Tough new codes of conduct for NSW councillors are coming into force that crack down on gifts and benefits and require formal training for councillors and Mayors.

Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton said the reforms are needed to ensure the conduct of local councillors meets the expectations of the community.

“The new Model Code of Conduct stamps out the bad behaviour we have seen among a small number of councillors who have acted in self-interest rather than in the best interests of the community,” Ms Upton said.

“For example the acceptance of lavish gifts is now a thing of the past – there is now a $50 limit.

“There are also restrictions on access to council information, strict requirements for declaring interests, and the requirement Councillors must disclose whether they are a property developer or a close associate of one.

“Any councillor who abuses public office for personal or financial gain is firmly in the sights of the new Model Code of Conduct,” she said.

Other new requirements include:

  • Mandatory reporting of all gifts regardless of value in the council gift register
  • Councillors prohibited from accessing information about matters they have pecuniary interests in unless it is otherwise publicly available
  • Suspensions for pecuniary interest breaches will count towards the “three strikes and you’re out” scheme introduced in 2015 where councillors face automatic disqualification when they are suspended three times for misconduct
  • Councillors must declare new interests more regularly in official returns of interest lodged with their council
  • New standards relating to discrimination and harassment, bullying, work health and safety, use of social media, access to information and maintenance of council records.

Local Government NSW says it welcomes reforms that strengthen the sector and accountability to the community, but encourages the Minister for Local Government to focus on real, meaningful change.

Peak body President Linda Scott said councillors and staff were already subject to much more rigorous standards than State members of Parliament and State Government employees.

Cr Scott said the vast majority of councillors and council staff work diligently and conscientiously to serve their communities - openly, honestly and in good faith.

“When the Minister last announced this nearly 12 months ago, LGNSW noted proposals – such as a councillor having to declare a cup of coffee or even the offer of one – took focus away from important reforms local government needs,” she said.

“Council-bashing never fails to generate publicity, but we call on the Minister to pursue genuine reform to strengthen the sector, especially to allow councils to create better financial sustainability.

“We look forward to working with the Minister to better support councils so they can, in turn, continue to deliver for their communities.”