Better education and oversight needed to improve councillor compliance

Our major review of personal interests returns in Victorian councils found 332 out of 650 councillors did not complete their returns in compliance with the Local Government Act.

The project looked at 4,600 councillor returns between October 2016 and February 2020. It involved a high-level review of personal interests returns from 61 councils and a detailed review from 17 councils.

Mr Stefanovic said: “The Inspectorate and other integrity agencies have identified incomplete and inadequate personal interest disclosures are a historical and ongoing issue affecting the local government sector.” “Compliance needs to be improved through better oversight and enforcement with a view to raising the level of compliance and public trust in their local representatives.”

We found:

  • half of the 650 councillors had failed to submit accurate records of their personal interests
  • two out of every five councillors failed to disclose interests in one or more of their returns – or failed to submit a return at all
  • councillors failed to disclose interests in trusts, property and office positions held
  • councillors routinely declared interests inconsistently.

During the review, we surveyed selected councillors and council officers and were told that improved guidance was needed, in simple language, and including relevant examples. There was also a clear message that more education and oversight was needed to improve compliance.

The personal interests returns scheme was amended with the introduction of the Local Government Act 2020. In August 2021, we assessed compliance with the new requirement for councils to publish a summary of all personal interests returns. We also reviewed the websites of all 79 councils and found that three councils did not have a summary published and a further 13 had not published the summary of the biannual personal interest returns of March 2021.

Read the full report, Personal interests returns: Encouraging disclosure and increasing transparency.