A councillor has a conflict of interest if their decisions are, or may be seen to be, influenced by their personal interests.
A conflict of interest exists when a reasonable member of the public with the proper information would think that the conflict is unacceptable and might inappropriately influence a local government's decision or action or lead to a decision that is not in the public interest (Local Government Act 2009, section 175D; City of Brisbane Act 2010, section 177D).
Councillor must inform meeting of any personal interests
You must tell the local government of your personal interest if you have a real or perceived conflict of interest in a matter before the local government (for example, that relates to a personal or family relationship or because of an election gift).
It is important to note the appearance of a conflict of interest can be as serious as an actual conflict because it may undermine public confidence in the local government.
When informing of your personal interest in a matter you must clearly identify:
- the nature of your personal interest
- if your personal interests arise because of your relationship with, or receipt of a gift from another person, then:
- the name of the other person
- the nature of your relationship or value and date of receipt of the gift
- the nature of the other person’s interests in the matter
You may then choose to leave the meeting room while the matter is be considered and voted on.
If you do not leave the meeting, your fellow councillors will then decide whether you have a real or perceived interest in the matter and, if so, whether you must leave the meeting while the matter is to be considered or may participate in the meeting, including by voting on the matter.
The legislation does provide some exceptions. A councillor does not have a conflict of interest if the:
- local government is considering an 'ordinary business matter' (such as setting rates and charges or adopting the council budget)
- councillor's interest is no greater than that of other persons in the local government area.
or merely because he or she:
- is a member of, or has a personal connection with, a community group, club, school, church or political party. However if the councillor is an office holder in any of these, they must declare a conflict of interest
- attends or addresses a community group, sporting club or organisation in their capacity as a councillor.
Failure to appropriately deal with a conflict of interest
If you fail to inform councillors at the meeting of a conflict of interest, you may be guilty of an offence which carries a maximum penalty of 100 penalty units or one year’s imprisonment.
If you fail to comply with an order made by other councillors to leave the meeting room as a result of your real or perceived conflict of interest in a matter, you may also be guilty of an offence which carries a maximum penalty of 100 penalty units or one year’s imprisonment.
In addition, the above offences are integrity offences. A person who is convicted of an integrity offence cannot be a councillor for four years after the offence.
When a majority of councillors have a personal interest
It is possible that a majority of councillors inform the meeting they have a person interest in a particular matter.
When this situation arises, councillors must delegate the decision-making process unless an Act requires that the decision must be made by resolution of the local government
In instances where the matter must be decided by resolution, approval must be sought from the Minister for Local Government before councillors affected by the conflict of interest can take part in any associated discussions and decision-making processes.
Attempts to influence others
If you have a conflict of interest in a matter you must not influence, or attempt to influence any other councillor, local government employee or local government contractor that is authorised to decide or deal with the matter.
The maximum penalty for such an offence is 200 penalty units or two years imprisonment. This offence is also an integrity offence. A person who is convicted of an integrity offence cannot be a councillor for four years after the offence.
Other councillors with a conflict of interest
If you believe or suspect on reasonable grounds that another councillor has a real or perceived conflict of interest in a matter being considered at a meeting of the local government, you also have an obligation to report your concerns to the chairperson if that councillor has failed to declare their interest.
It is an offence for a councillor to take any retaliatory action against another councillor for complying with their obligation to report another councillor’s conflict of interest at a meeting.
The maximum penalty for such an offence is 167 penalty units or two years imprisonment. This offence is also an integrity offence. A person who is convicted of an integrity offence cannot be a councillor for four years after the offence.