The councillor complaint game

Ingrid Jackson

Former councillor Ingrid Jackson

The Queensland Government has just legislated to put a stop to repeated frivolous or vexatious complaints about the conduct of councillors.

The new law also bars councillors from making complaints about fellow councillors. It seems this politicisation of the complaints’ process is chronic throughout the state.

There is an unintended and unhappy consequence of not allowing councillors to make complaints. It doesn’t require much cunning to have mates make complaints on their behalf. It is apparent that the legislators did not think of this.

During my term as councillor, I had 10 formal complaints made against me, all of which were assessed as unsubstantiated. Most were made by fellow councillors and a couple by their mates.

Two of the complaints were considered ’frivolous’ and the complainant (a councillor) was rapped over the knuckles. He was told that further disingenuous complaints would be a breach of the Councillor Code of Conduct and have repercussions.

In Noosa things haven’t improved.

The Councillor Conduct Register – legislatively required to be available on the council website – lists 25 complaints against councillors made to the Office of Independent Assessor (OIA) since the 2020 local government elections.

Only three of these complaints were substantiated and the register lists two councillors as breaching the Local Government Act and the Code of Conduct.

The other 22 complaints were dismissed by the OIA, so names do not appear.

But this is no small number of complaints that councillors have had to respond to, and I can vouch for the stress experienced by alleged perpetrators, especially if they have been targets of unfounded complaints, as I was.

The quantum of complaints will surprise nobody who has watched the livestream of council meetings and observed the behaviour of some councillors.

Some of the 22 dismissed complaints were not investigated further on the basis that this would be an unjustifiable use of OIA scarce resources. A poor excuse for the denial of justice.

It should soon be evident whether the new amendments to the Local Government Act, will have any impact on reducing frivolous, vexatious and disingenuous complaints made about Noosa councillors. And whether it will temper the poor behaviour of some councillors. I suspect it won’t.

The changes seem likely to reduce the workload of the OIA and allow them to focus on more consequential breaches. But filtering out even more complaints will allow inappropriate behaviour to continue without consequences.

Meanwhile a new ‘three vexatious complaints and you’re out’ rule may restrain some councillors from instigating politicised complaints. But, as I found as a targeted councillor, their mates are always available to do some dirty work for them.