1 November 2019
The Independent Assessor has issued a warning to councillors who make improper complaints about another councillor’s conduct, that they could be charged with making frivolous or vexatious complaints and face a fine of more than $11,000, ahead of the 2020 council elections.
Independent Assessor Kathleen Florian said the third edition of the OIA’s Insight reveals 138 complaints have been made by councillors about other councillors from 20 different councils. Almost 60% were dismissed.
The total number of complaints to the Office of the Independent Assessor is now more than 1,230.
“Integrity agencies often see an increase in complaints leading up to council elections that are lacking in substance, are politicised or are made for ulterior purposes,” Ms Florian said.
“New legislation now makes it an offence for councillors to make vexatious complaints and I will be watching those from councillors who make official complaints to the OIA and then make it public through social media or otherwise.
“Other indicators of improper complainant conduct include deliberately making complaints that are lacking in substance, holding back on old complaints to drop them publicly immediately before the election and arranging to make complaints through third parties.”
Ms Florian also warned that the Councillor Code of Conduct should not be misused to stifle robust discussion and debate between councillors and candidates which could help their community’s understanding of local issues, particularly if a councillor or candidate have publicly declared their intention to stand.
“The line in the sand is where a councillor makes comments that are unnecessarily personal and offensive or publicly make comments which are misleading or untrue about another councillor or candidate, that is when the OIA will act,” Ms Florian said.
The same laws around improper complaints are already in place for members of the public, election candidates or prospective candidates. The new law adds sitting councillors and senior council staff who have not retained their independence.
Keeping it fair for all during local government elections will be a joint focus of state integrity agencies - the OIA, the Crime and Corruption Commission, the Electoral Commission of Queensland and the Integrity Commissioner.
Ms Florian said that complainants who were genuinely unsure of whether their complaint had substance had nothing to fear if they kept their complaint confidential and allowed the disciplinary process to take its course.