This is the second of a series of articles on the staged introduction of the Local Government Act 2020 (Vic) (the new Act), which applies to local Councils in Victoria.
Victorian local Councils must adopt an updated Councillor Code of Conduct (CCC) by 24 February 2021 to be compliant with the new statutory requirements set out in section 139 of the new Act.
The Purpose of a CCC
The purpose of a CCC is to assist Councillors in understanding their role and obligations by outlining the community’s expectation that Councillors maintain the highest standard of ethical behaviour, as well as their commitment to good governance, when executing their duties and functions.
Requirements under the new Act
1. What must be included in the new CCC?
Under the new Act, the CCC must include the standards of conduct prescribed in regulations and any other matters which the Council considers appropriate (section 139(3)). To date, the standards prescribed by the Local Government (Governance and Integrity) Regulations 2020 (Vic) cover matters relating to discrimination, harassment (including sexual harassment) and vilification, as well governance measures.
2. When must the new CCCs be adopted?
Local Councils are required to adopt the new CCC within four months of 24 October 2020, which is the date of the last general election (sections 139(4) and (5)). Until a local Council adopts a CCC under the new Act, Councillors must comply with the existing CCCs (section 139(6)).
3. Who must comply with a CCC?
A person elected as a Councillor must comply with a CCC. The new Act requires a Councillor to take the oath or affirmation of office before they act as a Councillor, which requires the Councillor to commit to abiding by the CCC.
4. The new internal arbitration process
The new Act also establishes a new internal arbitration process which applies to any breach of the prescribed standards of conduct (section 141(1)). The process includes the ability to for the designated arbiter to make a finding of misconduct against the Councillor (section 141(7)). If the arbiter determines that the Councillor has failed to comply with the prescribed standards of conduct, the arbiter may impose a range of sanctions, including, but not limited to, directing the Councillor to make an apology and/or suspending the Councillor for up to one month (sections 147(1) and (2)).
FAL Lawyers has extensive experience advising on administrative procedures, compliance and governance and can assist local Councils with understanding how the Local Government Act 2020 (Vic) may impact them. If you have any queries or would like to discuss, please do not hesitate to contact us.