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It is expected that, as community-minded people, councillors in Queensland may have personal and financial interests. However, any conflicts between these interests and the public interest need to be managed so that the community can have confidence that councillors are making decisions for the community. 

It is a councillor’s job is to represent the interests of their whole community in the local government area. You are not in your role to make decisions that will specifically help you, your family members, or other people you might know, for example by making decisions that might help their businesses or improve their property investments.

The information on this page is intended as a guide only. It does not replace the local government legislation.

Key resource

Download the quick reference guide for conflicts of interests (PDF, 580KB)

On this page

Summary

  • Prescribed conflicts of interests (COIs) are a specific list of situations where you must not participate in decisions.  
  • Declarable conflicts of interests are other situations where you must declare the interest, and then either you choose to leave the meeting yourself or other councillors vote to decide whether you can participate in a decision. 
  • Other situations are not considered conflicts of interest, although in some circumstances there may be a perception that they exist, and you may wish to volunteer to have them considered as a conflict of interest. 

General information

There are actions you must take if you find yourself involved in decision-making or voting if you have a conflict of interest.

It is important you don’t participate in a decision where you could approve council spending, a development, contract or anything else that might specifically help you or people you are close to. Don’t talk to other councillors about the matter at all in any way, because that can appear like you are using your position as a councillor to influence council decisions in your favour. 

This is sometimes challenging, because you can be convinced that you are ‘objective’ or unbiased, but still other people could see this was a decision they made in the councilor’s own favour, not for the community. That doesn’t look good, so this is why you might have to leave a meeting in such a situation.

It is good these requirements are in place. It means that the community can have confidence in council decisions and know that decisions are in the best interests of the whole community. 

Legislation

The current legislation on conflicts of interests (COIs) is covered in Chapter 6, Division 5A of the Local Government Act 2009. If you are a Brisbane City councillor they are in Chapter 6, Division 5A of the City of Brisbane Act 2010. They apply to:

  • decisions made during council meetings
  • any discussion about the issue that takes place before the council meeting, such as workshops, informal meetings or discussion between councillors that could influence the future decision you have delegated to you by council.

Prescribed interests

The key point about a prescribed interest is that you are not permitted to take part in discussions, voting or making decisions in any way, including during council and committee meetings and any time before the meeting.

When you become aware that you have the conflict of interest you must notify your council CEO in writing as soon as practicable and notify other councillors at your next council or committee meeting.

The prescribed interests are the following:

  • any combination of gifts, loans, sponsored travel or accommodation from one donor totalling $2000 or more (within your current council term and your previous term)
  • contract with council for the supply of goods or services, or lease or sale of council assets, including any discussions leading up to the establishment of the contract or tender
  • application or submission to council
  • appointment of employment matters of CEO if close associate

You are not permitted to take part if any of the following close associates have a prescribed interest:

  • you
  • your spouse
  • a parent, child or sibling (where you reasonably should know about their interest)
  • a person who is in business in partnership with you
  • your employer (other than a government employer)
  • a partner in a business partnership
  • an entity, other than a government entity, that you are an executive officer or board member of
  • a publicly listed company in which you or a close associate has an interest of 5 per cent or more.

A councillor can only be held accountable for having a prescribed interest if they should reasonably have known that a parent, child or sibling of theirs has the interest.

The legislation is in place to ensure that councillors with a prescribed interest are not involved in taking part in decisions in any way. If you do take part, you could be guilty of an integrity offence.

Persons close to you

Think of all the people who are considered close to you under the legislation. What interests do they have which could be affected by council decisions? For example, do they own a business or property, or do they apply to council for grants?

For your parents, children and siblings, do you know about their dealings with council, including any contracts or applications? Take time to discuss their dealings with council with them and let them know about your responsibilities regarding your possible conflicts of interest.

Declarable interests

A councillor has a declarable interest if there is some other interest that is not in the prescribed list above but which might lead to a decision that is not in the public interest.

You have a declarable interest if any of the following related parties have an interest:

  • you
  • your spouse
  • a parent, child or sibling (where you reasonably should know about their interest)
  • a person who is in business in partnership with you
  • your employer (other than a government employer)
  • a partner in a business partnership
  • an entity, other than a government entity, that you are an executive officer or board member of
  • a publicly listed company in which you or a close associate has an interest of 5 per cent or more
  • your spouse’s parent, child or sibling
  • any other person you have a close personal relationship with (where you reasonably should know about their interest).

