LOCAL GOVERNMENT (ACCOUNTABILITY AND GOVERNANCE) AMENDMENT BILL

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 16:27 :51 ): I rise to speak on behalf—

An honourable member interjecting:

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: Sorry, I was a little distracted there with some comments from behind me. I should not be listening to comments from behind me—

The ACTING PRESIDENT ( Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins ): They are obviously out of order.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: They were not interjections: they were comments for my ears only, but they distracted me. I rise on behalf of the opposition to support the Local Government (Accountability and Governance) Amendment Bill 2015, and I will make some relatively brief comments.

This bill is not a contentious bill and my colleague, the member for Goyder in the other place and shadow minister for local government, has had extensive opportunity to consult and examine this bill in more detail in the other place, and I know there has been a reasonable amount of comment in that chamber. I would also like to acknowledge that this is the first bill introduced by minister Brock. It has been well over a year since he became a member of cabinet and although this bill probably does not go far enough in implementing the comprehensive local government reform that he canvassed in the other place, the opposition welcomes the progress, no matter how incremental and snail's-paced it may be.

My understanding is that this bill seeks to implement a few good practice provisions, and in part it does that by amending the conflict of interest and confidentiality provision of the Local Government Act. In regard to conflict of interest, the bill intends to make a number of legislative changes which will add another dimension to the existing clause. Generally speaking, this amendment seeks to broaden the scope of the conflict of interest as it relates to local government members.

At present, any conflict of interest is captured under one category, whether it be a minor or a greater conflict of one's interests. In doing so, this leaves only one course of action for council members with a conflict of interest, which is to declare that interest and leave the meeting. The amendment seeks to redefine a conflict of interest into different categories. These include material conflicts of interest and actual or perceived conflicts.

It is encouraging to see that the LGA has undertaken to provide detailed guidance, materials and training sessions to ensure the effect of this proposed bill is understood and ensures a smooth transition. I am very pleased that the LGA has done that. I think it is important for all elected members to be made aware of their rights and responsibilities and obligations, and I think it is important that any change in these provisions is well understood.

We also, I think only just a couple of days ago, received some draft amendments from the Hon. John Darley, which we are still looking at. I did check; they are not actually on file yet, but I think they have been provided to our office. His amendments are quite substantial in their impact, we believe, and require proper consultation with local government. I have sought advice from our shadow minister Steven Griffiths, the member for Goyder, about that, and asked whether he has had any consultation or conversations with the Local Government Association. As yet, I have not had a response from him.

I will just quickly outline the opposition's understanding of the amendments. Amendment 20A is to clause 28—The register of remuneration salaries and benefits. This register must be kept by the chief executive in relation to employees, but the information is currently only available to council members. This amendment would require the register to be published on the web.

The Hon. Mr Darley's second amendment, I think, is 20B—Publication of certain expenditure. This is a completely new clause, requiring council to publish all transactions on corporate credit cards and the names of officers to whom they are allocated. His third amendment is to 21A, The form and content of the primary and ordinary returns. Our understanding is that the council chief executive officer and certain employees designated by council must fill in primary and ordinary returns.

This amendment would require the submitter to advise the mayor, for the CEO, or the CEO for other employees, if anything in the return changes. This must be done within one month of the change occurring. This is in the same terms as the proposed amendment for council members. This is not necessarily big in itself, but it imposes a possible $10,000 fine for non-compliance and our advice at this stage is that there has not been any actual consultation on that particular provision.

The final amendment proposed by the Hon. John Darley is the inspection of the register. This requires the same information to be published on the website as the controversial amendment for council members, but applying to the employees register. This information has never been publicly available and is only available to council members. To provide that publications be made public, let alone on the web, is a substantial change.

As mentioned, I am seeking advice from the shadow minister on these amendments. I indicate that we are not necessarily opposed to the amendments but we certainly are yet to consult with the Local Government Association. Until we are able to at least speak to the Local Government Association and also to see what the government's response is, we are not opposed to the Hon. John Darley's amendments. We would need to take them back to the Liberal Party party room and have a further discussion. With those few words, I indicate we are supporting the bill and we are leaving ourselves open minded about the Hon. John Darley's amendments.

 

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