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May 6, 2021

Council code tightened up

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The controversial code of conduct for NSW councillors, which recently drew flak in Tweed and Byron shires over claims it was being misused for political gain and other motives, has been amended and put on public display.

The new code aims to cut its use by feuding councillors, tighten up rules over gifts to them and staff and reduce investigation costs.

It’s the second time in six years the code has been amended amid claims it’s costly and unworkable.

Recently, several complaints against Byron shire mayor Jan Barham by staff were withdrawn after a lengthy investigation which cost ratepayers thousands of dollars.

And in Tweed shire, the code made headlines when an MLC in parliament accused a councillor and a general manager of being involved in a campaign of vilification and politically motivated complaints against a former mayor.

Late last year, a Gosford councillor claimed code allegations against him were frivolous and had been misused when his council found he had breached it by referring to some of his colleagues as ‘arrogant’.

But local government minister Don Page said the amended Model Code of Conduct for NSW Councils will ‘improve the standards of ethics and behaviour that communities can expect from their councillors and council staff’.

Mr Page said the new rules extend the ban on cash gifts to include credit or cash-like gift such as vouchers, credit cards and phone credit and introduces mandatory reporting of offers of gifts.

They also allow for the formation of regional assessment panels to assess complaints and for the Division of Local Government (DLG) to help councils.

Mr Page said the amendments ‘ensure it can no longer be used by feuding councillors for political gain, aim to reduce the often large costs to councils when investigating Code of Conduct matters, and extend and clarify the bans on gifts to councillors and council staff’.

He said he sought the review soon after becoming minister after councils raised concerns over the code with him ‘particularly in relation to misuse of it for political gain or to harm reputations, and costs involved in investigating alleged breaches’.

He said submissions came from councils, unions and industry bodies, MPs, ICAC, the Ombudsman and the public.

The code is on display until 26 June at the DLG website www.dlg.nsw.gov.au and comments are accepted by email or mail.

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