It is proposed to introduce compulsory preferential voting for Mayors and single Councillor divisions. Full preferential proportional representation will be introduced for undivided Councillor elections.
The intention is to align the voting methods for local government with State and Federal elections. This would assist in avoiding voter confusion, by using the same voting methodology across all levels of government.
This would ensure that the candidate preferred by more voters will be elected, ensuring that every vote counts.
All ballot papers at the next election would look the same. What would change is that voters must number every box.
There are no changes to how votes would be counted for Mayoral candidates and where only one Councillor is to be elected. Where more than one Councillor is to be elected, the count would change from a first past the post count to a proportional count. Proportional voting avoids situations where the voting preferences of the majority of electors are ignored.
The introduction of public campaign funding for candidates would align the State and local government electoral processes. Candidates, groups of candidates and political parties that receive more than 4% of first preference votes will be entitled to $1.57 per first preference vote, up to the amount of electoral expenditure.
This may encourage more people to run as candidates by subsidising the cost of campaigning. It is hoped that this will increase diversity amongst Councillors, ensuring better overall representation of their communities. The cost would be borne by each local government. Whether local governments seek to pass that cost on to ratepayers will be a matter for each local government to determine.
A discretionary fund is a pool of money that each Mayor and councillor have at their disposal, to distribute to individuals or community organisations as they see fit.
The use of ratepayer funds for councillor discretionary funds varies across local governments. Some do not provide councillors with any discretionary funds, whereas some provide councillors with a very large discretionary fund. Not all local governments clearly publish the allocation and/or expenditure of councillor discretionary funds meaning the community does not have strong visibility over how their ratepayer funds are being used. It is currently also possible for councillors to use their discretionary funds heavily in the lead-up to an election, thus raising their public profile, providing a clear advantage over other candidates.
To improve transparency and accountability, it is proposed to cap the allocation of councillor discretionary funds to 0.25% of general rates. Councillors will also be prohibited from rolling funds over each financial year and from expending discretionary funds from 1 January in election years. Discretionary funds expenditure must be published within 7 days of being incurred.
The Government committed that it would review the Councillor complaints framework for Brisbane City Council within 6 months from the commencement of the new complaints’ framework for other local governments (3 December 2018). The Government has exceeded that promise, with the review being completed by the end of 2018.
The Government is committed to consistency between all local governments where it makes sense. This is a clear situation where there should be consistency. Having the Office of the Independent Assessor investigate complaints about Brisbane City Councillors will ensure the process is independent.
The Government is aware of the workload currently being experienced by the Office of the Independent Assessor and is closely monitoring that workload to ensure that the new complaints framework is streamlined and efficient.
The Right to Information Act currently provides that Brisbane City Council Establishment and Coordination Committee’s (E&C) information is exempt information for a period of 10 years. When the RTI Act was first enacted in 2009, it did not include Section 4A. Sections 4A and 4B were inserted into the RTI Act by the City of Brisbane Act 2010 in June 2010.
With the publication of the CCC’s Operation Belcarra and Operation Windage reports, it has become clear that the local government legislation does not go far enough in promoting and mandating transparency. For consistency, Increased transparency should apply to all local governments, including Brisbane City Council.
For this reason, it is also proposed to mandate that all Council committees must keep minutes. For Brisbane City Council, this will mean that its Establishment and Coordination Committee must now keep minutes.
The Government has engaged with local governments over the past 12 months listening to feedback about the operation of the current provisions with respect to conflicts of interest. We have heard these concerns and the overwhelming support for further amendments to clarify particular matters. As a result of this feedback, amendments to the conflict of interest provisions are proposed. It is anticipated that these amendments will provide Councillors with greater clarity over how conflicts of interest are identified and dealt with.
The introduction of expenditure caps aims to improve transparency, reduce integrity risks associated with reliance on significant donations and create diversity by levelling the playing field between candidates. Candidature should not be limited to only those who are wealthy or who can procure large political donations.
