Queensland councillor complaints framework
The Local Government Act 2009 (LGA) and City of Brisbane Act 2010 (COBA) provide processes for dealing with councillor complaints and councillors in Queensland who do not comply with their obligations under legislation.
This helps ensure that we maintain appropriate standards of councillor conduct and performance.
Download the councillor complaints fact sheet (PDF, 109KB)
On this page
- Local government principles
- Code of conduct for councillors in Queensland
- Types of non-compliant conduct
- Unsuitable meeting conduct
- Inappropriate conduct
- Misconduct – Office of the Independent Assessor
- Corrupt conduct
- Conduct examples
- Message from the Independent Assessor
- Frivolous or improper complaints
- Councillor Conduct Tribunal
- Tribunal decisions
- Message from the Chairman of the Crime and Corruption Commission
- Crime and Corruption Commission powers
- Local government investigation policy
- Protection for complainants
- Records – councillor conduct registers
- Integrity offences and penalties
Local government principles
The LGA and COBA are founded on five local government principles with which councillors must comply while performing their roles as elected representatives and is important to note that all principles are of equal importance. These principles are:
- transparent and effective processes, and decision-making in the public interest
- sustainable development and management of assets and infrastructure, and delivery of effective services
- democratic representation social inclusion and meaningful community engagement
- good governance of, and by, local government
- ethical and legal behaviour of councillors, local government employees and councillor advisors.
Under the legislation all councillors have the same responsibilities though the mayor has some extra responsibilities. The manner in which a mayor or councillor conducts themselves while undertaking these responsibilities may constitute a breach of trust which would be dealt with as misconduct.
Code of conduct for councillors in Queensland
The code of conduct for councillors in Queensland sets out the values that describe the types of conduct councillors should demonstrate under each of the five principles under the legislation, and standards of behaviour expected of councillors and mayors when carrying out their role as elected representatives. By following the behaviours set out in the code of conduct, councillors increase public confidence in local government and council decisions.
Types of non-compliant conduct
There are different processes to address complaints made against councillors depending on how serious the alleged conduct is.
Councils are responsible for:
- unsuitable meeting conduct
- inappropriate conduct referred to the council by the Office of the Independent Assessor (OIA)
- putting systems in place to educate and support councillors that will prevent poor conduct.
More serious matters are dealt with by the OIA or the Councillor Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
Corrupt conduct (offences in legislation) may be dealt with by the OIA as misconduct or as a low level criminal offence under the legislation unless circumstances of offending or previous disciplinary history suggest it should be dealt with as a criminal offence by the Crime and Corruption Commission under the criminal code.
Unsuitable meeting conduct
If a councillor engages in conduct that contravenes a behaviour standard of the code of conduct during a council meeting, that is unsuitable meeting conduct.
The chairperson should deal with any unsuitable meeting conduct immediately, by following council’s meeting procedures.
Examples of unsuitable meeting conduct by a councillor may include:
- a councillor behaving in a council or committee meeting in a way that intimidates, bullies or harasses a member of the community, another councillor or a council employee
- a councillor continually interrupting or disrupting a speaker at a local government or committee meeting
- a councillor behaving in an offensive or disorderly way in a council or committee meeting.
The conduct of a councillor is inappropriate conduct if it contravenes:
- a behaviour standard in the code of conduct
- a policy, procedure or resolution of the council
- the order of a meeting chairperson to leave and stay away from the meeting place.
It is also classed as inappropriate conduct if a councillor receives orders from a chairperson for unsuitable meeting conduct three times within a year.
