- 20 Sept 2019
The Local Government Inspectorate’s Annual Report 2018/19 provides information on our progress in strengthening the integrity, accountability and transparency of local government in Victoria.
The Inspectorate received and assessed 421 complaints over the year, the highest number of complaints for a non-election year and continues the trend of an 11% annual increase calculated across the 2016-20 council term.
Twenty-nine investigations were completed for the year, with some prolonged investigations extending beyond a 12-month timeframe.
One major project for the year focused on reviewing and reporting on the unique employer/employee relationship between a CEO and councillors. This work highlighted cases where either the employer, the employee or a combination had failed their local community and their organisation. The report was referenced across our state and in other jurisdictions.
The Inspectorate initiated or completed eight prosecutions, including gaining a conviction for the former Central Goldfields Council CEO on five charges of obtaining a financial advantage by deception and the conviction of a Wyndham councillor on eight charges related to interest return non-disclosures.
Chief Municipal Inspector David Wolf said:
As part of governance examination work to assess and help improve council operations, the Inspectorate worked with and at many smaller regional councils, delivering excellent outcomes to assist in their delivery of contemporary council governance.
Foreword from Chief Municipal Inspector David Wolf
From my perspective, the Local Government Inspectorate achieved incredibly positive results for the local government sector in the 2018/19 period. The year was not without challenges, primarily in meeting sector and community expectations with our finite resources but this was offset by the recent government budget commitment of additional investment in this office to assist in our integrity role. We welcome this investment and are committed to continuing the excellent performance with greater capacity. Throughout the year we continued to provide an avenue for the sector and the community to raise concerns or seek advice relating to the governance operations of councils. Our complaints function received and assessed more than 420 formal complaints for the period, which is the highest number of complaints for a non-election year and continues the trend of an 11% increase per year calculated across the four year council term.
There are three pieces of work from the past year that I would like to highlight, the first being the review and report into the relationship between the elected council and their employee, the Chief Executive Officer. This work explored this very complex relationship and highlighted cases where either the employer, the employee or a combination had failed their local community and their organisation. The resulting report highlighted areas to assist councils and CEOs in this complex employer/employee relationship and I am pleased to see this report referenced across our state and in other jurisdictions. Secondly, a component of one of our more complex investigations related to a challenge of our investigative powers. This matter was heard in the Supreme Court of Victoria and the finding supported the legitimacy and fairness of our processes and the necessity of our powers, both being essential when delivering an integrity service for the sector and the community.
Finally, I would like to thank my team for their dedication in working with and at many smaller regional councils through the year as part of our governance examination work to assess and help improve their operations. The challenges of travel and resources aside, we have developed positive relationships with these councils and delivered excellent outcomes to assist their delivery of contemporary council governance.
What we do
The Local Government Inspectorate is the dedicated integrity agency for local government in Victoria. It has the remit to investigate offences and breaches under the Local Government Act 1989 or examine any matter relating to a council or council operations.
The Inspectorate’s work can be categorised under three main themes – reactive, proactive, and our guidance and education function. Reactive work includes responding to requests for information and enquiries, assessing complaints, conducting investigations and in some cases, prosecutions. Proactive work includes specific council governance examinations and reviews of systemic or thematic issues across the sector. Our guidance and education to the sector is generated by our reactive and proactive work outcomes and includes newsletters, presentations, reports and other communication tools.
Complaints, enquiries and investigations:
- 421 complaints
- 595 enquiries
- 29 investigations
- 8 prosecutions
- 11 warnings
- 42 recommendations
- 4 reports
- 3 newsletters
- 13 presentations
The Inspectorate regularly receives contacts from community members, councils officers and councillors seeking advice or information or raising issues that fall outside the Inspectorate’s jurisdiction. Many contacts from the general public also result from referrals from other state government agencies and sector representative bodies and the Inspectorate endeavours to assist with enquiries where possible. While the majority of the enquiries are easily addressed, 595 specific matters were logged for future reference.