Requiring all Council committees to keep minutes would enhance the transparency of council decisions and how conflicts of interest are handled during committee meetings.
Councillors need relevant information to inform their decisions and ensure they are in the public interest. The proposed changes would improve Councillors’ access to Council information by requiring Councillors obtain information requested from Council officers within five days of the request and permitting Brisbane City Councillors to obtain information that does not specifically relate to their wards.
The requirements for councillors to maintain registers of interest would be clarified to improve the quality and timeliness of disclosures of interest by Councillors. Councillors would be required to submit a new register within 30 days of their election, with failure to do so resulting in the Councillor losing office. Councillors would also be required to provide annual updates to their registers of interest.
The contents of registers of interest would be made to align as much as practicable with those for State Members of Parliament.
The changes would help Councillors to keep their registers accurate and up to date and increase transparency and integrity in handling Councillors’ conflicts of interest.
Removing the current responsibility of the Mayor to prepare and present a budget for consideration by Council would ensure that the budget is developed by all Councillors and represents the interest of the entire Local Government area.
The Mayor’s power to direct senior executive staff of the Council as well as the Chief Executive Officer would be removed to better reflect the operational structure and reporting lines of Councils and reduce the risks of corruption.
In addition, the requirement for the Mayor, Deputy Mayor (or Committee Chairperson) and Chief Executive Officer to be responsible for the appointment of senior executive staff will be removed so that the Chief Executive Officer is responsible to provide clarity over reporting lines.
The proposed changes to the responsibilities of Mayors would not apply to Lord Mayor of Brisbane City Council.
Should Parliament pass the amendments, it is expected the changes would be made in mid-2019.
Councils must adopt their budgets by 1 August 2019, so it is possible a Council will need to prepare a budget at short notice in place of a budget prepared by the Mayor. If more time is needed, a Council may apply for an extension of time to adopt their budget.
In Councils that do not have divisions, allowing a candidate to nominate for election as Mayor and Councillor would ensure that if the candidate was not successful in the Mayoral election they would still be able to be elected as a Councillor and participate in the Council. This would avoid a candidate who would be a high-quality candidate for Councillor (including an existing Councillor) from being excluded from the Councillor elections due to their running for Mayor.
The proposed change would remove the need for candidates to choose whether they run for Mayor or Councillor and remove a disincentive for successful Councillors to seek election as Mayor.
Candidates for Mayor or Councillor do not currently have to disclose any of their interests until they are elected. The Government considers it important that voters know if a candidate has any political affiliations or potential conflicts of interest that would impact on their responsibilities if elected, for example, if a candidate has a contract with Council or has a development application under consideration by Council.
Requiring all candidates to maintain registers of interest would also bring greater equity between candidates from outside Council and those who already hold office and are required to maintain public registers of interest.
Currently, training for potential candidates for Local Government elections has been provided on a voluntary basis. However, the Government considers that all candidates, including current office holders, should be fully informed of their obligations as candidates and Councillors or Mayors before they nominate.
The Government proposes that successful completion of approved training would be a requirement for nominating as a candidate for Local Government elections. The training would help ensure the transparency and integrity of elections and Councils by advising potential candidates of their commitments should they nominate and if they are successful in the election.
The Government proposes to reduce the need for by-elections to fill Councillor vacancies to minimise Councils’ costs associated with by-elections and reduce the time with vacancies on Council. Instead of by-elections, Councillor vacancies at undivided Councils or divided Councils with multi-Councillor divisions would be filled by appointing the runner-up at the previous election. However, for Councils with single Councillors division, a by-election will still be required to avoid appointing a runner-up who may not have received the second highest number of votes after preferences have been redistributed.
The proposed timeframes for applications for postal votes align with the State election processes for postal voting. Extending the deadline for applications for a postal vote to 10 business days before polling day would also ensure sufficient time is available for the voter to be sent their ballot paper before the election, given current Australia Post-delivery arrangements.
The proposed arrangements also allow postal ballots to be counted prior to the election day to enable quicker determination of the election result.