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Ethical and lawful behaviour - principles of the Local Government Act 2009

The Local Government Act 2009 is founded on five local government principles:

  • Transparent and effective processes, and decision making in the public interest.
  • Sustainable development and management of assets and infrastructure, and delivery of services.
  • Democratic representation, and social inclusion and meaningful community engagement.
  • Good governance of, and by, local government.
  • Ethical and legal behaviour of councillors and local government employees.

These principles apply to everyone working under the legislation including councillors and mayors. Principles based legislation provides local governments with flexibility, balanced by clear consequences for failure to meet the standards, responsibilities and obligations of the legislation.

In the event that you, as a councillor or mayor, do not act appropriately and lawfully, chapter 6, part 2, division 6 of the Local Government Act 2009 sets out how your conduct can be investigated and dealt with. There are generally three levels of councillor conduct:

  • Inappropriate conduct - includes poor behaviour in meetings, abusive behaviour, not complying with a local government's policies and procedures.
  • Misconduct - includes a breach of the Act, not acting honestly or impartially, breach of trust which could result in a councillor's dismissal or suspension from office.
  • Corrupt conduct - will usually result in a criminal prosecution.

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Working as part of a team

As a councillor or mayor, the range of responsibilities expected of you require flexibility, patience, willingness to learn, leadership, being accountable to the community and planning for the current and future needs of your local government area.

Local government decisions are taken by a majority vote of all the elected councillors. Each councillor in the council chamber has an equal vote - even the mayor has a single vote. That means a decision by a majority of votes at a local government meeting is considered a decision of local government. In the case of a tied vote, the mayor, acting as chairperson, can exercise a casting vote.

The collective will and decision making of council is paramount and an individual councillor's views are secondary to the majority view. If you find yourself in the minority on a particular issue, once a majority decision is taken by council, you should not seek to undermine the decision because you did not personally vote in favour of it. If you are in the council chamber and you choose not to vote on a matter you are deemed to have voted in the negative (i.e. against the proposal).

It is important to realise that you are elected to represent the overall public interest of the whole local government area, regardless of whether it is a divided or undivided council.

More information is available in the Councillor responsibilities under the Local Government Act 2009 (PDF icon 347 KB).

Working as a mayor

As mayor you have the same responsibilities that other councillors have, plus additional roles that are prescribed in section 12(4) of the Local Government Act 2009.

In all councils other than the Brisbane City Council the mayor is the chairperson who presides over the council meeting and is responsible for managing the conduct of the participants at council meetings.

The mayor is also responsible for:

  • preparing a budget to present to the council
  • leading, managing and providing strategic direction to the chief executive officer
  • directing the chief executive officer and senior executive employees
  • conducting an annual performance appraisal of the chief executive officer
  • ensuring the council promptly provides the Minister for Local Government with information when it is requested
  • participating as a member of each standing committee
  • representing the local government at ceremonial and civic functions.

As mayor, you are the most visible and high profile councillor in the local government and the person viewed as responsible for the performance of the council.

If you nominate as a mayoral candidate you cannot nominate as a councillor candidate as well. The mayor is elected directly (i.e. the people vote on which candidate they want to be mayor), under a system of optional preferential voting (OPV), as part of the local government election. For councillors other than the mayor in divided councils, elections are also conducted under the OPV system. All other (undivided) local government areas use the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system to elect councillors other than the mayor.

What you do and others do - separation of powers

The Local Government Act 2009 clearly distinguishes between the roles and responsibilities of the executive (elected councillors) and the administrative (council employees) arms of local government. This demarcation of roles is sometimes referred to as the separation of powers.

The primary role of councillors is to focus on policy development and strategic delivery of services in the public interest. Local government decisions are made to direct the operational work and realise the planned goals that are set out in the local government's corporate plan.

The internal day-to-day work of the local government is carried out by local government employees under the direction of the chief executive officer. This operational work is directed by the decisions of the local government through its annual operational plan.