The Inspectorate receives allegations about offences and breaches under the Act and has a responsibility to assess all complaints as part of its role. Complaints staff initially assess whether the allegation is within the Inspectorate’s jurisdiction. Complaints are then subject to an initial action to substantiate the allegation that forms the basis of the complaint, determine whether this constitutes a breach or offence under the Act or if it should be referred to another responsible authority. The Inspectorate has a target of receiving, acknowledging and assessing all complaints within five working days. There were 421 complaints accepted for assessment by the Inspectorate in 2018/19. This marginally exceeded the previous year’s complaint volume for a non-election year and is in line with the overall trend of an 11% increase per year calculated across the four year council term.
|How complaints are received||Percentage|
Twenty-nine investigations were completed for the year. While complaints are a main driver of investigations, the Inspectorate may launch an own motion investigation into any matter that potentially breaches the Act. As with the previous financial year, major investigations drew significant resources, and, as a result of a reduction in staff and the number of active significant and complex investigations, our capacity to undertake further investigations was reduced. These challenges have been offset by an improved initial assessment process, which has enabled complaints to be assessed and either dismissed, referred to other agencies or allocated to an investigator in a more efficient manner.
|Reporting period||2015/16||2016/17 (election year)||2017/18||2018/19|
Under the Act, the Chief Municipal Inspector has powers to require the provision of reasonable assistance, the production of documents or require a person to appear for examination under oath. For the 2018/19 period, the powers requiring reasonable assistance were exercised on 11 occasions. One person was required to appear for examination and 10 parties were required to produce documents or evidence.
Prosecutions and other enforcement action
The Chief Municipal Inspector has powers to initiate proceedings in various court jurisdictions, where it is deemed to be in the public interest to prosecute offences under the Act. One major case related to the South Gippsland Shire Council investigation where the coercive powers of the Chief Municipal Inspector were tested in the Supreme Court and found to be valid and properly exercised. While the majority of prosecutions relating to campaign donation return disclosures were completed in 2017/18, two additional candidates were brought before the courts in the past year for allegedly failing to disclose campaign donations. One case was concluded and the remaining matter is still before the courts.
Warnings are issued for matters where a breach of the Act is substantiated but an alternative to a prosecution is considered to better serve the public interest. Eleven warnings were issued in 2018/19. Warnings are utilised as an educational tool in making recipients aware of their obligations under the Act and the consequences for further transgressions.
There were 8 prosecution cases in 2018/19, including:
- In July, a Wyndham councillor was prosecuted and convicted on 8 charges related to interest return non-disclosures.
- In October, a former Murrindindi Shire councillor was convicted on 5 charges of misuse of position related to making improper use of council information, and a Wyndham Council candidate was charged over making and using false documents submitted during the 2016 elections.
- In December, the former Central Goldfields Shire Council CEO was convicted on 5 charges of dishonestly obtaining for himself a financial advantage by deception, related to misuse of a corporate credit card.
- In April 2019, 2 candidates in the Moonee Valley and Moreland Council elections were charged over non-disclosure of information on their campaign donation returns, and the Supreme Court ordered that a South Gippsland resident be examined under oath following a hearing in the previous June.
- In May, a South Gippsland councillor was charged with misuse of position related to providing information to a local resident who was involved in a Supreme Court proceeding against the council.
Case study - prosecution
The Inspectorate conducts both council-specific governance examinations and broad reviews of systemic or thematic issues identified during council visits, investigations or feedback from the sector or the general community. Examinations and audits of council governance arrangements are a key proactive function of the Inspectorate in assessing the effectiveness of councils’ risk management and governance processes.
The objective of this function is to ensure council operating procedures are compliant with relevant legislation and avoid breaches of the Act. The governance arrangements and operations of three councils were examined during the financial year resulting in specific reports to each organisation setting out the scope and findings of the work. A total of 42 recommendations were made in the course of this work, with one report and accompanying recommendations yet to be finalised.
