Rates cap plan headlines SA local government reform bill

South Australian Local Government Minister Stephan Knoll will be able to limit council rate increases under new legislation introduced into State Parliament this week.

The Statutes Amendment (Local Government Review) Bill will give the Minister the power to direct a council to cap its rates if “independent advice” deems they should be capped.

A rate-monitoring system will require all councils to receive, consider and publish independent advice on proposed changes to their general rate revenue in draft annual business plans. That information must be easily understood by ratepayers.

An Adelaide newspaper reported this week that of the 15 metro councils which have finalised their draft annual business plans, only six have decided to raise rates.

Other key reforms in the Bill include:

  • Requiring all councils to have an independent audit and risk committee to ensure councillors are provided with high-quality advice on critical financial and governance matters;
  • Requiring the SA Remuneration Tribunal to set appropriate salary bands for all council chief executive officers;
  • Requiring councils to receive and consider independent advice when employing, managing, and, if necessary, terminating a CEO;
  • Improvements to elections to reduce costs and other impacts on councils; and,
  • A range of red-tape reductions to lessen the burden on councils when holding information sessions for members and managing members’ registers of interest, etc.

To “crack down on bad behaviour in councils”, the Government’s Bill also seeks to establish a behavioural standards panel to deal with repeated or serious misconduct. This panel will have the power to suspend members for a maximum of three months.

The three-person panel will include a member nominated jointly by the Minister of the day and the Local Government Association of South Australia (LGASA).