Local Government Amendment (Code of Conduct) Bill 2015 No. 15

Read into Hansard on Thursday 25th June 2014

LOCAL GOVERNMENT AMENDMENT (CODE OF CONDUCT) BILL 2015 (No. 15)

Second Reading

[11.31 a.m.]

Mr VALENTINE (Hobart) – Mr President, I suggest that many of us would wish there was no need for this code of conduct.  There is a community expectation that elected members carry out their duties in a reasonable manner, and it is unfortunate in some ways that a code like this is needed.

I believe it is a very good move to further refine the current code of conduct processes and procedures, as this bill does.  Having been through a code of conduct hearing, I found it quite a significant experience to front up to a panel to see whether I had something to answer.  It is important these processes and procedures are scrutinised, and that we get the best outcome.

Having your colleagues sit in judgment of you is fraught.  Politics rears its head when colleagues sit in judgment of colleagues.  A single code would be ideal.  It is fair to say that whichever way you go on this, it appears that even though we have a single code, or a single template in this case, that we might end up with 29 slightly different codes of conduct.  I can understand members of this Chamber who are experienced in local government being a little concerned about that.  Perhaps refining it to being a single code of conduct might be the next phase.

Part of the problem is that we have multi-member electorates in local government.  I have to say that the main difference between this House and the other place is exactly that.  This House has 15 members and each member has their own electorate.  I am not scratching our collective back too much here, but I do not think those of us in this Chamber try to cut each other off at the knees when we scrutinise legislation.  We look at the issue and although we may well think differently, we put our thoughts out there for others to consider.  I do not think we try to get one-up all that often.  I will not say it never happens but I do not think it happens often.

The other place has multi-member electorates, some of which have representatives from opposing parties – sometimes within their own parties, I don’t know – who are trying to get the public’s attention, to get that advantage.  That is when you start to have problems.  It is the case with local government and there is a case to be mounted that could see the reintroduction of wards.  I hope that is not shock horror, but in a lot of ways local government councils would function better if there was a ward system where each person around the council table is elected from a certain area.  If you look at the way elections happen, it is generally the case that people who are elected are often elected out of a certain area of a council through popular support, over and above others.  The whole spread of councillors across the council area is generally reflected in the people elected.

Ms Rattray – When we had amalgamations in 1993-94, we used to have a ward system where there would be one from this area, one from that area, in any local government area.

Mr VALENTINE – It would reduce the conflict that exists within a chamber.  I might be shot down in flames for suggesting that in the other place there could be single-member electorates.  People would say it would not work but there needs to be some consideration of that.

In local government, as another sphere of government – I say ‘sphere’ purposely, not ‘tier’ – there would be less conflict, and therefore codes of conduct such as this would be far less necessary.  I put that out there for what it is worth.  I see that as part of the problem and a ward system would help to address that.  It is a council reform and would lead to more collaborative decision‑making around the chambers of those various councils.

 Many people in this Chamber have had experience in local government, either as a mayor or an elected member, and have had a lot of experience in handling complaints about local government or of being the target for a disaffected individual.  We come to the Chamber today with a keen interest individually, not wishing to frustrate – and that is important.  We have heard it has taken five years to get this bill to where it is today.  I thought there would be a lot of ownership out there in local government land.  Some members here have canvassed their councils and have found that maybe that level of ownership is not right down to the grassroots.  It may be they are getting information through general managers and have no real understanding as to how much ownership there is.

Some of that has to be worked through but without trying to tell local government to suck eggs.  When you have gone through five years of consultation to get it right, we have to be aware we are dealing with another sphere of government which exists in its own right.  I do not think we should be seen to be dealing lightly with this.  Any amendments that need to be dealt with in this bill need to be very carefully considered, given five years of consultation has already happened.  We have the option to pass the bill now and perhaps revisit once the proposed code of conduct system in this bill is bedded down, and then in revisiting that we will see there may be 20 codes of conduct, or variations to the basic code of conduct, that exist but it might give an opportunity to refine it even further in another phase.

Or we go to Committee, work out what the amendments are to be but then there would need to be a definite level of consultation with local government on those changes because it is not a trivial thing.  Five years of consultation – for us to change it now, on the move, might be treating it a little lightly.  I urge members to think about that aspect.  If we are going to give it the extra scrutiny, we have to make sure that what we are putting in place is acceptable to those who are going to work within it.  I think that is fair.  There are around 287 elected members in local government.  They deserve to have their hands right on this and to feel ownership of it rather than us foisting changes on them.

The questions I am raising are, to fiddle or not to fiddle.  With the experience in the Chamber we need to look at those amendments, but do it responsibly and carefully.  We cannot allow our ideas on what amendments should be to go forward, without any further consultation.

Ms Rattray – That is why it might be a good idea to get some feedback.

Mr VALENTINE – I think so because we are not the ones who have to live with it.  That is my offering.  We have a truckload of amendments and those amendments, thicker than the bill, need scrutiny and we need to understand exactly what they are.  We have not had the chance, I have not had the chance, to look at how they fit in the bill.  Let us give this due attention.