How to have your say in Council
All councils in NSW are independent, locally elected corporate bodies. Councils are responsible for making significant decisions that have a far-reaching impact on their community. Local communities are encouraged to have a say in what their council does and how it does it. There are a number of ways that you can participate in a council’s decision making process.
Vote at elections
General elections are held every four years, on the second Saturday in September, to elect representatives or councillors to councils in New South Wales.
If you are a resident you must vote in local government elections. You don’t have to own a house or be a ratepayer to vote, but your name must be on the council electoral roll. If your name is on the State or Commonwealth roll, it will automatically be on the council roll. If not, you can enrol to vote online at the Australian Electoral Commission website or pick up a form from your local post office. Once your name is on the electoral roll, you must vote. If you do not vote at a local government election and you don’t have a valid reason, you will be fined $55.
Stand for council
One of the best ways to have a say in your council is to stand for election as a councillor. Becoming a councillor is an exciting opportunity to make a difference and to represent the interests of the members of your community. The Stand for Your Community guide, provides the key information you need to know on becoming a councillor in NSW.
Attend council meetings
Councils are required to have meetings. It is a matter for each council to decide when they will be held. The council must ensure that all meetings of the council and committees of the council, which consist only of councillors, are open to the public. A council must give public notice of the times and places of these meetings and a copy of the agenda and business papers be made available For details you can check your council’s website, your local newspaper, notice boards at council chambers or libraries, or contact your council.
Councils can hold public forums at the beginning of meetings for members of the public to speak on items on the agenda. You will need to ask your council if it holds public forums and what you need to do if you would like to speak at one..
There are times when parts of a meeting may be closed to the public, but the spirit of the Act is to make sure that council and committee meetings are as open as possible.
Nominate for a Committee
Councils often establish committees, which include members of the community, to help them develop various plans and policies. What these committees deal with varies from council to council.
If you want to find out about or participate in these committees, you should contact your council.
Access council information
You can apply for access to information held by your local council under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (the GIPA Act).
If you would like to apply for access to information held by a council in NSW, you need to apply directly to the relevant council. Contact the council concerned to find out more about the process for seeking access to information through GIPA.
Further information about accessing information that is not publically available can be found on the Information and Privacy Commission’s website at www.ipc.nsw.gov.au.
If you have made a GIPA application to a council and are unhappy with their response, you should contact the NSW Information and Privacy Commission.
Participate in public consultations
There are a number of council plans and policies that may affect you. You should consider having a say in their development so that your needs are taken into account and the final plan or policy has benefits for you and your community.
The Community Strategic Plan represents the highest level of strategic planning undertaken by a local council. All other plans developed by the council as part of the Integrated Planning and Reporting framework must reflect and support the implementation of the Community Strategic Plan.
The Community Strategic Plan should identify the main priorities and aspirations of the community, providing a clear set of strategies to achieve this vision of the future. Building the Community Strategic Plan takes time and must involve a whole-of-community engagement process.
Each local council must prepare and implement a Community Engagement Strategy for engaging the local community for the development and review of the Community Strategic Plan.
The Community Strategic Plan essentially addresses four key questions for the community:
- Where are we now?
- Where do we want to be in ten years’ time?
- How will we get there?
- How will we know when we have arrived?
The draft plan must be put on public exhibition and this is your opportunity to have your say.
Councils may prepare a number of other plans and policies such as environmental management plans, plans of management for community land, cultural plans, and crime prevention or community safety plans. Information about these may be included in the council’s management plan or annual report or on their website. You can also contact your council for more information.
Councils are required to produce an annual report that provides information about the implementation of their operational plan.
If you look at your council’s annual report you can see whether programs that affect your community have actually been implemented and how well they have been implemented. You can use this information to make suggestions to your council about how those programs might be improved or to suggest new programs.
Customer feedback is important to any organisation that has a lot of contact with the public. If you are pleased with a particular council service or member of staff, contact the council and let them know.
If you have a problem with your council, you should first talk to council staff. A specific person in the council usually has overall responsibility for managing the complaints system. If you are not happy with how your complaint is dealt with, you should ask to speak to this person. If you are not satisfied with their response, you should write to the General Manager. You may also take complaints to the Mayor or your elected councillors. You should be kept informed about what is being done about your complaint.
If you feel that your council has not adequately dealt with a complaint, you can write to the Office of Local Government. The Chief Executive will decide whether or not your complaint will be investigated. [Link to Complaining About Your Council]
You can also contact the following organisations. They may be able to help you if you are not satisfied with the way a council has dealt with your complaint:
- NSW Ombudsman. They can investigate issues such as councils not complying with proper procedures or the law, not enforcing development consent conditions, not replying to correspondence, not notifying affected persons before certain decisions are made, and not acting reasonably, consistently, impartially and fairly. Some council decisions, such as setting rates or adopting particular policies, are usually not investigated. The Ombudsman has an online complaint form, or you can write to Level 24, 580 George Street, Sydney NSW 2000 or for enquiries firstname.lastname@example.org or call (02) 9286 1000 or toll free 1800 451 524.
- Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). ICAC’s role is to to protect the public interest, prevent breaches of public trust and guide the conduct of public officials in the NSW public sector, including councils. You can write to GPO Box 500 Sydney NSW 2001 or email@example.com, or call (02) 8281 5999 or toll free 1800 463 909.
- Australian Human Rights Commission (HREOC). HREOC deals with complaints about discrimination on grounds such as race, gender, age and disability. You can write to GPO Box 5218 Sydney NSW 2001, or call (02) 9284 9600 or 1300 656 419.
- Anti-Discrimination Board NSW (ADB). The ADB administers the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act. They can help resolve complaints about discrimination, harassment or vilification. If your complaint is about discrimination, you should contact both HREOC and the ADB to check which agency is best equipped to resolve your specific complaint. You can write to the ADB at PO Box W213, Parramatta Westfield NSW 2150 or make an enquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org, or complaint to email@example.com, or call (02) 9268 5544 or 1800 670 812 (toll free Regional NSW only).