Examples of inappropriate conduct of a councillor may include:
- a councillor publicly making derogatory comments about council officers
- a councillor speaking to the media on behalf of council when not properly authorised under a council policy or resolution
- a councillor failing to comply with an order made by the chairperson of a meeting to leave and stay away from the place which the meeting is being held
- a councillor has received orders about unsuitable meeting conduct three times within
The conduct of a councillor is misconduct in the following situations:
- if it negatively affects, directly or indirectly, the honest and impartial performance of the councillor’s own functions, or the exercise of another councillor’s functions
- if it involves a breach of trust placed in the councillor either knowingly or recklessly as the councillor has contravened a local government principle in section 4 of the LGA or the COBA, or a councillor responsibility in section 12 of the LGA or section 14 of the COBA
- if it breaches an order of the council or the Councillor Conduct Tribunal
- if it involves the misuse of council information, regardless of whether the misuse is for the benefit of the councillor or for the benefit, or to the detriment, of another person
- if it breaches the acceptable request guidelines of the council or a policy of the council about the reimbursement of expenses
- if a councillor does not disclose a conflict of interest
- if a councillor does not report their belief or suspicion about another councillor’s conflict of interest
- if a councillor or mayor gives a direction to a council employee
- if a councillor releases information that the councillor knows or should reasonably know is confidential
- if the council has decided to take action to discipline the councillor for inappropriate conduct three times within one year
- if an order has been made that if the councillor engages in the same type of conduct again, it will be dealt with as misconduct, and the councillor does the same conduct again
- if a meeting chairperson breaches their responsibilities under the LGA or the COBA about how they are required to manage and lead meetings.
Misconduct – Office of the Independent Assessor
The Office of the Independent Assessor (OIA) may also investigate alleged offences including corrupt conduct, statutory offences and integrity offences under the legislation, and choose to prosecute them as misconduct.
Examples of misconduct of a councillor may include:
- a councillor knowingly providing false or misleading information during a meeting of the council in order to affect a decision, which could also be considered corrupt conduct
- a councillor releasing private information about a member of the community
- a councillor providing confidential information to the media that came from a closed meeting of council
- a councillor failing to pay a fine ordered by the Councillor Conduct Tribunal
- a councillor seeking assistance or advice from an officer that is not in accordance with council’s acceptable request guidelines
- a meeting chairperson breaching their responsibilities under legislation about how they are required to manage and lead meetings
- a councillor uses a council vehicle for private use that is not authorised by council’s expenses policy, which could also be considered corrupt conduct.
For a councillor, corrupt conduct is conduct that fulfills all the three criteria below:
- it adversely affects or could adversely affect the performance of the councillor’s responsibilities or functions of the council
- it involves the performance of the councillor’s responsibilities in a way that:
- is not honest or impartial
- involves a breach of the trust placed in the councillor either knowingly or recklessly because the councillor has contravened a local government principle
- involves the misuse of information acquired by the councillor in connection with their councillor responsibilities.
- if proven, it would be a criminal offence.
Examples of corrupt conduct of a councillor may include:
- a councillor fails to immediately inform a meeting of a conflict of interest with the intent of gaining a benefit or to cause a detriment to someone else
- a councillor fails to leave a meeting if other councillors have decided that they are required to
- a councillor engages in fraud against the council
- a councillor uses information acquired in their role as a councillor to gain a financial benefit for themselves or someone else
- a councillor directs a local government employee so that they can gain a benefit or cause a detriment to themselves or someone else
- a councillor steals from the council
- if a councillor does not submit or update their registers of interest when required.
The Office of the Independent Assessor (OIA) has entered into an arrangement with the CCC to commence investigations into some allegations of corrupt conduct. The OIA reports these matters to the CCC on a monthly basis and can take over an investigation if appropriate.
When the OIA deals with corrupt conduct which is a statutory offence under the LGA, it has the choice to deal with the matter either as misconduct or as a criminal prosecution.
Examples of unsuitable meeting conduct can include:
- a councillor talking over other councillors all throughout a meeting about an environmental matter, as they do not seem to be considering the concerns of residents
- a councillor is not satisfied with a previous vote in the meeting and continually accuses other councillors of being dishonest, which is holding up the meeting.
Examples of inappropriate conduct can include:
- a councillor telling a resident that they will fix an issue for them because “the council officer is useless”
- a chairperson ordering a councillor to leave the meeting. The councillor won’t leave because he believes the order is unfair and he needs to vote on other matters coming up on the agenda.
Examples of misconduct can include:
- the chairperson asks if anyone has heard any community feedback about a proposed project. A councillor says “not really”, even though she has received several negative emails from residents about it
- a journalist speaking to a councillor on a matter that has recently been discussed at a council meeting doesn’t think the councillor is making a very strong argument for the decision made. The councillor gives some information ‘off the record’ from a closed council meeting so the journalist knows what’s really happening.
