All Victorian councils must have a policy covering the election period, also known as the ‘caretaker period’. The election period policies ensure councils are transparent and accountable during the election process. The policy outlines how they will:
- misuse of council resources
- inappropriate decision making.
“The caretaker policy causes angst amongst some councillors because they can’t represent the council at events during the four weeks before the election.”
– Councillor re-elected in 2020
To support councils, councillors and candidates to understand and meet the requirements of the Act, we produced a sector-wide Election Period Policy Report in 2016. The report included analysis of the review findings and clear guidance on:
- policies providing clear instructions stating that councillors are not to use appearances at public events for the purposes of electioneering
- policies stating that no electoral material is to be placed on council websites or social media during the election period
- including the election period policy in information packs provided to nominating candidates
- model policies from various other councils.
The new 2020 Act no longer requires the CEO to undertake a certification process, however councils are encouraged to cover in their election period policies how documents and other communications intended for release during the election period will be managed. This will ensure they comply with section 304 of the 2020 Act which makes it an offence to misuse resources to affect an election or intentionally produce election material during an election period.
The 2020 election period demonstrated that while councils have election policies prescribing that they should be apolitical and not comment on candidates and their platforms, there are instances in which they should be able to exercise discretion and correct misinformation circulating in the community.
1. Section 69 of Local Government Act should be amended to require councils to adopt a caretaker or election period policy, which:
- is based on the model election period policy prepared by LGV
- incorporates flexible election period policies which allows for misinformation to be corrected.
At a northern council, a governance officer contacted us for advice after a candidate misrepresented the cost of a council project. The governance officer noted that the council’s election period policy prohibits council officers from making public comment during caretaker period but was uncertain if this prevented them from providing accurate information to the general public and correcting the public record.
Meanwhile, at a metropolitan council, a candidate had disseminated campaign material that misrepresented a ‘home care scheme’, resulting in a number of distressed recipients. The council’s governance officers were under the impression their election period policy prevented them from publicising the correct information. However, the council did later comment on the issue and sent a letter to affected residents.
Our view is that both councils could have commented earlier due to misinformation causing concern to the community and council staff in the first example, and the distress caused to clients of the scheme and their families in the second example.
Reviewed 23 June 2021