The key point about a declarable COI is that you must notify your council CEO in writing as soon as practicable, and notify other councillors at your next meeting. After that, you can choose not to take part in any decisions on the matter and leave the meeting or stay at the meeting and the other councillors will decide whether you can take part in any decisions.

If in doubt, discuss with the CEO or other councillors, or obtain your own legal advice.

Not an interest

The following matters, by themselves, are not conflicts of interest:

  • small gifts, loans, or sponsored travel or accommodation under $500
  • if a significant proportion of people in the local government area benefit, not just you, for example a new park that will benefit your whole neighbourhood
  • being a member of a political party
  • being a parent of a child at a school, or a former student
  • religious or personal beliefs
  • being a member or patron of a community group or sporting club, for example the local turf club, as long as you are not an office holder or board member
  • being a council representative on the committee of an organisation, if you have been specifically appointed by council to be its representative.

Ordinary business matters

There are also some other matters called ‘ordinary business matters’. These are situations where you could interpret that there is a conflict of interest but where all councillors are affected. For example, when councillors are deciding on their own pay as councillors, as councillors can choose to accept lower pay than the maximum amount. In this case, all councillors are affected but they are nonetheless required to make a decision.

The ordinary business matters that cannot give rise to conflicts of interests are as follows:

  • councillors and committee members pay
  • superannuation or insurance for councillors
  • making rates and charges
  • making a new or amending an existing planning scheme that applies to the whole of the council area
  • adopting the council budget
  • electing or appointing a new mayor, deputy mayor or committee member.

There may be cases where an issue is classed as an ‘ordinary business matter’, but which you feel because of your personal circumstances it should be treated like a declarable conflict of interest.  

For example, if there is a budget proposal to help fund an upgrade the local turf club and you own racehorses, meaning you could benefit indirectly from the upgrade, although this upgrade would also generally benefit the whole community. You might voluntarily decide that you should raise this as a conflict of interest. This would be treated as a declarable conflict of interest.

In this case, you may choose to remove yourself from participating in the decision making, or the other councillors might then decide that you can participate in the discussions and voting to adopt the budget on the condition that you do not specifically discuss the relevant turf club upgrade budget item or vote on any proposed amendments to the turf club budget item. 

Interest examples

Prescribed interest

  • Council is deciding to lease a shopfront owned by council to a restaurant. Your dad loaned a friend money to establish the franchise and therefore has a 10 per cent interest in the business.
  • Council is voting on a new contract for flood restoration works and your son owns an earthmoving company that bid on the tender but was not the successful applicant recommended by council officers.
  • Council is voting on a renewal of the CEOs contract for another two years. The CEO is your brother.
  • Your boss in your employment outside of council has put in an offer to purchase council land. You don’t get any direct benefit from the sale yourself.

Declarable interest

  • Council is deciding whether to continue its sponsorship of the local football club’s annual Christmas carols. Your husband is the president of the football club.
  • Council is deciding on a development application next door to your best friend’s house.
  • The Sunshine Workers Union has applied to lease a council hall for 12 months for a discounted rate, but council officers have recommended the hall be leased to a different organisation for a higher rate. You are a member of the union and one of the union’s officials helped you on election day at the last council election.

You do not need to manage

  • A council officer has recommended a company to do all of council’s regular printing. They are giving council a good discount just like they gave you a discount of $100 off during your election campaign.
  • Council is deciding on a cleaning contract. Your sister-in-law has a cleaning business, but she ran out of time before the deadline to apply. She is not a contender for the contract.
  • Council is deciding whether to build a new hall. You are part of an Indigenous traditional owner group that is hoping to hire the new hall for some of your regular clan gatherings.
  • Council is voting to adopt its ‘Diversity and Inclusiveness Action Plan’. You are a parishioner of St. Mary’s Church and your priest gave a sermon recently strongly supporting the plan and encouraging everybody to write in submissions of support. You did not make a submission but support the plan because of your religious beliefs.
  • Council is voting on a grant to your daughter’s school.

Managing prescribed interests in council meetings

If you have a prescribed interest, during meetings you must have nothing to do with a matter and inform the meeting immediately of the following details: 

  • the name of the person or other entity who stands to gain a benefit, or suffer a loss, depending on the outcome of the matter
  • how the person or other entity stands to gain a benefit, or suffer a loss
  • if not yourself, the nature of your relationship to the person or other entity. 

After informing the meeting of your prescribed interest, you must leave the meeting room, including any public viewing area, and stay away from the meeting while the matter is discussed and voted on.

