NSW seeks to crack down on benefits

The New South Wales Government has announced new codes of conduct for the state’s local councilors in an attempt to “crack down on gifts and benefits” and introduce training for councilors and Mayors.

State Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton said the reforms are needed to ensure the conduct of local councillors meets the expectations of the community. “The new Model Code of Conduct stamps out the bad behaviour we have seen among a small number of councillors who have acted in self-interest rather than in the best interests of the community,” Ms Upton said.

“For example the acceptance of lavish gifts is now a thing of the past – there is now a $50 limit.

“There are also restrictions on access to council information, strict requirements for declaring interests, and the requirement Councillors must disclose whether they are a property developer or a close associate of one. Ms Upton has released the new Model Code of Conduct and the Councillor Induction and Professional Development Guidelines.

Any councillor who abuses public office for personal or financial gain is firmly in the sights of the new Model Code of Conduct.

Other new requirements include:

  • Mandatory reporting of all gifts regardless of value in the council gift register

  • Councillors prohibited from accessing information about matters they have pecuniary interests in unless it is otherwise publicly available

  • Suspensions for pecuniary interest breaches will count towards the “three strikes and you’re out” scheme introduced in 2015 where councillors face automatic disqualification when they are suspended three times for misconduct

  • Councillors must declare new interests more regularly in official returns of interest lodged with their council

  • New standards relating to discrimination and harassment, bullying, work health and safety, use of social media, access to information and maintenance of council records.

Local Government New South Wales has welcomed the reforms, but has urged the State Government to “focus on real, meaningful change” for the delivery of benefits for communities.

President Linda Scott said councillors and staff were already subject to much more rigorous standards than State members of Parliament and State Government employees.

Clr Scott said the vast majority of councillors and council staff work diligently and conscientiously to serve their communities - openly, honestly and in good faith.

“When the Minister last announced this nearly 12 months ago, LGNSW noted proposals – such as a councillor having to declare a cup of coffee or even the offer of one – took focus away from important reforms local government needs,” she said.

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