Comments sought on culture in local government

Local Government Victoria is seeking input on a major project designed at improving culture in local government. The Local Government Culture Project aims to understand the factors influencing culture and conduct within local government and identify opportunities and initiatives the sector can implement to improve culture and conduct.

A discussion paper on the project states that while most councillors behave in a professional manner, there have been many cases of poor councillor behaviour in recent years. Between 2016 and 2020, the Victorian Government had to become involved with four anti-corruption investigations and five councils being dismissed.

Poor councillor behaviour can take different forms and includes bullying and harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination and corruption. The impact of this behaviour includes:

  • affecting the health and wellbeing of those subject of the poor behaviour
  • creating a toxic work culture – making it difficult for councils to attract staff
  • impacting the ability of a council to perform its rule
  • financial costs to council
  • damaging a council’s reputation.

Chief Municipal Inspector Michael Stefanovic AM said:

“It is vital for democracy that local governments reflect the communities they serve. Behaviour such as bullying or sexual harassment can stop good candidates standing for election.

“Poor councillor behaviour can affect the cohesiveness of a council group and lead to issues such as councillors voting in blocks, making vexatious complaints to authorities or the inability for a council to make decisions in the community’s best interests.

“Many complainants have contacted us over the years with the mistaken impression that the Inspectorate can sort out issues of poor councillor behaviour. However, it is the responsibility of mayors and councillors to improve the culture of councils.”

The Local Government Culture Project aims to provide a platform for the local government sector to identify and take ownership of a positive and inclusive culture that will improve governance and build public trust.

Comments on the Discussion Paper can be made until 5pm Monday 28 February 2022.