Ombudsman investigates transparency of local government decision making

Friday 04 March 2016
The Victorian Ombudsman has commenced an ‘own motion’ investigation into the transparency of local government decision making, reflecting a pattern of complaints to the Ombudsman on this issue.
The investigation will consider whether councils’ decision making is transparent, subject to their obligation to maintain confidentiality and to ensure efficiency in council administration.
The investigation will include:
  • closed council meetings and special meetings
  • determinations around the handling of confidential matters
  • delegations relating to decision making
  • the nature and quality of records kept and the public availability of those records.
The Local Government Act 1989 sets out a framework where councils must be responsible and accountable to the local community in the performance of their functions, the exercise of their powers and use of resources.  It requires that councils ‘ensure transparency and accountability in council decision making’ while section 91 requires councils to make local laws governing the conduct of council meetings and special committees.
The Act is currently under review and the investigation will seek to inform that process.
In her response to the review of the Local Government Act, Ombudsman Deborah Glass noted:
Secrecy in government can create conditions in which improper conduct and poor administration can flourish. It also fuels suspicions of wrongdoing and erodes community trust.
Members of the public who complain to my office about council decisions occasionally mention the fact that decisions were made ‘behind closed doors’ or ‘in secret’ as evidence to support their concerns.
Local government generates the second highest number of complaints to the Victorian Ombudsman of any portfolio area. In 2014-15 this office dealt with 3410 issues about local government.
All 79 Victorian councils were subject to at least one complaint in 2014-15, however the number varied widely across municipalities.
Deborah Glass is not available for interview.  
The Victorian Ombudsman’s submission to the Local Government Act Review can be found here.
Media contact: Rory Cahill Tel 03 9613 6235 | Mob 0409 936 235
Further information: Tel 03 9613 6222 | Regional 1800 806 314