Changes to Local Government Act endorsed

Council endorses law changes

Gosford councillors voted to endorse the principles for a submission to the NSW Government about its proposed changes to the NSW Local Government Act.

The matter was dealt with in a mayoral minute at Gosford Council’s ordinary meeting on Tuesday, March 8 accompanied by a report from Council CEO, Mr Paul Anderson. According to the mayoral minute, the NSW Government’s proposed phase one amendments focus on governance as well as strategic business planning and reporting, and are divided into eight areas. Generally speaking, Council’s submission will support the proposed amendments to guiding principles, governing body of council, council’s workforce and ethical standards.

The submission will also express qualifi ed support for the proposed amendments on structural framework, elections, council’s strategic framework and council performance. Submissions must be made online by March 15. According to Mr Anderson’s report accompanying the mayoral minute, the last four years has seen an ongoing process of review and reform into local government, including the review and recommendation of reform to the NSW Local Government Act (1993). “In 2012, the minister for local government appointed a four member taskforce to review the Local Government Act 1993 and the City of Sydney Act 1988,” Mr Anderson’s report said. “The taskforce looked at ways to modernise the legislation to ensure that it would meet the future needs of councils and communities.”

According to Mr Anderson, the Taskforce completed its work in late 2013 and their recommendations impacted a number of aspects of the legislation, including: guiding principles; planning and reporting; community engagement; performance and technology; council elections; meetings; appointment and management of staff; protection from liability, code of conduct; pecuniary interest; delegations; fi nancial governance; procurement; capital expenditure; public-private partnerships; acquisition of land; public land; water management; and so on.

According to the CEO’s report, in April 2012, a three member Independent Local Government Review Panel (ILGRP) was formed to formulate options for structural reform to improve the strength and effectiveness of local government. Recommendations in the ILGRP’s fi nal report, published in October 2013, would require legislative change to enact, particularly in the areas of political leadership and governance.

The NSW Government delivered its response to the Taskforce and ILGRP’s recommendations in September 2014 with broad support for the recommendation and the announcement of a phased change to the legislation from July 1, 2016. In February 2016, the NSW Government published an Explanatory Paper on the proposed Phase 1 amendments to the Act for consultation and it is this paper that Gosford Council’s submission will be responding to. “To date there is no indication from the NSW Government of what the future phases will entail or when they will occur,”

Mr Anderson’s report said. “Submission in response to the NSW Government explanatory paper must be provided through an online form, which is very prescriptive. “For each proposed amendment it asks do you support (Yes, No or Neutral) and to provide comments limited to 200 words. “There is no opportunity for general comments or to make comment on any expected recommendations that were not included in the explanatory paper,” he said. Mr Anderson’s report to council indicated that its submission would be shaped by the available “timeframe for response, in the context of competing with a merger proposal submission, the timing of council meetings and the online format of the response”. According to Mr Anderson’s report, the Gosford Council submission will support a proposed new purpose statement that focuses on the purpose of the Local Government Act and a clearer and more concise role of councils and guiding principles to replace the current charter. The submission will give qualified support for the proposed structural framework including the NSW Government’s proposal for a clearer collective role of councillors as a governing body, an amendment to require an odd number of councillors. The NSW Government is proposing to maintain the maximum number of councillors at 15 but Gosford Council’s submission will request consideration be given to increasing the maximum.

The council’s submission will support proposals to give greater clarity on the role of the mayor and councillors (as individuals), but the amendments do not require a direct election for the position of mayor. Gosford’s submission will support an amendment increasing the minimum term of councillor-elected mayors to two years, with the option for up to four years as proposed and a requirement for councillors to take an oath of offi ce. Another proposed amendment supported by Gosford Council will be the requirement for a councillor expense policy to be adopted only once every four years, at a minimum, instead of the current annual. Gosford Council’s support will also be given for an amendment requiring councillors to undertake an induction program and ongoing individual professional development programs.

It will also support the adoption of a new Model Code of Meeting Practice with mandatory sections and optional ‘best practice’ sections. The submission will give qualified support on proposed changes to how council elections are held in NSW. The proposed amendments clarify Council’s and the General Manager’s role in defining organisational structure and a proposal that means the General Manager will no longer be required to report to council annually on senior staff contractual conditions, as all senior staff would be on standard contracts.

Qualified support will also be given to proposed changes around Councils Strategic Framework including integrated planning and reporting framework (IP&R) principles being embedded into the Act. Another amendment will require minimum standards for Community Engagement but Mr Anderson’s report said that the government has given no details on what the standards will be. Qualifi ed support will also be offered in the council’s submission for proposed changes to council’s performance, including proposed amendments, such as a requirement for councils to establish an audit committee with a majority of independent members and an independent chair.

Agenda item, Mar 8, 2016 MM.3, Gosford Council ordinary meeting CEO report, Council’s response to Phase 1 proposed amendments to the Local Government Act Jackie Pearson, journalist

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