Managing declarable interests in council meetings

If you have a declarable interest, you must inform the meeting immediately of the following details: 

  • the nature of the conflict
  • if the personal interest arises because of your relationship with another person or receipt of a gift from another person
  • the nature of the relationship or the value and date of the receipt of the gift
  • the nature of the other person’s interest in the matter.

You must then make a decision about whether your participation in the meeting is in the public interest.

If you remain in the meeting, then the following must take place. The other councillors must decide whether the interest is a prescribed or declarable COI. The other councillors at the meeting who are entitled to vote (i.e. do not have a COI in the matter) and are informed by you or another person about the COI, must decide whether you: 

  • must leave the meeting and public gallery and stay away while the matter is decided
  • may participate in the meeting in relation to the matter, including voting on a decision.

Councillors should consider the following questions:

  • Could a reasonable person think the councillor has a bias in the decision?
  • How much is the gift/contract? How long ago was it?
  • How close is the councillor’s relationship?
  • How big is the impact on the councillor or related party?
  • Is interest unique to the councillor or related party, or an interest shared by the community?
  • Is the benefit certain, or a remote possibility?
  • How will the councillor’s involvement affect the public interest or trust with the community?
  • Is the decision consistent with decisions made for other councillors?

You must comply with the decision of the other councillors.

If the other councillors decide that you can participate in decisions about a matter, the COI does not need to be raised in future meetings if the same issue comes up for a decision.  During meetings, the meeting chairperson will follow your council’s official meeting procedures to manage conflicts of interests. 

Scenario – conflicts of interest in a council meeting

Mayor Shaw announces that the next item on the council’s agenda is the development proposal for the Grand Hotel Sunshine. She calls for the declaration of any interests. The chief executive officer (CEO) advises that Cr Roberts and Cr Pavlois already advised him before the meeting after reading the agenda that they have a conflict of interest (COI).

Cr Roberts declares, ‘Yes, I, Cr Roberts have a prescribed interest in this matter as I own the hotel and the proposal has been made on my behalf. I will now leave the meeting.’ Cr Roberts then leaves the meeting and it is recorded in the meeting minutes.

Cr Pavlois declares, ‘I, Cr Pavlois have a declarable COI in this matter as my brother-in-law provides entertainment to patrons at the hotel and expects his business may be positively or negatively affected by council’s decision. However, as the amount of money involved is likely to be small and I do not receive any money myself, I believe I can participate in the decision in the public interests. However, I will respect the decision of the council about whether I can participate in this decision.’

Cr Parkwood states, ‘I believe that Cr Chew may potentially have a COI, which I am required to report, as I know his brother works at the competing Hotel Royal and their business may suffer if the development goes ahead.’

Cr Chew responds, ‘Thank you Cr Parkwood. Yes, my brother works at the Hotel Royal, but I do not believe this gives rise to a COI because this decision will only affect his employer, who is not related to me. And anyway, I intend to vote in favour of the application. However, I will respect the decision of the council about whether I can participate in this decision.’

Other councillors can ask questions before they decide whether Cr Pavlois and Cr Chew are able to participate in the decision. Mayor Shaw asks Cr Pavlois how much money her brother-in-law receives from performances at the hotel. Cr Pavlois responds that it is around $500 per fortnight, but it could significantly increase.

Mayor Shaw then asks the remaining four councillors to vote whether Cr Pavlois has a conflict of interest and can participate. Cr Patel is not sure and chooses not to vote. However, the other councillors and the mayor vote that Cr Pavlois does have a conflict of interest and should not participate in the discussion and should leave the meeting room. Some people in the community might perceive Cr Pavlois is biased and this might affect community trust in the decision. The CEO records this decision for the minutes. 

Cr Pavlois leaves the room.

Mayor Shaw asks the four remaining councillors to vote on whether Cr Chew can participate. She reminds the councillors that it does not matter that Cr Chew has stated he intends to vote in favour of the application. Cr Parkwood asks Cr Chew whether his brother’s employment is likely to be affected, and Cr Chew responds that he doesn’t think so, as hotel business is increasing anyway with the extra business in town. Cr Parkwood suggests that Cr Chew can vote on the matter. All three other councillors and the mayor indicate that they vote to support Cr Chew’s participation. The CEO records this decision for the minutes.

Duty to report

As a councillor it is your duty to inform the chairperson of a meeting if you suspect that another councillor has a COI. If you don’t report a COI that you know about, you could be found guilty of misconduct. You must make sure that you have good reasons for your report and then make sure you report it and give the reasons.

Retaliatory action

A councillor who retaliates against you for complying with your obligation to report the COI, for example if they threaten you in any way, is committing an integrity offence with a maximum penalty of 167 penalty units or two years imprisonment. If charged with this offence, the councillor is automatically suspended, and if convicted the councillor is automatically disqualified from being a councillor for four years.

