On Wednesday, 12 August 2015 WALGA hosted a webinar to inform prospective Elected Members of the role of a Councillor in the Western Australian community. Topics included:

  • About Local Government;
  • Roles and Responsibilities;
  • Expectations of Elected Members;
  • Council Meetings;
  • Personal Responsibilities, and
  • Impacts on Home Life.

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Video Recording

Video Download

To download the webinar video for offline playback click here.

Question & Answer Session

The following are a range of questions asked during and after the Prospective Elected Member Webinar held by WALGA on 13 August 2015:

Question 1

The "you are an elected member every minute of every day" comment sounds onerous. Is it possible to allocate a particular day to accept community calls, comments etc? are there rules on this? would that be sufficient?

Answer
Yes. It is quite common for Elected Members, many of whom have busy personal and professional lives, to set aside time to deal with their Council responsibilities. The comment “you are an elected member every minute of every day” has its context where Council and personal or professional interests overlap, with your duty of fidelity requiring that the business of the Local Government has primacy. It is not intended to mean you must be available at all times for enquiries.

Question 2

Would there be an expectation of business hours availability? If I worked 4 days a week would this be sufficient?

Answer
There is no overarching expectation of your availability, although you may find some individuals or groups within the community may be more demanding of your time than others. Being conscientious in the allocation of your time to your Council responsibilities is the best approach. Most importantly, you will need to be available for regularly scheduled Council meetings however you will be given plenty of notice of times and dates.

Question 3

Are the costs of becoming elected member tax deductable?

Answer
WALGA produces an Elected Members Taxation Guide, from which the following excerpt is provided:

2.10 Election Expenses
A deduction of up to $1,000 is allowed for expenses incurred in seeking election to a local government body. The $1,000 limit applies to each election contested, whether successful or not.

Expenses that are deductible include any item included in the return of electoral expenditure, interest paid on money borrowed to finance the election campaign, travel and accommodation costs associated with the campaign, salaries paid to persons employed for campaign purposes and costs of the production of campaign novelty items.

Question 4

Can Councillors contact local government staff directly for advice on various issues that they deal with?

Answer
It is neither common practice nor advisable to contact staff directly in the absence of advice and guidance from the Chief Executive Officer. Many Local Governments have an established protocol for communication between Elected Members and designated staff.

Question 5

I've watched the progression of the inquiries into Canning and it's a bit concerning - are councillors often pulled up for doing the wrong thing, and do 'mistakes' happen or are these errors forseeable?

Answer
A common element where Council Inquiries are conducted is dysfunction within the body of Council and subsequent negative impact on the ability of the Council to provide good governance to the people in its district. This indeed may be foreseeable, and there is considerable opportunity for a Local Government to seek intervention through advice, guidance and assistance from the Department of Local Government and Communities and WALGA.

Question 6

What are the responsibilities of you as a councillor if you are away at any time when a council meeting is due.

Answer
The Local Government Act contains provisions relating to failure to attend meetings where, ultimately, an Elected Member may be disqualified for failure to attend a certain number of consecutive ordinary meetings of Council. Unexpected absences are not uncommon, especially if due to illness however you can inform Council of any planned absences in advance when ‘Requests for Leave of Absence’ arise in the course of a Council meeting.

Question 7

How is it decided which pay band you are allocated as a member?

Answer
The independent Salaries and Allowances Tribunal is responsible for determining the Band within which each Local Government sits, and the range of fees and allowances that may be adopted. The current SAT determination can be found here.

Question 8

Slide 8 or 9 mentions Local Government have a role in Home and Community Care. Where does that fit in please?

Answer
Home and Community Care (HACC) services are commonly provided by Local Governments in partnership with the State and Federal Government. This is an example of a service a Local Government may choose to provide.

Question 9

The other training courses you offer on your WALGA site go more in depth than this presentation?(sic)

Answer
WALGA’s comprehensive suite of training courses can be viewed at walga.asn.au

Question 10

Is WALGA training available for non elected members that wish to consider becoming a councilor in the next election?

Answer
WALGA’s online eLearning course Understanding Local Government is most suitable for non-elected members.

Question 11

Are there costs associated with applying to run for election?

Answer
There is a nomination fee of $80.00. This is refundable if you are successful, or if unsuccessful as a candidate and you achieve 5% of the overall vote.

Question 12

When is the elected member declaration signed?

Answer
The Declaration must be signed within two months of being declared elected. A Special Meeting of Council is normally convened soon after election day for the purpose of swearing in Elected Members.

Question 13

Is there a place where the remuneration and reimbursement for a specific council?

Answer
Please go to the link to the Salaries and Allowances Tribunal (above).

Question 14

How and why would a council be suspended?

Answer
A Council may only be suspended by the Minister for Local Government, following a formal Inquiry conducted under the Local Government Act. Further information can be obtained from the Department of Local Government and Communities.

Question 15

Can Elected Members work for a Local council if their business is a service provider or is this considered to be a conflict of interest?

Answer
There is no prohibition on Elected Members providing goods and services to their Local Government under its Purchasing Policy or by public tender. However, having this business relationship may have far-reaching consequences in terms of your requirement to declare a financial interest and subsequent ability to participate in Council meetings and vote.

The Local Government Act does prohibit a person being both an employee and an Elected Member of the same Local Government.

Question 16

How should a Council ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of the organisation while staying out of administrative management?

Answer
The Council directly employs the Chief Executive Officer and manages the efficiency and effectiveness of the organsiation through the setting of key performance indicators/key results area of the CEO contract and regularly reviews the performance of the CEO.

Question 17

Is it a correct understanding of the proximity/interest rules that if you are part of a local group that seeks an elected member to represent this case to council you would be unable to discuss these issues at all at council meetings?

