The Hon. KAYEE GRIFFIN: My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Local Government. What is the Government doing to stamp out misbehaviour by local councillors in New South Wales?
The Hon. TONY KELLY: Honourable members would be aware that yesterday the Premier announced that the Government would proceed with its legislation to sin-bin councillors for misbehaviour. The community quite rightly has high expectations of the people they elect to represent them. The Government wants to preserve the respect that communities have in their local councillors. We are concerned that a few councillors are misusing their positions and disrupting councils, preventing them from functioning properly. I have had reports of councillors physically and verbally abusing each other and members of the public gallery, in one instance resulting in the issue of an apprehended violence order.
Reports of councillors abusing council staff are also of great concern to me. Let me make this clear: I will not accept poor behaviour from councillors and I will not allow councils to be dysfunctional. Our reform agenda is about making councils more efficient and better service providers for their communities. We will not allow a council to be stopped from functioning properly because of one disruptive councillor. The community would expect no less. The majority of the State's 1,800 councillors are dedicated, hard working and community minded. I will not allow their reputations to be tarnished by the actions of just a few. That is why we are pushing ahead with our second wave of local government reform. We want to protect the good name of local government in New South Wales.
We are currently drafting legislation to create explicit powers for councils to censure misbehaviour by one of its members and to give the Director-General of the Department of Local Government the power to suspend a councillor without fees for up to a month. We are also giving the Local Government Pecuniary Interest Tribunal extensive new powers to suspend a councillor for up to six months. Too often we see the reputation of an entire council tarnished by the behaviour of one or two individuals. They are often acting out of self-interest or trying to prevent decisions being made by a duly elected council.
Councillors will be suspended or censured for misbehaviour for: sexual harassment; disrupting meetings and abusive behaviour towards members of the public gallery; a mayor failing to keep control or exceeding powers to control debate; councillors improperly pressuring staff to provide information or recommendations; unfair or biased conduct; continuing acts of disorder; and misuse of the power to expel councillors. The Government will not allow councillors to waste council resources on petty or poor behaviour.