The Minister for Local Government recently introduced the Local Government Amendment (Early Intervention) Bill 2013 into the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales.

The purpose of this Bill is to put in place a more effective framework than currently exists for addressing “dysfunction and poor performance” in local councils.

Most of the proposed reforms are aimed at addressing dysfunctional relations between councillors, which frustrate the business of councils.  Some examples of dysfunction include councillors engaging in disruptive behaviour, councillors denying quorums at meetings, groups of councillors disputing with each other and individual councillors striving for the mayoralty in a way which impedes the council’s ability to meet the needs of its community.

The main reforms proposed by the Bill are: (Click here to view table)

It is only the first and last powers which apply both to councillors and also to staff of the council.  Councillors will not be entitled to any form of remuneration or payment of expenses and will not be entitled to exercise civic functions while suspended.

The salary of temporary advisers and interim administrators must be paid out of council funds.

If enacted, the Bill should enable councils to drive their own improvement through early intervention in the problem.  This will overcome the current limited means for dealing with alleged poor performance which currently can mean time-consuming and costly investigations by the Division of Local Government or public inquiries which can lead to the dismissal of the council.  All of these activities are very disruptive to the business of the council and upsetting for staff and members of the public.

Councillors who take over after an administrator has been in place often complain that the city has been starved of progressive actions to stimulate growth, because the role of administrators is one of containment concentrating on governance. This provides another reason to avoid suspending councillors.

The proposed new powers should provide an effective, collaborative and transparent path towards resolving these problems.