Answer
An Elected Member would be required to declare an impartiality interest if that person has an association with the local group. This differs from a situation where a local group canvasses its views to Elected Members, given it is the role of a Councillor to facilitate communication between the community and Council.

Question 18

Do councillors work for home or is there space for them at their administration buildings?

Answer
Councillors are not provided with permanent facilities at the Council Administration building.

Question 19

Do political parties can support candidates and provide donations? who regulate this?

Answer
There is no prohibition on who may donate to an election campaign, it is the consequences associated with election gifts that is the main issue i.e. it establishes the election gift provider as a ‘closely associated person’; requirement for gift provider and receiver to publicly declare gifts; requirement to declare interest at Council meetings and in primary and annual returns.

Question 20

Must Mayors live in their city/town/shire?

Answer
The Local Government Act states that to qualify for election to Council, a person must be an elector of the district.

Question 21

Does the CEO oversee all Council Meetings, or are these meetings run without him being present

Answer
The Mayor / President presides at Council meetings, with the CEO in attendance to perform the function of principal advisor to the Council. If the CEO cannot attend a meeting, it is usual for a delegate (i.e. a senior member of staff) to attend as the principal advisor.

Question 22

In regards to civic duties, what do these entail and when do they usually occur?

Answer
Civic duties encompass such things as ANZAC Day ceremonies, Citizenship ceremonies, representation at the invitation of of another party (School Awards Nights, Arts functions), meetings with dignitaires and Sister City engagements.

Question 23

How long is a member elected for?

Answer
Elected Members serve 4 year terms. On occasions when an Elected Member retires before their term ends, an extraordinary election will be held to elect a person to fulfil the balance of that persons 4 year term.

Question 24

I am a member of my local Lions group, would this be likely to create a conflict of interest

Answer
Only if the local Lions group requires a decision of the Council, where an impartiality interest due to membership of an association is declared.

Question 25

If a person assists you by providing their time in your campaign is that deemed to be a gift?

Answer
Generally no, but it may be regarded as a ‘service’ if it has an equivalent financial value i.e. offering professional publicity service. This may be discussed in more detail with the Department of Local Government and Communities and the WA Electoral Commission.

Question 26

Is there a limit of time a councilor or mayor can be elected to office? if not why?

Answer
The Local Government Act does not limit the number of terms a person may serve, bearing in mind election to office is representative of the wishes of the electorate.

Question 27

If elected as a councillor can you still remain on the board of a community education provider such as a highschool board or local advocacy groups?

Answer
Elected Members generally remain actively involved in continuing active involvement in the community following election, and declare the appropriate interest when their personal and Local Government interests overlap.

This is a good opportunity to also mention the Local Government Act prescribes exemptions from disclosure of some interests including for example, being an employee of the State or Commonwealth public service.

Question 28

What is the process to nominate for say Vice President after the election?

Answer
The Deputy President is elected at the first meeting of the Council after election day. Schedule 2.3 of the Local Government Act sets out the procedure for the election.

Question 29

Is there a list of reading material that can be recommended for elected members?

Answer
The Local Government Guidelines created by DLGC are recommended and can be found here.

Question 30

What sort of training is available to assist with the position as a councillor if elected?

Answer
WALGA is a Registered Training Organisation, offering a comprehensive suite of training to the Local Government sector – the list of courses can be found at walga.asn.au

Question 31

Is there a limit on how many people can nominate for election? How many usually run (roughly, for a sense of scale)?

Answer
There is no limit on the number of people that can nominate for a vacancy.

Question 32

If you would like to attend a Training Course do you have to get permission from the Council to attend this, and if you are in a Rural Area and the Training Course is in Perth, do you get a reimbursment for travel.

Answer
Councils normally consider training requirements when developing the Annual Budget, as a financial allocation needs to be made. This can also be augmented by a Council Policy. Attending training and conferences qualify as Council business therefore travel arrangements are usually made by the Local Government (i.e. booking flights and accommodation), or if a personal vehicle is used, the cost of travel is reimbursed in accordance with the Salaries and Allowances Tribunal determination.

Question 33

You told us that councillors cannot contact Local Government staff directly. If this is the case, so how do councilllors gather information and check issues, as preparation for council meetings?

Answer
In addition to the aforementioned protocols for communicating with Local Government staff, many Councils also establish informal forums and briefings for the purpose of exchanging information and asking questions. These meetings are most commonly held to discuss the forthcoming Council meeting agenda with the CEO and key staff present to explain agenda items and answer questions. Debate and discussion on the issues themselves does not occur at these meetings, this only occurs at the ordinary Council meeting.

Question 34

How should potential councilors canvas their intent to become an elected member with the community prior to election?

Answer
There are many ways candidates promote themselves prior to election including print and media advertising, door knocking and hosting public forums. The WA Electoral Commission provides advice and guidance on the rules associated with appropriate canvassing during the election period.

Question 35

What happens IF all positions are not filled?

Answer
An extraordinary election is required if there are less candidates than offices on Council. If, after the close of nominations for the extraordinary election, there are less candidates that offices on Council then the Council may appoint a person (who is eligible to be a candidate) to fill the office.

Question 36

Is it advantageous to have prior knowledge of the workings of local governments?

Answer
It is advantageous from the point of view that you will come up to speed more quickly with the workings of your Local Government should you be elected to Council.

Question 37

When is the next Local Government election?

Answer
The Local Government election will be held on Saturday, 17 October 2015. The Local Government Act stipulates that elections are held biennially, on the third Saturday in October.

If you have any further questions that have not been answered below or during the webinar, please email governance@walga.asn.au or call (08) 9213 2093.