- a councillor realises another councillor’s sister owns some shares in the company that is part of a tender process before council. She decides to keep quiet because she’s not sure if it’s the councillor’s sister or cousin. The ‘opposition’ councillors would make a big deal of it if she was wrong
- a councillor gets a fine from the Councillor Conduct Tribunal. The issue is a misunderstanding and unfair. He decides not to pay if he can get away with it
- a councillor promised a community group they would be eligible for a grant, but they haven’t applied yet. The grant closes that day, so she decides to fill out the form and signs it on behalf of the group’s secretary. She puts her son’s address on the form and will give the cheque to the group later if they are successful. This could also be considered corrupt conduct if proven that the councillor was deliberately trying to impersonate someone else for personal benefit.
An example of corrupt conduct includes:
- a councillor telling her son about proposed zoning changes that are not yet public for a property he is thinking of buying.
Message from the Independent Assessor
The Office of the Independent Assessor (OIA) was established only in 2018, after the introduction of the Belcarra reforms. It is the function of the OIA to oversee councillor conduct.
There are three types of councillor conduct: inappropriate conduct, misconduct and corrupt conduct. The OIA receives complaints about all three types of conduct, and we assess those complaints and if appropriate, we investigate those complaints and prosecute them. Corrupt conduct complaints are referred to the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) but, in some instances, maybe referred back to the OIA for investigation.
You will come in contact with us in a number of ways during your career. It may be through training, because in addition to receiving and assessing complaints, we also provide training about key misconduct risks and you will be receiving insight newsletters from us on a regular basis, which will give you updates about key complaint issues and misconduct risks to inform you and your counsel about proactive measures that you could be taking. You will also receive contact from us when we come out to deliver training and when we engage with you because a complaint has been received.
Often, your first engagement may be to say that a complaint has been received and dismissed because no further action is required to be taken and you'll receive a letter to that effect with the reasons for why the complaint was dismissed. If we decide to investigate a complaint, that just means that based on the information that we have at that time, there is sufficient information to warrant further investigation. You will know about that when you receive a letter to say that the OIA is investigating a matter. If you receive such a letter, it is not time to panic, it just means that the complaint requires us to look at it in further detail and to determine what is the appropriate way to deal with it.
It may be that in the letter that we send you, we will set out the full particulars of the allegations and all the facts that we know at that point. And based on that, you may decide that you would like to deal with the matter in a fast-tracked manner and have the matter dealt with by the tribunal as soon as possible. If that is the case, the tribunal will take into account the fact that you have fast-tracked the matter and fully cooperated and that will be relevant as part of any sanction. Alternatively, you may look at the allegation and believe that it's not right, in which case we will properly investigate it and at the end of that investigation, it may be dismissed, or it may be referred to the Councillor Conduct Tribunal(CCT). If it's possible that it's to be referred to the CCT, you will get an opportunity to look at all the evidence first and to make comments on that before any decision is made about whether to refer the matter.
The staff at the OIA have been recruited not only because they're really good at what they do but because they are decent people who are very approachable and we would really encourage you if you have any questions or concerns, to give us a call and we can talk that through.
Remember, at the end of the day, that when we're investigating misconduct, it is simply that, it's misconduct. It's a disciplinary matter. It's not a criminal matter and the purpose of a misconduct scheme is to find ways to reinforce to councillors where mistakes have been made and to educate them to stop those mistakes happening again. So, the purpose of misconduct schemes is not punitive. It's generally educative, although there can be some deterrent aspects.
So if you have any concerns or questions about how to interact or engage with the OIA, please just give us and our staff a call and we're happy to talk you through that and do what we can to pave the way and make the experience as effective as possible.
Contact the Office of the Independent Assessor
Phone: 1300 620 722 (9am–5pm Monday to Friday)
Frivolous or improper complaints
Making a frivolous or improper complaint is an offence with a maximum penalty of 85 penalty units and may be investigated by the Office of the Independent Assessor.
Frivolous or improper complaints can include the following:
- Re-making the same complaint a second time after the Office of the Independent Assessor has already determined it is frivolous
- Making a vexatious complaint, or not making a complaint in good faith
- Getting somebody else to make a complaint a second time after you have already made the complaint.
Councillor Conduct Tribunal
The Councillor Conduct Tribunal is an independent body made up of members and a president. It is responsible for dealing with matters referred to the Tribunal by the Office of the Independent Assessor where the Independent Assessor forms a reasonable belief that the councillor may have engaged in misconduct.
