Western Australia is proposing its biggest overhaul of local government in 25 years, aiming to address “dysfunction” in the sector.
The reforms are aimed at improving the transparency, accountability and efficiency of local government across the state, and include creating a local government watchdog.
The legislation would create a similar role to Victoria’s local government inspectorate and Queensland’s independent assessor, who hear complaints about councillors.
In addition to the watchdog role, specialist independent monitors would support WA’s inspector, who could request they go into local governments and try to resolve problems.
Local governments would also be able to request their assistance for help with governance, financial management and conflict resolution needs.
The reform includes a requirement for all councils to record meetings and make them available online, would allow constituents to elect mayors in bigger municipalities, and provide financial reporting requirements according to the size of the local government.
WA Local Government Association president Tracey Roberts welcomed the plan, saying the proposal aligned with modernised legislation the sector had already been calling for.
“Having a tiered approach to many requirements according to the differing size and scale of local governments will greatly assist in their implementation,” Roberts said.
Changes to the Local Government Act would also bring in stronger penalties for councillors breaching the law, such as a three-month suspension if the act or regulations are breached on more than one occasion.
Multiple suspensions would lead to disqualification from office, the draft changes say. Council allowances will also be withheld if a civic leader doesn’t complete training within a required timeframe.
WA local government minister John Carey said there were a number of recent examples of “dysfunctional local governments”.
“The reforms will also make sure the decision-making process is transparent and accountable, help local governments do more for their ratepayers by removing the burden of red tape where we can, and implement changes that improve the democratic process and encourage more community engagement,” Carey said.
Consultation on the proposal is open until early February.