- 9 Dec 2021
The Local Government Act requires that councillors, members of delegated committees and key council staff submit a record of their personal interests to council. An initial personal interests return must be completed 30 days after election or appointment and biannually afterwards.
The personal interests returns scheme was introduced in the Local Government Act 1989 (1989 Act) and was expanded in the Local Government Act 2020 (2020 Act). The 1989 scheme compelled councils to maintain a register of interests that were available for public inspection. The 2020 Act requires councils to publish a summary of personal interests on their website.
Declaring personal interests and conflicts of interest ensures decision makers perform their duty in an impartial way and gives the public greater trust in the integrity of the decision-making process.
“Councillors and their decision making needs to be open, transparent and accountable.” – council officer, responding to our survey on personal interests returns
The Local Government Inspectorate and other integrity agencies previously identified non-compliant personal interests returns as an ongoing issue affecting the local government sector.
In mid-2020, we initiated a review of all councillor interests returns for the 2016–20 council term under the 1989 Act to measure the level of compliance and identify possible improvements across the sector. We then contacted council officers from all 79 councils, and councillors with returns that were non-compliant, seeking feedback on levels of understanding of the interests return process and any issues or challenges with compliance.
The review and survey responses helped us make recommendations for the new personal interests returns provisions in the 2020 Act and the Local Government (Governance and Integrity) Regulations 2020.
The Chief Municipal Inspector leads the Local Government Inspectorate and has powers under the Local Government Act to examine, investigate and prosecute any matter relating to council operations or breaches of the Act.
- The Local Government Act 2020 should be amended to:
- include a deadline for the publication of the summary on the council website after the end of the prescribed period
- require councils to have personal interests summaries available online for the duration of the council term.
- The Local Government Act 2020 and Local Government (Governance and Integrity) Regulations 2020 should be amended to make it mandatory for CEOs to use a form in a Schedule to the Regulations when creating a summary of personal interests to ensure consistency across the local government sector.
- Local Government Victoria should provide improved guidance to councils regarding:
- how to determine which staff should qualify as nominated officers who are required to submit a personal interests return
- standard approach to compiling and presenting summaries on their websites, to assist comparison across councils.