The tribunal’s functions include the following:
- To hear and decide matters referred by the Independent Assessor
- To investigate and make recommendations to local government about suspected inappropriate conduct if referred to them by a local government
After conducting a hearing, the tribunal must decide whether the councillor has engaged in misconduct. If so, it must then decide what action it will take to discipline the councillor.
The tribunal may decide to reprimand the councillor, or may order that the councillor do one or more of the following:
- Make a public admission that they have engaged in misconduct
- Attend training or counselling
- Pay a fine to the council of up to 50 penalty units
- Reimburse the council for costs caused by their misconduct
- Not act as the deputy mayor or the chairperson of a committee for the remainder of the councillor’s term
- Not attend up to three council meetings
- Resign from a position representing the council, other than the office of councillor itself
- Forfeit an allowance, benefit, payment or privilege paid to them by council
The tribunal can also recommend to the Minister for Local Government that the councillor be suspended or dismissed from office.
You can view a list of past tribunal decisions.
Message from the Chairman of the Crime and Corruption Commission - Alan MacSporran
I'd like to congratulate you on your election and wish you, your council and your community every success for the future. It's important that you understand what the CCC does and what it means for you, so I welcome this opportunity to tell you about our agency. For some of you, this will be the start of a totally new role in public life. How you conduct yourself, your actions and decisions will have enormous influence on people's lives and the prosperity of your community.
The CCC is an independent agency dedicated to combating major crime and reducing corruption in the public sector for the benefit of the entire Queensland community. Our vision is to have safe communities supported by fair and ethical public institutions. That vision means that we share with you a commitment to public service and an obligation to act only in the best interests of the people of Queensland. Crime and corruption prosper when individuals put their private interests before the public interest. It's that simple.
Building a strong culture of integrity is the single most significant action our public sector leaders at all levels can take to address corruption. The CCC's corruption functions include raising standards of integrity and conduct in the public sector, receiving and investigating allegations of serious and systemic corruption. We also have a prevention function which we apply to analysing corruption risks, and assisting agencies reduce corruption risks. We have a broad and diverse corruption jurisdiction, including local government, government departments, and the police.
In terms of elected officials like yourselves, our jurisdiction is restricted to conduct which is also a criminal offence. Unfortunately, some of our recent investigations have uncovered some troubling conduct in the local government sector. We responded with all the powers and courses of action available to us.
Operation Belcarra, as you know I'm sure, arose from complaints about the 2016 local government elections. Mostly relating to conduct in the Gold Coast, Ipswich, Moreton Bay and Logan councils. We held a public hearing and made recommendations for extensive legislative reform to increase equity, transparency, integrity and accountability in the local government sector. A number of related investigations into those same councils continued following the public hearing.
This included Operation Windage, an investigation into conduct involving a number of senior officers and the former mayor of Ipswich City Council. Operation Windage uncovered demonstrated systemic failures of culture and conduct at the Ipswich City Council. It resulted in criminal charges and prosecutions which are ongoing.
We tabled a report in Parliament to demonstrate what can happen when inappropriate conduct within councils is not challenged or reported or is not even identified as a potential corruption risk. The most common allegations that we receive about councillors involve misuse of authority and conflicts of interest. You can protect yourself from these types of allegations by making sure that at all times, your conduct and your decisions are transparent, accountable and clearly put the public interest first. Having a conflict of interest is not in itself a problem. It's not managing those conflicts of interest that can be particularly problematic.
Allegations of corruption often arise from a failure to appropriately manage the line between professional obligations and personal relationships. As a councillor, you need to be very clear on where those boundaries are and be transparent to your constituents that you understand and manage those boundaries. To help you understand your obligations and learn from the experiences of others, the CCC produces a range of material. We regularly publish investigation reports, audit reports and our Prevention in Focus series. You may already have seen the Carl Wulff story, in which the former CEO of Ipswich City Council describes how he went from respected executive to convicted criminal. I think it's a video that everyone in public life in Queensland should watch.
I'm sure that as you start your term with council, you'll be overwhelmed with information. Most of us are these days. But I'd like to extend a personal invitation to you to keep yourself informed about what the CCC is doing. We're available to you 24/7 through our website and social media. Subscribe and you can get our materials direct to your inbox. I encourage you to use the information that we provide to help you do your job and the work of your community better.
Once again, I wish you every success, and look forward to working constructively with you for Queensland.