Ban on influencing

If you have a COI you must not direct, influence, or attempt to influence another person who is participating in a decision relating to the matter.

However, you can give the CEO factual information about the matter that could be included in a report to the councillors to consider when making their decision.

If you have a declarable COI, you must not direct or influence other councillors in relation to the matter, unless and until the other councillors have voted to decide that you can participate in the decision.

Indigenous Conflicts of interest matters

Traditional ownership or clan relationships

Councillors in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities often wear many hats which can include family, clan, cultural, they may be a traditional owner, on the board of a land trust, be an executive of a sporting club or any other association. 

Indigenous councillors will sometimes deal with matters that are related to native title or matters that may affect their broader community that they identify with.  

This is not a COI, unless:

  • you or your close family members, friends and business partners would be affected personally more than other people in the community 
  • you are on the board or executive of a particular organisation related to the land ownership.

Deed of Grant in Trust land issues

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander shire and regional councils were appointed under the Land Act 1994 to be the trustees of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Deed of Grant in Trust (DOGIT) land.

This means they have dual responsibilities, firstly as a local government under the Local Government Act 2009, and secondly as the trustee of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander DOGIT land under the Land Act 1994 with leasing powers under the Aboriginal Land Act 1991 and Torres Strait Islander Land Act 1991.

Councillors considering matters as trustees are not subject to the COI requirements. However, to support good governance it would be good practice to inform a meeting of the trustees of any conflicts of interest in a matter being considered and to record the details in the meeting minutes.

Consequences for non-compliance

Non-compliance with legislation covering COIs could result in you being guilty of misconduct.  

If you are charged with an offence that you have intentionally not complied with legislation in order to gain a benefit or cause a detriment to someone else, this is classed as a serious integrity offence and you will be automatically suspended from being a councillor.

If you fail to inform the meeting or to notify the CEO of a conflict of interest, participate in a decision if you have a prescribed conflict of interest or if you are influencing other councillors if you have a conflict of interest (except for declarable conflicts of interest where councillors have decided you can participate), this is  misconduct and results in a disciplinary action.

If these offences are committed with dishonest intent, it is a serious integrity offence and you will be automatically suspended from being a councillor if you are charged. If found guilty, you will be disqualified from being a councillor for seven years plus you will get a fine of up to 200 penalty units or two years imprisonment.

If you have a prescribed conflict of interest and fail to leave the meeting, this is an integrity offence and you will be automatically suspended from being a councillor if you are charged. If found guilty, you will be disqualified from being a councillor for four years plus you will get up to 200 penalty units or two years imprisonment.

Failing to comply with the decision of fellow councillors not to participate or to leave meeting when you have a declarable conflict of interest, this is seen as a normal offence and if you are found guilty, you will receive up to 100 penalty units or one year imprisonment.

Retaliating against a councillor who raises a suspected COI of another councillor is an integrity offence. If you are found guilty, may be suspended as a councillor, and receive up to 167 penalty units or two years imprisonment.

The failure to report a suspected conflict of interest of another councillor is a misconduct and will lead to a disciplinary action for misconduct.

For more specific information about the offences and consequences please refer to the table below. You can also refer to the legislation.

Issue 

Type 

Consequence 

Conflict of interest – fail to inform meeting

or

Prescribed interest – fail to leave meeting  

Integrity offence  

Automatically suspended from being a councillor if charged. If found guilty of voting on a matter with intent to gain a benefit or loss, disqualified for four years plus up to 200 penalty units or two years imprisonment, otherwise 85 penalty units. 

See Local Government Act section 175C or City of Brisbane Act section 177C.

Declarable conflict of interest – fail to comply with decision of councillors not to participate or to leave meeting.

Integrity offence 

If found guilty, up to 100 penalty units or one year imprisonment.  

See Local Government Act section 175E or City of Brisbane Act section 177E.

Retaliating against a councillor who raises a suspected conflict of interest of another councillor.  

Integrity offence 

If convicted the Councillor is disqualified from holding office for four years. If found guilty, up to 167 penalty units or two years imprisonment.

See Local Government Act section 175H or City of Brisbane Act section 177H.

Failure to report suspected conflict of interest of another councillor.

Misconduct 

Disciplinary action for misconduct.

See Local Government Act section 175G or City of Brisbane Act section 177G.

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More information

For more information, contact your nearest regional office within the Department of Local Government, Racing and Multicultural Affairs.