25 Nov 2022

Welcome to the spring edition of our integrity matters newsletter.

Being a councillor is a privilege. It is important to remember that not everybody has the right to stand for election to represent their community. This issue starts with an article about a candidate we prosecuted who nominated as a candidate while ineligible due to prior convictions. We will hold people to account if they do not abide by Victoria’s electoral laws.

Meanwhile we formally warned 2 councillors for failing to properly submit their declaration of personal interests. Councillors must remember that they are responsible for fully complying with the personal interests returns provisions in the Local Government Act.

Western Australia is in the midst of a once-in-a-generation shake up of its local government legislation. The changes will see the creation of a new integrity body – which will be a similar model to Victoria’s Inspectorate. I travelled to Perth with a colleague to give WA councils an idea of what they can expect.

We are continuing to create new resources to help both council staff and councillors understand their obligations under the Local Government Act. Head to our website to see a range of sample policies, fact sheets, case studies and more.

And finally, it is with great sadness that I will farewell our Operations Manager, Ross Millard, who retires this month. Ross has been with the Inspectorate since it was formed and has a wealth of knowledge about the local government sector and good governance. However, while our office will lose Ross’ experience, I am very pleased to hand him back to his family to enjoy what matters most. Thank you, Ross, for your many years of dedicated services to the Inspectorate and the local government sector.

Michael Stefanovic AM
Chief Municipal Inspector

Maroondah council candidate fined

A former election candidate received a six-month good behaviour bond after pleading guilty to nominating as a candidate while ineligible in a hearing on 7 September at Ringwood Magistrates’ Court.

Steven Andrew Marks will serve the bond without conviction and pay a $300 penalty and $700 towards the prosecution's costs.

Mr Marks nominated as a candidate for McAlpin Ward in Maroondah Council in the 2020 general election.

The Victorian Electoral Commission referred information relating to Mr Marks’ eligibility to the Inspectorate, who confirmed that Mr Marks had prior convictions that would render him ineligible to be a candidate under sections 256 and 286 of the Local Government Act 2020.

Mr Marks was advised on 24 September 2020 that he was not entitled to nominate as a candidate due to a disqualifying conviction recorded against him in the last eight years. He was retired from the election prior to voting day.

Mr Marks was invited but declined to be interviewed in relation to the breach of the Act.

The maximum penalty for an offence against section 286 is currently $44,380.80 or two-years imprisonment.

CMI addresses WA council conference

The Chief Municipal Inspector Michael Stefanovic AM spoke to the local government sector in Western Australia earlier this month.

The Local Government Professionals WA annual conference was held in Perth on 2–3 November. It was attended by about 300 people, including chief executive officers and senior executives from WA councils.

Local Government Professionals Australia WA is the peak representative body for local government professionals in WA.

The WA Government announced the most significant change to the Local Government Act in more than 25 years in July this year. The changes include the creation of a new Inspector of Local Government, which would be supported by an Inspectorate.

The model is similar to the Victorian model which is why we were invited to speak to the annual conference.

Earlier this year, Minister for Local Government John Carey visited our office to seek information about our powers and operations.

Local Government Professionals WA Chief Executive Officer Candy Choo said she invited the Inspectorate to speak at the conference as it was opportunity for the Western Australian local government sector to hear how the Inspectorate operates in Victoria as they prepare for their own Inspectorate.

Mr Stefanovic said: “Western Australia will be setting up a model to oversight councils similar to the Victorian system. It was useful for WA’s local government sector to get an understanding of how our integrity system works as an example of that they can soon expect.

“We are happy to share our knowledge and expertise in compliance with local government legislation and best-practice governance.”

Mr Stefanovic was joined by Team Leader, Investigations, David Walker at the presentation.

The pair were asked questions about our ability to issue infringement notices, conflict of interest, the investigation process and the length of our investigations.

The WA conference was also an opportunity for local government officers to reconnect with peers and networks, be exposed to new ideas, and celebrate achievements within their sector.

Anti-corruption conference

The Australian Public Sector Anti-Corruption Conference 2022 was held in Sydney in late November. The conference attracts 500 delegates keen to learn the latest trends, resource and practices in preventing, exposing and responding to corrupt conduct in all levels of government.

Mr Stefanovic and Inspector of Municipal Administration, Ulrike Friedrich, attended the conference on behalf of the Inspectorate.

Presentations to councils

The Inspectorate presented to councillors and some council staff at Portland Shire Council and Wyndham City Council this quarter. Our presentations are tailored to give case studies and information on issues each council is encountering.

Councillors warned over personal interests returns

Two councillors has been formally warned for failing to submit a declaration of their personal interests, as required by the Local Government Act 2020.

