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Reform Options

2.1 Develop an improved councillor training framework which will require participation in candidate pre-election sessions and, if elected, ongoing councillor professional development

Providing brief – but mandatory – pre-election candidate awareness training would support an increased ‘baseline’ understanding of the roles and responsibilities of councillors.

Providing compulsory, ongoing, and accessible professional development training opportunities would support the continual improvement and professionalism of elected representatives, ensuring they can achieve the best outcomes for their communities.

  • There was general acknowledgement that the lack of effective and consistent expectations regarding councillor training contributes - at least partially - to the significant variation in the capabilities of councillors across the State.
  • Those seeking to represent their community on council need at least a good understanding of the role and what will be expected of them.
  • Any ‘pre-training’ should be concise, targeted, and meaningful, and not so onerous that it is a barrier to prospective candidates. It could be in the form of a video module and orientation checklist to be completed as part of the candidate registration process.
  • There was also strong support for ongoing professional development of councillors and executive council staff. This should:
    • not be tokenistic but interactive and rigorous;
    • enable councillors to understand and perform the roles they’ve been elected to carry out; and
    • be externally led, perhaps building on training already being provided by the Local Government Association of Tasmania (LGAT), plus newly developed training by the Office of Local Government.

Most Australian jurisdictions have some form of mandatory training for elected representatives.

Victoria and Queensland require mandatory training for candidates prior to nominating for councillor. Both jurisdictions introduced mandatory training prior to their 2020 local government elections. Both of these training programs are delivered through online modules and take an hour to complete.

Regarding post-election training, councillors in NSW are required by law “to make all reasonable efforts to acquire and maintain the skills necessary to perform the role of a councillor”. Information about NSW councillor participation in induction and professional development activities must be published in councils’ annual reports. This ensures councils transparently inform their communities of the training their councillors are undertaking.

Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory all have forms of induction training mandated to be completed within the first 12 months of the councillor’s term.

2.2 Review the number of councillors representing a council area and the remuneration provided

The Board has heard that there may be merit in reducing councillor numbers in some councils to create a more effective governance model. This may also provide scope to explore increases in remuneration which do not materially impact ratepayers. The Board has heard increased remuneration for councillors could support a more diverse cross-section of the community seeking election. It may also help the sector attract and retain talented and experienced councillors.

There are provisions in the Tasmanian Local Government Act 1993 that enable inquiries into councillor allowances to be undertaken. The last inquiry, held in 2018, recommended that the formula for categorisation of councils and base allowances be reviewed. This review has yet to occur, but presents an opportunity to increase allowances and narrow disparities in allowance rates between councils. The ability to increase councillor allowances is currently confined to these inquiry processes.

There was broad agreement that current councillor allowances:

  • are sometimes not enough to support a diverse range of individuals to run for their council;
  • prevent some individuals with other personal commitments running for council;
  • do not reflect the level of effort realistically required from councillors, given the increasing complexity of the role, community expectations, and statutory responsibilities;
  • may mean councils fail to attract and retain talented councillors and may limit the time and effort some councillors can devote to their role;
  • mean that running for council is often only a viable option for people who are wealthier, older and/or work less;
  • differ between urban and rural councils, even though they have the same statutory responsibilities. Councillor allowances vary as much as $30,000 between Tasmania’s largest and smallest councils. This was thought to be particularly unfair on rural councillors, as they are often 'on call' in the local community in times of crisis and may travel large distances to attend meetings; and
  • could be increased and made more consistent across the sector if some consolidation of councils occurred.

Evidence shows that low remuneration for councillors is a problem across the sector. A 2021 study by the Australian National University found NSW councillors were being paid less than the minimum wage compared to the hours of work their role entails. The same study also found 81% of councillors found their role dissatisfying due to low remuneration. This study has supported recent reviews of elected representative allowances in Victoria and NSW.

2.3 Review statutory sanctions and dismissal powers

The overall reputation of the sector has been damaged by instances of poor councillor behaviour. This has been compounded by the constrained capacity of the State Government to intervene under existing legislation in certain circumstances.

  • The local government sector and the community are frustrated by the limited sanctions and limited accountability for misconduct by elected representatives.
  • While councillor misbehaviour is not the norm, instances of poor behaviour often gain prominent media exposure, tarnishing the reputation of the local government sector as a whole.
  • In combination with enhanced councillor training and professional development, some strengthening of sanctions is necessary to ensure communities are well represented, and to protect other councillors and council employees.

Under the approved reforms from the Local Government Legislation Review, the Tasmanian Government has already agreed to a range of stronger sanctions and dismissal powers. This will give greater powers to the State Government to intervene in issues of serious misconduct and strengthen the existing frameworks. The Board is exploring whether these approved reforms will adequately respond to issues raised during the engagement process.

2.4 Establish systems and methods to support equitable and comprehensive representation of communities

There are a number of systems and methods that could further support equitable and effective representation of communities in Tasmania. These include undertaking periodic representation reviews, establishing committees to represent specific communities within larger council areas, dividing existing or new LGAs into wards, and setting up engagement hubs throughout local government areas.

  • In some geographically larger councils, the majority of elected representatives tend to come from the more populated urban area. This may lead to residents living in the broader council area not being adequately represented.
  • Some council submissions supported the consideration of ward systems, as they have the potential to ensure improved representation and provide residents with a clear point of contact.
  • Other submissions suggested that building engagement processes and outreach capacity is a more effective way to engage with a broad cross-section of residents (See also 3.1).
  • Increasing the scale of councils may increase their capacity to undertake more comprehensive and effective community engagement. This would ensure better representation and greater consideration of community voices.
  • 77 per cent of Tasmanians under 45 surveyed felt their council does not engage with them, or represent them or others their age. It was frequently expressed that councillors often get elected on niche issues and represent parochial interests, which do not reflect issues or needs of younger residents. This sentiment was expressed across all categories of councils across the State.

The South Australian Local Government Act 1999 requires each council to conduct an Elector Representation Review at least once every eight years. A Representation Review determines whether a council’s community would benefit from a change to its composition or ward structure, and examines such matters as the method of electing the Mayor, the number of council members and whether wards are appropriate.

The Tasmanian Local Government Act 1993 allows councils to be divided into two or more electoral districts. However, Tasmania is the only State with no councils divided into wards.

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