As discussed in our Winter 2021 newsletter, we receive many complaints that are not in our jurisdiction and we cannot investigate. Like all public bodies, our jurisdiction is clearly set out in legislation and there are strict limits on our powers. For the Inspectorate, our powers are set out in the Local Government Act and there are strict limits on the matters we can and can’t investigate.
We can investigate breaches and offences under the Act involving councillors, senior council employees of anyone subject to the conflict-of-interest provisions of the Act.
Other integrity agencies may also investigate council matters. For example, the Victorian Ombudsman can investigate council services and the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption can investigate serious misconduct and corruption.
When we receive a complaint, we first assess it to see if it falls inside our jurisdiction. This means, we look at the complaint to see if it is something we can investigate under the Act.
The main areas we investigate are:
- misuse of position
- dealing inappropriately with a conflict of interest
- disclosing confidential information
- committing electoral offences.
Once we assess a complaint, we will tell you if your complaint is outside our jurisdiction and we are not legally allowed to investigate it. Often, we receive complaints about matters that other agencies can investigate. If this is the case, then we will give the details of other agencies that may be able to investigate your complaint.
Case study: Complaint we investigated
We received a complaint that a local developer had commissioned an artist to paint a portrait of a councillor. The allegation was that the portrait was a gift to the councillor and was presented to them at a time when the developer had made an application for a major development. The gift was never recorded on the gift register by the councillor.
We investigated and found the developer did commission the artist and the written agreement between the two parties stated that the portrait of the councillor would be paid for by the developer but given to the council. The developer made a planning application to council in late 2019.
We interviewed the councillor under caution, who stated that they did not accept the portrait directly. The mayor confirmed this and told us the portrait was a gift to council and was taken to the local history centre. The developer also denied that the portrait was a gift to the councillor.
We accepted that the donation of the portrait was made to the council and therefore it was not mandatory that the gift register was updated. However, a donation by a philanthropist to council was not covered by the Act or by any council policy. We recommended that council’s policies be updated to reflect that omission.
We found there was no breach of the Act.
Case studies: Complaints we could not investigate
We received a complaint from a resident who was part for a body corporate. The resident stated that their council had charged a waste bin fee but had not provided bins for two years – despite being asked to do so.
We are not able to investigate complaints about the delivery of council services. We informed the complainant that the issue should be taken up with council or the Victorian Ombudsman if the council did not resolve the issue satisfactorily.
We received a complaint from a resident stating that councillors had misused their power when they made a “ridiculous decision” which was a “waste of ratepayers money”. The council decision was in relation to a feasibility study.
We are not able to investigate complaints about council decisions as they fall outside our jurisdiction. We informed the complainant that they could lodge a complaint with the Victorian Ombudsman.