Case study: governance examinations
Thematic or systemic issue reviews are a function of the Inspectorate to assess a theme or issues that affect the entire sector and draw on cases, information and/or intelligence from across the state. The primary objective of this work is to guide or change individual, organisational or sector behaviour to deliver better outcomes for the community. Often this results in the identification of policy or legislative reform.
Case study:CEO employment cycle report
Guidance and education
Reports, newsletters, presentations and social media posts are key aspects of the Inspectorate’s guidance and education program. Engagement occurs across various channels to ensure the Inspectorate’s reactive and proactive work is communicated effectively to state government, councils, council representative bodies, the community and other stakeholders.
Reports – public and internal
|Impressions of @CMI_Vic tweets||110,800|
|Website – unique views||50,902|
The Inspectorate published three newsletters to provide information and updates about significant reports, prosecutions, events and other relevant information. Newsletters were sent to more than 3210 subscribers and from the Winter 2018 edition, individual stories were also published on the Inspectorate website. This increased the reach of information beyond traditional mailing lists and assisted in meeting State Government accessibility requirements. Some of the most popular stories including advice and a case study on improving councillor/staff interactions and an explainer on the negative impacts of councillors releasing sensitive or confidential information.
Presentations to councils, sector representative bodies and partner agency events continued to build the Inspectorate’s engagement and visibility within the local government sector. Aside from visiting councils for investigations and examinations, the Inspectorate welcomes the opportunity to gain real-time feedback from the sector while delivering key findings from reports and expert perspectives on trending and systemic issues. Inspectorate representatives gave presentations at events including the LGPro CEOs forum, VLGA Mayors and FastTrack forums, governance groups and regional Corruption Prevention and Integrity Insights forums in Traralgon and Ballarat.
|Presentations and events||21||13|
The Inspectorate continues to use its Twitter account to provide updates on its work and highlight key issues for the sector in a more contemporary and immediate timeframe. The report on managing CEO employment was one of the most popular posts for the year, with 3800 views on LinkedIn and 4100 impressions and nearly 500 engagements on the @CMI_Vic Twitter channel. There were 2569 engagements with tweets and a 43% increase in followers over the previous year.
The Inspectorate website provides easy access to information about the Inspectorate’s work publications, news, media releases and the secure online complaint form. There was an increase of more than 10,000 unique views of webpages over the previous year and the CEO employment cycle report was the highest downloaded publication, with the 2017-published Central Goldfields report continuing to draw significant interest from visitors.
|Top downloads||1359 (Central Goldfields report)||1204 (CEO report)|
|Complaint form (clicks)||342||282|
The Inspectorate employed 10 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff in 2018/19, a decrease from 11 staff at the commencement of 2017/18 due to budget constraints.
Freedom Of Information requests
The Inspectorate received and responded to one Freedom of Information (FOI) request in 2018/19. FOI requests are handled in accordance with guidelines and processes set down by the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC).
Gifts and donations
LGI staff were not offered nor accepted any gifts during this financial year.
Under the Public Administration Act 2004, the Inspectorate is an administrative office hosted by the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) and the Inspectorate utilises corporate services including finance from DPC. Financial information will be incorporated into the DPC 2018/19 Annual Report.
Challenges and opportunities
The 2018-19 period proved challenging with resource constraints, however, the additional funding investment by the government for 2019-20 will provide additional capacity once suitable staff are identified and engaged. This process is in progress. The proposed reforms to the local government legislative framework will expand the role of the Chief Municipal Inspector and create new responsibilities particularly in the collation and publication of councillor candidate election donations. The progress and timing of the legislative reforms have a bearing on the implementation program for the Inspectorate leading onto the 2020 general council election year. In addition, the implementation of the Public Interest Disclosure Act from 1 January 2020 provides for the Inspectorate to receive public interest disclosures from IBAC for investigation. This reform further expands the Inspectorate’s role in local government integrity.