LGAT calls for code change
Tasmanian councillors say the state’s code of conduct is being “used as a weapon”.
There are calls this week to change Tasmania's local government code of conduct, which has seen councils fork out tens of thousands of ratepayer dollars to investigate complaints, many of which are ultimately dismissed.
For example, there have been five complaints raised against Dorset Mayor Greg Howard since 2016; three of which were dismissed, one was upheld, and another was upheld but overturned on appeal.
These were among 12 complaints in Dorset, half of which were dismissed. Even so, investigating those 12 complaints will cost ratepayers up to $40,000.
“It's just a total waste of money, it's just a disgrace really,” Cr Howard said.
“The code of conduct is being used as a weapon by some members of the public against councillors right across the state.”
Amendments to the local government act in 2016 saw the code of conduct panel pulled from a pool of people appointed by the Minister responsible for local government.
It requires members to be either “Australian lawyers or persons with experience in local government but who have not been councillors or council employees within the preceding two years”.
The Local Government Association of Tasmania (LGAT) says the nature of complaints is changing, with some councillors more frequently threatened by members of the public or other councillors for not voting a particular way.
“That's clearly a form of harassment or bullying, and not the intent of the code,” LGAT chief executive Katrena Stephenson said.
Ms Stephenson said councils are feeling the cost of paying for investigations into less serious matters.
The LGAT wants the State Government to consider changing the code of conduct during an upcoming review of the Local Government Act, to ensure complaints go through existing council processes before a code of conduct complaint is lodged.
“It should never be the case that the first time a councillor knows there is an issue is when they receive a code of conduct complaint,” Ms Stephenson said.
Local Government Minister Mark Shelton said the Government would work with the local government sector on its proposals.