Posted on December 20, 2012 by Stuart Simington

New Model Code of conduct framework

On 19 December 2012, the Division of Local Government published a new Model Code of Conduct Framework which will commence on 1 March 2013.

LTL will be having a close look at the substance of the changes in an upcoming post.

Superficially, however, ‘conduct standards’ and ‘procedures’ will now be dealt with in separate documents:

The Division Circular (12-45) describes the key changes as follows:

  • In the interests of clarity and simplicity, standards of conduct and procedures for dealing with breaches will be separately prescribed.
  • Minor changes have been made to the standards prescribed under the code in relation to binding caucus votes, the disclosure of political donations, loss of quorum, the management of significant non-pecuniary conflicts of interests in relation to principal planning instruments, gifts, relationships between councillors and staff and use of council resources for re-election purposes.
  • New standards have been included to address misuse of the code and other conduct intended to undermine its implementation.
  • New provisions have been included to improve all councils’ access to suitably skilled conduct reviewers.
  • Under the new procedures, complaints will be managed from start to finish by an independent conduct reviewer at arms length from the council if they are not informally resolved at outset.
  • There will be an increased focus on informal resolution of less serious matters.
    Code of conduct matters will be dealt with confidentially. However, where a conduct reviewer determines that a councillor has breached the code and a sanction is imposed by the council, this will be made public via the minutes of the meeting.
  • There will be limited rights of review to the Division where a person is subject to an adverse outcome.
  • The Division will have more options for dealing with matters directly under the misconduct provisions. This will enable it to directly police the administration of the code and address issues such as misuse or failure to cooperate.
  • Penalties for misconduct will be expanded and increased to improve deterrence.
    Both the Division and the Pecuniary Interest and Disciplinary Tribunal will be able impose stronger penalties for repeated misconduct. This will enable the more effective management of ongoing disruptive behaviour by individual councillors to enable councils to get on with the core business of serving their communities.

The proposed transitional arrangements are as follows:

  • Complaints made or yet to be finalised before 1 March 2013 are to be dealt with under the current Model Code of Conduct and Procedures.
  • Complaints received after 1 March 2013 but where the alleged conduct occurred prior to this date are to be assessed against the standards prescribed under the current Model Code but dealt with under the new Procedures.
  • Complaints relating to alleged conduct that occurred after 1 March 2013 are to be assessed against the new Code and Procedures.

Councils have been advised to take the following action:

  • Adopt the new Model Code and Procedures by 1 March 2013
  • Appoint members of staff other than the General Manager to act as a complaints coordinator and alternate complaints coordinator before 1 March 2013
  • Ensure panels of conduct reviewers, appointed using the selection process prescribed under the new procedures, are in place by 30 September 2013. Councils without existing panels should establish a panel by 1 March 2013.

More detail to follow.