Councillors are responsible for planning for the future and developing corporate plans and strategies to achieve their goals and deliver outcomes to the community. Your role, as a councillor, is to demonstrate and provide strategic vision and leadership by putting in place principles, policies and local laws that enable the delivery of outcomes promised by your local government.

Councillors and mayors are not responsible for overseeing the work done by local government employees. This is done by the chief executive officer and senior staff. For more information on the role of councillors, mayors and chief executive officers, please refer to the Councillor responsibilities under the Local Government Act 2009 (PDF icon 347 KB).

Section 170A of the Local Government Act 2009 provides a process for councillors to request information from local government employees to assist in making a decision or to carry out your responsibilities under the legislation. You, as a councillor, can ask for information relating to the whole of the local government area. Your local government must have acceptable request guidelines to help you and your fellow councillors understand what information you can request from a council employee.

The Local Government Act 2009 and the Local Government Regulation 2012 provide the power for your local government to limit the amount of information that can be requested by councillors to ensure that they do not make unreasonable requests for large amounts of information that would be unduly onerous for a local government employee to provide with existing resources.

How you represent the community - public versus private interest

Your fundamental role as a councillor is to serve and represent the interests of your community as a whole. In the event of a conflict between the public and private interests of you or your related persons, the overall public interest must prevail.

You are required to disclose any personal interests which may influence your voting at local government and committee meetings. This includes interests that may result in a gain or loss for you or your related persons. This is known as a material personal interest (often referred to as an MPI). Section 175B of the Local Government Act 2009 defines what a material personal interest is.

You are responsible for assessing your own circumstances and determining if you have a material personal interest. You must inform the meeting of the details of the interest and then leave the meeting room and not take part while the matter is being debated and voted on. You must not remain anywhere in the council chamber including the public gallery or any other area for the public. Failure to disclose your material personal interest and leave the meeting is an offence that carries significant penalties including up to two years imprisonment, and disqualification from being a councillor for four years.

When a matter before a council could reasonably be seen as a conflict between your personal interests and the public interest that might lead to a decision against the public interest, it is considered a conflict of interest (often referred to as a COI). This is different to a material personal interest because there is no financial gain or loss involved, however you must inform the council meeting that you have a conflict of interest. Section 175D of the Local Government Act 2009 defines what a conflict of interest is.

If you inform the meeting of a personal interest you may decide to leave the meeting room. If not, other councillors must vote to decide whether you have a real or perceived conflict of interest and whether you must leave the meeting or may stay and participate in the meeting.

Failure to inform a meeting of a conflict of interest or to comply with a decision to leave the meeting room also carries significant penalties including up to one year imprisonment, and disqualification from being a councillor for four years.

If you have a conflict of interest or personal material interest in a matter you must not influence or attempt to influence any vote by another councillor or any decision by a council employee or contractor in relation to the matter. A councillor who attempts to influence others in this way may be guilty of an offence which carries a maximum penalty of 200 penalty units or two year’s imprisonment, and disqualification from being a councillor for four years If at a meeting you believe or suspect on reasonable grounds that another councillor at the meeting has a conflict of interest or material personal interest, you must report to the Chairperson your belief if the other councillor has not already informed the meeting of the personal interest.

For more information on material personal interest and conflict of interest see:

How councillors make decisions - meetings, agendas and minutes

Local government meetings are the most visible work of local governments. Agendas and minutes that accurately record the decisions of local government meetings are the most important records of local governments. They ensure that the local government has acted within its authority under the legislation and that their decision-making processes are properly documented, transparent and accountable.

Meetings are open to the public except when the local government resolves to have a closed meeting because a topic would be inappropriate to be considered in a public meeting. They are usually held in the public office of the local government. Councillors who are unable to attend in person are permitted to teleconference into the meeting with prior approval. Written notice of meetings is given to each councillor at least two days prior to the meeting with the agenda and attached documents.

A meeting cannot proceed unless there is a quorum present consisting of a majority of the councillors.

More information