Contact the Crime and Corruption Commission
Phone: (07) 3360 6060
1800 061 611 (toll-free in Queensland outside Brisbane)
The CCC has special powers to investigate allegations of corruption. These include search, surveillance and seizure powers, and the power to conduct hearings that compel people to attend and give evidence and produce documents or other material.
Local government investigation policy
All councils are required to adopt an investigation policy about how they will deal with complaints of suspected inappropriate conduct of councillors that are referred by the Office of the Independent Assessor.
Any investigation of suspected inappropriate conduct by a council must be carried out in accordance with natural justice. This means that:
- the person being investigated must have a chance to have their say before decisions are made (fair hearing)
- the investigators should be objective and impartial (absence of bias)
- any action taken is based on evidence (not suspicion or speculation).
When the Office of the Independent Assessor refers a matter to council for investigation, it will provide a referral notice about the suspected inappropriate conduct.
The referral notice may include a recommendation from the Independent Assessor about how council may investigate or deal with the conduct, which may be inconsistent with the council’s normal policy.
Once an investigation is completed, a report is submitted to a council meeting for consideration. It is then a council decision to determine if the councillor has been found to have engaged in inappropriate conduct and if so what the consequences, in line with the provisions in the legislation, should be.
You can find a copy of your council’s investigation policy on your council’s website.
Protection for complainants
People who make complaints are protected from retaliation under the legislation.
A councillor must not retaliate against a person (including another councillor or a council employee) if they are notified that there has been a complaint made against them.
This includes not threatening to or doing something because someone has made a complaint or is intending to make a complaint. This also includes if the councillor incites, permits or conspires with another person to take or threaten to act.
Reprisal action is corrupt conduct, with a maximum penalty of 167 penalty units or two years imprisonment. If charged with an offence, a councillor is automatically suspended, and if convicted they are automatically disqualified from being a councillor for four years.
Records – councillor conduct registers
Councils must keep and publish a councillor conduct register that records the following:
- Orders made about unsuitable meeting conduct by councillors
- A summary of the decision about suspected inappropriate conduct referred to the council and any action taken (including the name of the councillor if found to have engaged in inappropriate conduct)
- A summary of the decision made by the Councillor Conduct Tribunal about whether a councillor has engaged in misconduct, including the name of the councillor if found to have engaged in misconduct, and any action taken
- Complaints about councillors dismissed by the Office of the Independent Assessor, or decisions by the Independent Assessor to take no further action after undertaking an investigation
You can find the councillor conduct register on your council’s website.
Integrity offences and penalties
Several offences under the legislation relate to councillor conduct and have serious penalties. Fines or imprisonment terms may apply.
Offences include the following:
- Reprisal against a protected person who makes a complaint about a councillor
- Failing to comply with the obligations of a councillor to declare and manage prescribed or declarable conflicts of interest appropriately with the intention to dishonestly gain a benefit of causing a detriment to someone else
- Retaliatory action against a councillor who raises a suspected material personal interest or conflict of interest of another councillor
- A councillor with a prescribed or declarable conflict of interest influencing others participating in a decision, except where councillor has a declarable interest and other councillors have authorised their participation
- Use of information by a councillor to gain a financial advantage or cause detriment to the local government
- Prohibited conduct by a councillor in possession of inside information
- Providing false or misleading information
If you are charged with a ‘serious integrity offence’ you are immediately suspended from being a councillor. If you are convicted, you are disqualified from holding office as a councillor for seven years. You also face a fine of up to 200 penalty units or up to two years imprisonment.
If you are charged with an integrity offence you are immediately suspended from being a councillor. If convicted, you are disqualified from being a councillor for four years. You also face a fine of up to 200 penalty units or up to two years imprisonment.
There are further integrity offences relating to local government in the Local Government Electoral Act 2011. Further information about these offences is available on the Electoral Commission of Queensland’s website.
A councillor must not act as a councillor while suspended. If the councillor is a deputy mayor or mayor, the councillor is also suspended from these roles. The councillor is entitled to be paid remuneration as a councillor at their base rate (which does not include any amount payable for performing particular responsibilities, including attending a meeting).
Being suspended as a councillor does not affect your obligations under the legislation, for example updating registers of interest, not giving directions to council employees, or the correct use of information.
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Last updated: Thursday, Dec 17, 2020