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April 22, 2021

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Council’s Draft Complaint Handling Policy is on exhibition!

It’s a document that, if drafted carefully, could provide the public with confidence that Council take complaints seriously and accountability will apply when a complaint is found to be true.

This draft document about how public complaints are handled has been bundled with a heavily redrafted Internal Reporting 2021 Policy and the Planning Agreements 2021 Policy. All documents are on exhibition until April 14 and can be found at www.byron.nsw.gov.au/Public-Notice/Public-exhibition-of-reviewed-policies.

The Echo asked Council executive staff if a complaint by the public has ever led to any disciplinary action within Council.

While the reply was extensive – and is published in full below – no example was provided.

How wonderful is it that we have such a perfect Council?

Accountability, as defined in the Draft Complaint Handling Policy, is listed under ‘Addressing complaints’ (page 9).

It’s very thin on detail.

And on page 10, ‘Accountability and learning’, it only says Council will monitor and are ‘committed to improving the effectiveness and efficiency of our complaint management system’.

Having looked at Council complaints and the responses by staff over the years, it appears that complaints around staff conduct invariably lead to a government department, who hand ball the complaint back to Council.

As such, the only option for a complainant is legal action.

The Echo asked staff of that observation: ‘Would that be a fair assessment?’

Staff replied, ‘Council takes all complaints seriously, and the policy provides a framework to guide staff in the process for addressing complaints with the aim being to resolve complaints at the earliest stage possible’.

‘Owing to the broad nature of possible issues someone may lodge a complaint about, the policy does not stipulate prescriptive resolutions (or accountability). Complaints are investigated, and if established, action is taken. In regards to complaints against staff, the nature of any action is dependent upon the seriousness of the conduct alleged in the complaint and established by the investigation.

‘Complaint investigations are undertaken by or on behalf of the General Manager, although, in some instances investigations are referred externally to appropriately qualified people.

‘Notwithstanding the status of the investigator all complaints against staff are ultimately determined by the General Manager. If a complaint amounts to an alleged breach of the Code of Conduct the complaint is managed pursuant to the provisions of Council’s Procedures for the Administration of the Code of Conduct.

‘It is open to any complainant to lodge the complaint with external agencies such as the Ombudsman or the Office of Local Government. It is a matter for those agencies as to how they deal with the complaint. Council is at all times co-operative with external agencies in complaint investigation’.

From an outside-the-tent perspective, such evasive non-responses from staff are only possible because the councillor majority are ineffectual and/or unwilling to stand up for the community. Improving governance has all but been ignored by them.

Most councillors were subsumed into the lower intestine of an unaccountable, bloated bureaucracy long, long ago.   

The local government election is pegged for September this year – does the community deserve better than this?

News tips are welcome: [email protected]

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  1. External investigations and the like are paid for by the government to assess complaints about the gov agencies (ie council). The likelihood that any ‘sqweakier than clean’ findings would merely be to bite the hand that feeds/ pays these externel agencies.


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