The Western Australian government is considering changing laws to allow it to stand down individual councillors for serious breaches, despite concerns it could be used for politically motivated sackings.
Local Government Minister David Templeman said the government is looking to introduce “stand down” provisions in the Local Government Act, following Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi’s long running disclosure saga.
He said the Local Government Act currently only allows action to be taken against a whole council.
“The current Act does not allow the minister to deal with one individual who may be causing issues or concerns or may have breached the Local Government Act seriously,” he said.
“If a minister had clauses that allowed for a minister to analyse a particular behaviour of an individual councillor and then seeing if that was indeed serious, then they could with this amendment to legislation deal with that member.”
The new provisions could also enable penalties including disqualification, suspension and public censure.
“Stand down” provisions currently exist in other states around the country including Queensland and Victoria.
Mr Templeman has called the investigation process into Mrs Scaffidi’s failure to declare hospitality packages and gifts as too lengthy and if the provision already existed, the matter would have been dealt with faster.
“It’s too long and I’m frustrated by that process,” he said.
“I want a more streamlined process that still allows natural justice to occur and that will with amendment to the Act.”
He reiterated his previous call for Mrs Scaffidi to resign.
The State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) upheld 45 allegations into Mrs Scaffidi’s lack of disclosures last week.
It follows an investigation by the Department of Local Government and a previous Corruption and Crime Commission report in 2015 that found that Ms Scaffidi engaged in serious misconduct by failing to disclose gifts.
The SAT has adjourned Ms Scaffidi’s case until June 14, when arguments will be heard about what penalty should be imposed.
However, Murdoch University senior politics lecturer Ian Cook says concerns remain that the laws could be used to gain a political advantage.
“What worries me about it is that local government is often a place where you’ve got a distinct sort of personality issues and people hold grudges and hold them for a long time,” he said.
“This gives them an opportunity to sort of get rid of opponents, get rid of people they don’t like by trying to use the State Government to do so.”
Opposition Local Government spokesperson Tony Krsticevic said however the laws need reform but need to be genuinely implemented for breaches and not political motivations.
“It’s very important to make sure that we consult with the WA Local Government Association, local government professionals and the sector itself to make sure that we understand what we are exactly trying to do,” he said.
“We’re not just doing this for political reasons to be able to remove councillors that maybe aren’t of the same political persuasion, but that it’s more genuine in terms of what’s expected.”