Government with whatever is required to 
undertake thorough investigations, so that these things can be flushed out 
before it leads to a level of dysfunction and things falling apart within 
councils. 

I acknowledge these changes to the Local Government Act will have involved 
many conversations with LGAT and throughout councils in Tasmania and with 
the staff in the department who have brought this altogether. As someone 
who has been on council, I look forward to the new batch of councillors, 
who have recently been elected, having tighter legislation to work within. 
Everyone in the state would be happy about that.