Complaint statistics for the July 2015 to June 2016 comparison against the July 2014 to June 2015 period.
The actual number of complaints is not necessarily an effective indicator of the seriousness of the matters raised. In some cases the council may be the subject of campaigns, usually about a single controversial issue. This can distort the council’s reputation if there is in fact no maladministration on the council’s part and the issues relate more to concerns about a particular decision. The Office of Local Government (OLG) generally will not investigate such issues provided the council’s decision is lawful and proper processes are followed.
July 2015 to June 2016 NSW report
OLG received 1,454 complaints in 2015-16, compared to 1,011 in 2014-15. These complaints were spread over 139 councils. The total number of complaints received this year represents a significant increase over the number received last year (in the order of 44%). OLG also received 20 complaints which did not specify the name of the council that the matter related to.
Auburn City Council received the most complaints. These primarily related to the conduct of councillors and contributed to the decision to commence a Public Inquiry into the Council.
In 2015-16 OLG received 29 informal allegations of breaches of the pecuniary interest provisions of the Local Government Act 1993 (the Act). No complaints were received that met the requirements set out for a formal pecuniary interest complaint. There were no formal investigations of a pecuniary interest complaint under section 462 of the Act commenced in the period. However, there were two investigations completed that were referred to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) for consideration.
NCAT determined both matters during 2015-16. One councillor was reprimanded and her right to be paid any fee or other remuneration to which she would otherwise be entitled as the holder of the civic office was suspended for a period of three months. This councillor failed to disclose her interest in a planning proposal before the council
in which she had a pecuniary interest. The councillor remained in the chamber, participated in the consideration of, and voted upon, the matter in breach of the pecuniary interest provisions of the Act.
One councillor was initially suspended from civic office for four months. The councillor had failed to disclose his interest in a planning proposal before the Council. The councillor remained in the chamber participated in the consideration of, and voted upon, the matter in breach of the pecuniary interest provisions of the Act.
An appeal was lodged with the Supreme Court in relation to this NCAT decision. The Supreme Court overturned the decision and found that the councillor did not have a pecuniary interest and therefore had not breached the provisions of the Act.
Councillor misconduct and political donation complaints
In 2015-16 OLG received 68 complaints alleging misconduct by councillors. This is a 106% increase from the previous year. Five formal investigations under the misconduct provisions were commenced during this period. NCAT determined one misconduct matter during 2015-16.
The former councillor was initially disqualifed from civic office for two years. However, due to a technical difficulty with the decision, the decision was set aside by subsequent order and the former councillor was reprimanded for his conduct.
The Chief Executive of OLG determined two misconduct matters during this period. One councillor’s right to be paid any fee or other remuneration to which he would otherwise be entitled as the holder of the civic office was suspended for three months for failing to comply with an applicable requirement of the code of conduct by failing to appropriately manage a significant non-pecuniary conflict of interests. One councillor was reprimanded and received a suspension for two months for failing to comply with applicable requirements of the code of conduct and section 439 of the Act by failing to appropriately manage allegations of a breach of the code of conduct. Both these decisions are subject to an appeal to NCAT.
Three matters were referred to NCAT for its consideration during this period.
Section 430 Investigations
There were two investigations overseen this financial year with the reports being provided to the Minister for Local Government. The first involved Strathfield Council. The investigation found that there have been systemic failures in the Council’s processes, culminating in maladministration and serious and substantial waste. While it was acknowledged that Council had taken steps to remedy concerns raised during the investigative process, there were seven recommendations made to the Minister.
The second investigation related to the former Hurstville City Council. The investigation found that the Council did not manage complaints about its general manager in accordance with the requisite requirements and that a councillor had not managed a perceived conflict of interests appropriately. There were four recommendations made to the Minister.