The Inspectorate issued the warnings after the councillors did not include the detailed information required in their biannual personal interests returns.

This was in contravention of section 134 of  by the Act and regulation 9 of the Local Government (Governance and Integrity) Regulations 2020.

Instead, of providing the information required, the councillors had emailed the information to the chief executive officer (CEO) and written ‘Provided to CEO’ on the returns.

We found that the councillors had breached section 134 (1) of the Act. However, because of a couple of factors, we issued a written warning.

By law, councillors and other relevant people in local government must declare their personal interests. A summary of these interests must be available on each council’s website.

Declaring personal interests is done so the public can see the shareholdings, trusts, business associations or other private interests of the people making decisions at councils. It is one way to ensure councillors and other key people are transparently acting in an impartial manner for the benefit of the community and not for personal gain.

The Act states that councillors, members of delegated committees and key council staff must submit a record of their personal interests to the council’s CEO.

The first personal interests return must be completed within 30 days after taking the oath of affirmation (for councillors) or appointment (for staff and members of delegated committees). These are known as initial personal interests return.

Further returns must be completed twice a year for the entire time the position is held. These are known as biannual personal interests returns. The biannual returns are due each year between:

  • 1 March and 31 March
  • 1 September and 30 September.

In 2020, the Act introduced the requirement for councils to publish a summary of the returns of its councillors, key council staff and members of its delegated committees.

The Inspectorate can prosecute relevant persons if they fail to comply with personal interests’ requirements. The maximum penalty is 60 penalty units or $11,095.20 (from 1 July 2022).

Ross Millard retires from Inspectorate

After a significant contribution to the local government sector in Victoria over the last 25 years, Ross Millard is retiring. Ross finished in his role as Operations Manager in late November after 13 years with the Local Government Inspectorate.

His previous experience relating to local government has included roles in Local Government Victoria, as Executive Officer of the Victoria Grants Commission and the Local Government Board during municipal restructure in 1994.

Ross has been a contributor to major local government structural reform in Victoria. He had a key role in the Kennett Government restructure of municipalities from the previous 210 councils down to the current 79.

Ross also played a major part in the introduction of modern finance and accounting practice in councils, particularly in the introduction of accrual accounting. 

Ross was involved in the implementation and setting up of the Inspectorate, the only state-based integrity agency for local government.

Initially employed as Manager Investigations and Compliance, Ross was Acting Chief Municipal Inspector (CMI) for three years. This CMI role involved building strong relationships with local councils, representative bodies and state government departments, while also ensuring the public profile and perception of the Inspectorate as an independent portfolio agency of the Victorian government.

During his time with the Inspectorate, Ross built a rolling compliance audit schedule which strengthened governance in the sector. Investigations during his time as acting CMI led to outcomes including the inquiry into Geelong City Council and dissolution of the ward funds allocation program; prosecution of councillors for conflict-of-interest offences and referred councillors to Code of Conduct panel for serious misconduct.

Ross established and managed large-scale review and investigations into Geelong City Council, West Wimmera Shire Council, Yarriambiack Shire Council and Hepburn Shire council. He was involved in the scoping, managing the process and finalising the reviews and investigations.

Ross has built a reputation for honesty, integrity and fairness within the local government sector. He is highly respected, and his contribution is acknowledged by senior members of current and former governments and stakeholders outside of government.

Governance resources available

The Inspectorate has continued to publish more resources for councils on our website to help local government comply with their obligations under the Local Government Act.

The 'Resources for councils' section on our website is a one-stop-shop for councillors and council staff to get help in better understanding their obligations under the Act. We have continued to build this section throughout the year.

This month, we have been working on developing a bank of sample policies. These policies come from regional and metropolitan councils and cover a range of topics, including procurement, council expenses and councillor staff interactions.

We also have fact sheets available to help councillors:

You can also find out more about our powers and responsibilities.

We produce reports on our investigations and governance reviews and the 'Resources for councils' section contains summaries of our key reports. These summaries are designed to make it easier for staff and councillors to understand the key points of our reports.

Our fact sheets and report summaries can be read online or downloaded into an easy-to-read printable format.

We also have case studies on our investigations and on local government compliance.

CMI Michael Stefanovic AM said: “Our website has a range of information which can support council staff to better understand the requirements of the Local Government Act. I would strongly urge council officers and councillors to visit our website and use the resources we have provided.”

What's on - Spring 2022

Training events and reminders

13 December 2022

Conflict of interest risk – lessons from the Ombudsman – Victorian Ombudsman (online)

18 November 2022

Member event and Annual General Meeting – LGPro

9 December 2022

MAV Mayoral welcome and induction – MAV


6 December 2022

Wodonga City Council