Office to oversee the conduct of local government councillors opens

The Office of the Independent Assessor has started work as the organisation to receive, assess, investigate and prosecute complaints about councillor conduct in Queensland.

COMMISSION SET UP: Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe has been tightening regulations about the behaviour of local government councillors.

COMMISSION SET UP: Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe has been tightening regulations about the behaviour of local government councillors.

It opened its doors on Monday, December 3, taking on about about 60 complaints that are under investigation or are awaiting assessment.

The office was set up as part of a revamp of structures and processes which oversee the conduct of councillors.

Logan mayor Luke Smith faces several charges as does Cr Stacey McIntosh. Cr McIntosh’s matters predate the 2016 local government election.

Cr Smith’s charges arose from the Operation Belcarra Crime and Corruption Commission investigation which examined the conduct of candidates involved in the Gold Coast City Council, Moreton Bay Regional Council, Logan City Council and Ipswich City Council local government elections.

Operation Belcarra examined election donations and the conduct of candidates.

Cr Smith was charged with corruption and perjury. He has vowed to fight the charges. 

He and Cr Stacey McIntosh were suspended under new laws which give the minister the power to suspend mayors and councillors facing criminal charges. 

It also marks the start of the Code of Conduct for Councillors to enforce higher standards of behaviour from local government representatives.

Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe welcomed the OIA which is headed up by crime investigator Kathleen Florian.

“This is the start of a new era of accountability, integrity and transparency as we rebuild the community’s faith and trust in local government,” Mr Hinchliffe said.

“The independent assessor has the power to investigate and determine genuine complaints more effectively and efficiently while being able to quickly dismiss vexatious complaints. 

“The new code of conduct has a strong focus on the three Rs – that councillors carry out their responsibilities conscientiously, they treat people in a respectful way and ensure their conduct does not reflect adversely on the reputation of the council.”

The code is backed by a range of penalties, including reprimands, orders for counselling and reimbursement of costs.

Ms Florian said the OIA’s job was to hold councillors who would commit misconduct to account, for the benefit of the community and the benefit of all councillors who were trying to do the right thing. 

“It will be my priority to resolve the transition matters and ensure that the councillor conduct system is effective, timely and balanced,” Ms Florian said.

“With new powers to address early complaints that are vexatious, frivolous or not in good faith, the focus of the OIA will be on complaints of more serious allegations of misconduct.”

The OIA will work with the new Councillor Complaints Tribunal and the Local Government Department to provide councillors with advice, training and information.

The code applies to all councils, except Brisbane City Council which has a separate code. 

For further information visit oia.qld.gov.au.

The Code of Conduct for Councillors can be viewed at www.dlgrma.qld.gov.au/code-of-conduct 

A barrister, Ms Florian has worked for the Crime and Corruption Commission.

She was the Queensland manager with the Australian Crime Commission and gained extensive experience in crime and corruption prevention, leading national intelligence programs.