NSW Office of Local Government’s role widened under new code

A NSW Local Government Model Code of Conduct with strengthened investigative processes and penalties for councillor misconduct was gazetted on 7 August.

The State Government says the code, which applies to 48,000 staff and 1300 councillors at 128 councils, 10 county councils and 13 joint organisations across the state, will enforce high standards of conduct.

The revised code is based on the 2018 Model Code of Conduct prescribed on 14 December 2018.

Changes include:

  • Expanding the Office of Local Government’s role in code-of-conduct breaches with councils limited to formally censuring councillors only; 
  • Requiring councils to publicly disclose the findings of an investigation when censuring a councillor to ensure the public is aware of the misconduct;
  • Allowing councillors to avoid formal censure by their council for minor offences by making voluntary undertakings, including apologising and attending training, mediation, and counselling; 
  • Removing the requirement for councillors to formally appoint panels of conduct reviewers to investigate code of conduct breaches; 
  • Requiring webcasts of council meetings to be kept on council websites for at least 12 months;
  • Strengthening the language in the Model Code of Conduct describing the various grounds of discrimination to reflect more contemporary standards; and
  • Providing councils with the option to increase the $50 cap on gifts and benefits to $100 so it does not capture items of relatively low value. The changes also clarify application of the cap in certain circumstances such as at council events.

The changes will formally come into effect when the necessary Regulation is made prescribing the new Model Code of Conduct and Procedures.