The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:44): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before directing a question to the Minister for State/Local Government Relations on the subject of council confidentiality practices.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: An audit of the City of Burnside's confidentiality practices in the years 2009-10 and 2010-11 by the state Ombudsman found that Burnside had a very high number of confidentiality orders. The Ombudsman, Mr Bingham, found that 'the council made orders in excess of 40 per cent and 30 per cent of agenda items for the two years covered by the audit' and has advised that the council must significantly reduce the number of matters discussed in secret, recommending a rate of less than 3 per cent per annum as ideal. As part of that audit, Mr Bingham also reviewed 10 confidential matters and found that more than half should have been discussed, completely or partly, in public. My questions for the minister are:
1.What procedures are in place to review the making of confidentiality orders by councils?
2.Will the minister implement any mechanisms to monitor the number of confidentiality orders passed by councils or their committees?
3.Does the minister support the Ombudsman's recommendation for a rate of less than 3 per cent?
4.What steps has the minister taken to achieve greater transparency in discussion of council matters?
The Hon. R.P. WORTLEY (Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister for State/Local Government Relations) (14:45): I thank the honourable member for her very important questions. There is a concern about some of the governance issues in local government councils. Last year, the Ombudsman investigated something like 700 different complaints, and many were found to have merit. It is of concern to this government that those sorts of governance levels are taking place. What we have done, since I have become minister, is work with the LGA in developing a discussion paper with regard to a code of conduct. That will also include in-confidence meetings, conflict of interest and behaviour of councils.
This is all part of the ICAC Bill and future changes to the Local Government Act, and I am fully aware of the problems. What we will be doing is working with the councils. I have attended probably 45, maybe 50, councils. I have discussed the issue of governance with every council with regard to our desire to lift up the levels of governance and the transparency of councils. I must say that there is overwhelming support in the councils for this mandatory code of conduct.
I support the Ombudsman. He is talking about a 3 per cent rate. I would like to see a 0 per cent rate. I think most councils would like to see a 0 per cent rate. So, we are hoping that in the near future a bill will come to this chamber with regard to changes to the Local Government Act to ensure that councils' standing in the community as a level of government is improved dramatically.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:47): Of the 700 complaints, did they all relate to confidentiality provisions of councils or were they on a range of matters?
The Hon. R.P. WORTLEY (Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister for State/Local Government Relations) (14:48): No; they were not all about in-confidence meetings. They were on a broad range of behaviour in general with regard to local government. They covered a whole spectrum of issues, but in-confidence meetings were part of those complaints. A mandated code of conduct and the changes in the future will look at trying to tackle a whole range of issues, including in-confidence meetings.