Local Government Minister Don Page today gave notice in Parliament of laws allowing for early intervention by the State to deal with dysfunctional councils.
Mr Page said that while most councils performed to the high ethical standards their communities expected, a minority of councils and councillors had failed to meet their obligations, resulting in services being held up or grinding to a halt.
“We need to be able to nip these problems in the bud – and this legislation will enable that,’’ Mr Page said.
“It is unacceptable that services including planning approvals and basic maintenance are put in limbo because of council infighting, councillors indulging in personal vendettas or petty political squabbles.’’
Currently, the Local Government Act does not contain a power to suspend whole councils. Rather, it provides for a public inquiry and the subsequent dismissal of council by the Governor following that inquiry – a costly process which can take up to 18 months.
The new laws give the Minister:
- Stronger powers to gather information from councils to identify dysfunction
- New powers to issue a Performance Improvement Order
- New powers to suspend a council for up to three months – with a possible extension of a further 3 months if it fails to comply with the Improvement Order – and place the council’s affairs in the care of an administrator
The power to suspend a whole council exists in a number of other jurisdictions, including Western Australia and Queensland; will act as a powerful deterrent against misbehaviour and will save NSW taxpayers millions that would otherwise be spent on costly inquiries.
“Put simply, the proposal could be characterised as a time out and it puts councils on notice to concentrate on delivering basic services to the community,’’ he said.
“It also provides a powerful deterrent against misbehaviour and when dysfunction does arise it allows us to nip it in the bud.
Mr Page said he frequently received requests from the community asking him to do something to put a stop to such behaviour.
“Councils themselves want to put a stop to behaviour that tarnishes the reputation of local government and stops councils delivering for their communities.
“The recent history of local government in this State contains several examples of councils that have betrayed the trust of their communities through infighting and poor decision making.
“There have been no fewer than 10 public inquiries in recent years which have cost the State millions of dollars. This money could have been better spent on projects that would really benefit communities, such as the renewal of infrastructure.
“Had the Government of the day had powers to act sooner to bring about improvement in those councils, the problems could have been resolved more quickly to the benefit of the community.’’
Mr Page said a key part of the reforms is the Performance Improvement Order (PIO).
“If the PIO is adhered to that is the end of the matter. However, if the PIO is ignored the government has the power to suspend a council for up to three months while the situation is rectified by an administrator.’’
Mr Page said the new laws complimented changes the Liberals & Nationals Government brought in last year to improve the conduct of individual council officials.
Those amendments to the Local Government Act boosted the Model Code of Conduct for Local Councils in NSW by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of investigations by the Division of Local Government and introducing penalties for misconduct and vexatious or politically motivated complaints.
“New councils are in place following the 2012 local elections. This Government has shown a commitment to local democracy and for the first time in 17 years there are no councils under administration. We want to keep it that way.
“That is why now is the time to act.’’