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CODES OF CONDUCT: FOR COUNCILLORS

The councillor code of conduct sets out the principles underpinning good behaviour and good relationships. All Victorian councils are required to adopt a councillor code of conduct.

WHY IS A COUNCILLOR CODE OF CONDUCT IMPORTANT?

The code of conduct is an opportunity for local government to articulate what it means by good conduct and good governance. It also creates the standards to which councillors must adhere. Councillors must make a declaration that they have read and will abide by the Council’s Code of Conduct before they can act as a Councillor. They need to make the declaration each time the code is amended.

All Councillor Codes of Conduct require an internal procedure for dealing with any alleged contravention of the Code of Conduct. An essential component of all internal resolution procedures is the appointment of an independent arbiter to hear the allegation and determine whether or not a contravention has occurred. If the arbiter determines that a Councillor has contravened the Council’s Code of Conduct, the Council can apply sanctions to the Councillor. Failure by a Councillor to compy with the internal resolution procedure or with Council sanctions, or repeated contravention of any of the conduct principals are grounds for an application for a Council Conduct Panel for a finding in misconduct. See Addressing breaches for more information about conduct panels.

A good process for preparing the code of conduct allows councillors to think about what they mean by terms such as ‘courtesy’ and ‘respect’. Councillors can then agree on a common understanding of such terms. Each Council is required to hold a special meeting within four months after a general election, to review and adopt its Councillor Code of Conduct.

It can be surprising how different interpretations can be. For some, ‘respect’ can mean uncompromising honesty. For others such uncompromising honesty can mean rudeness and a lack of respect.

Each council needs to develop a code that matches its specific circumstances. Some councils prefer to create relatively simple codes of conduct, while others choose to use the process to elaborate on their ideas around good governance. Some councils also include detailed procedures in their codes of conduct for dealing with internal disputes between councillors.

FACT

“Codes of conduct help councillors agree on what constitutes good conduct.”

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