Local Government Standards Panel report shows increase in complaints

The Local Government Standards Panel has seen a steady increase in complaints against councillors with 82 lodged in 2017-18.

The standards panel annual report shows there were 31 complaints lodged in the first half of the year and 50 in the second half.

This is in comparison to 2014-15 and 2015-16 where only 55 complaints were lodged for both years.

“Demonstrates the continuing increase in complaints referred to the Standards Panel,” the report said.

The current year looks no different with 14 active complaints against Shire of Capel councillors alone.

This year has also seen two City of Bunbury councillors to have breached the Local Government Act.

Following complaints lodged by City of Bunbury Mayor Gary Brennan, Bunbury councillors Brendan Kelly and Michelle Steck were forced to apologise to their fellow councillors. 

In July, the Local Government Standards Panel found Cr Kelly to have breached regulation 7(1)(b) of the Local Government (Rules of Conduct) Regulations 2007 for publishing two Facebook posts.

The posts were following the council’s decision to add a Bunbury Geographe Chamber of Commerce and Industry representative to the Policy Review and Development Committee.

The panel called for Mr Kelly to publicly apologise to the other councillors.

Ms Steck was also ordered to apologise after publicly criticising the same decision made by the City of Bunbury. 

Amongst the complaints that have already been dealt with this year is Shire of Capel councillor Michael Southwell.

Cr Southwell said the complaints which led him to the standards panel were made by Capel’s former chief executive officer Paul Sheedy about things he reported on his Facebook page and by Capel Shire President Murray Scott and his brother Chris over a question he asked on notice at a council meeting.

The panel found Cr Southwell had breached standards by ‘causing a detriment’ to the complainants and others. 

“I’m surprised at the findings, I accept this wording caused a detriment, I just have to accept findings and be more careful in future,” he said.

“But having said that I do maintain my role is to keep communicating with residents and ratepayer and encouraging the council to be open and accountable.”

South West MLC Adele Farina said elected members had a duty not to criticise or reflect negatively on the decisions of the body to which they are elected and serve.

“We live in a democracy which places a high value on free speech, however with freedom of speech comes great responsibility in how we exercise this right,” she said.