Govt code cracks down on council

By YVONNE McLEAN

AFTER 15 years of successive governments' good intentions to legislate a Code of Conduct to be obeyed by its numerous local councils, the present Beattie Government is finalising its draft conduct policy with teeth and a real ability to bite.

Naturally there are some councils which need a definitive code more than others ? Gold Coast among them.

This week, Queensland Local Government Association CEO Greg Hallam visited council to explain in detail aspects of the Code of Conduct legislation due to become law in January next year.

While the code may not let the punishment fit the crime, it will bring a degree of decorum to the Gold Coast Chamber which has sizzled with personal attacks more than ever during the past year.

Even before the government moved quickly ahead recently after so many years of prevarication, the Gold Coast Mayor Ron Clarke strongly supported by his deputy Cr David Power, had a determination to quash rowdy and irrelevant debate by its own code of behaviour ? a determination now strengthened by government legislation.

Mr Hallam said councils would be required to appoint a Conduct Review Panel to assess bad conduct.

He suggested a retired judge, a former mayor or former CEO may be appropriate.

However council itself may take the necessary action in most cases.

Council could censure a breach, reprimand a councillor, request a councillor to apologise, or suspend a councillor from the rest of the meeting or subsequent meetings.

Or worse still, impose a penalty of a fine, hurting the hip pocket ? real incentive to not misbehave.

Examples of code breaches in the government's draft legislation include: councillors shouting abuse at each other, councillors disrupting a meeting with aggressive behaviour, abusing a council employee and so on.

There are statutory breaches too, such as a councillor releasing confidential information to the media, or a councillor receiving hospitality from a developer who has an application before council and does not declare the matter.

New to the hubbub of council and its sometimes block and tackle debates, Cr Christine Robbins said she was aware that some Gold Coast councillors had been misbehaving for years.

But if there was a need to pursue an argument in the public interest that would not necessarily mean bad behaviour.

"There is a fine line to some of these issues, and it will be a very good thing for breaches to be codified so we all know where we stand. At present few seem to know where the line is," she said.

Council will submit its input to the government's draft legislation this month.



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