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Complaints Against Councillors Remain Behind Closed Doors

Mar 1, 2024

A shroud of secrecy has been thrown over 23 separate complaints levelled against Hawkesbury City Councils’ 12 councillors or its General Manager under the official “Code of a Conduct” – that have cost ratepayers almost $100,000. Many of the complaints have been brought by councillors against their colleagues and used as political tools.

Yet despite the considerable time and money involved the entire process, including revealing who has been found to have breached the Code, remains secret. No name or offenses are mentioned in the annual listing of complaints.

Of the 23 complaints in the year to August 31, 2023 six remain ongoing at the time of reporting to the November meeting of HCC. Three are currently under investigation. Of the 23 complaints, 12 were referred to a “conduct reviewer”. Four complaints were investigated and referred to the OLG. One councillor was formally censured.

“The Model Code of Conduct sets the minimum standards of conduct for council officials. It is prescribed by regulation to assist council officials to: understand and comply with the standards of conduct that are expected of them,” the Office of Local Government States.

In Sept 2022, the previous state government delivered a damning review of the process.

The review found that councillor conduct accountability is not a problem for all councils in NSW, but is a serious problem for a few. It found that the Office of Local Government has very limited capacity under the current framework, structures and resourcing to effectively address the issues identified.

“The current framework, although formulated with good intent, contains structural, strategic and operational deficiencies that act against its effectiveness. Particular areas of concern to the sector include,  lack of certainty, lack of consistency,  lack of timeliness  and a lack of independence. The current framework has operated for more than a decade and has not made any substantial progress in reducing councillor conduct complaints,” the review said.

While in opposition, the state government also criticised the process ,so far nothing has been initiated to make any changes.

Overall, NSW councils spent more than $1.5 million investigating code of conduct complaints against councillors and staff last year but found fewer than 50 breaches. Figures reported to the Office of Local Government showed 395 code of conduct complaints were received in 2019-20, with the cost of dealing with them amounting to $1,593 416. However, the number of finalised complaints where a breach was found came to just 48.

The data also shows that 154 more complaints were made in 2019-20 than the previous year, while the amount spent investigating them increased by $635,000.

Yet HCC Mayor Sarah McMahon appears to have less compunction than council management in wielding the facts that councillors have been found to have breached the Code having named Councillors Eddie Dogramaci and Mary Lyons Buckett

It is understood that McMahon herself has been the subject of complaints yet Hawkesbury residents and ratepayers have no way of finding if she has been censured during the process – and how.

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