By David Wolf, IBAC Deputy Commissioner
Seventy six out of Victoria’s 79 councils head to general elections this month. While council elections rarely get the same media attention as state or federal elections, they are equally important. The 600 plus newly elected councillors will set the direction and make decisions affecting their constituencies for the next four years. How they get elected matters.
These elections are the first in Australia where campaigning will almost entirely be conducted online. This brings new challenges to ensuring the conduct of the elections is proper, and makes the work of Victoria’s integrity agencies more complex and critical than ever.
IBAC works closely with the Local Government Inspectorate (LGI) and the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) to take complaints and investigate any allegations of misconduct or corruption in council elections. We also work closely with the Victorian Ombudsman on other council-related matters.
Based on the experience of the last three elections, we expect a significant number of complaints this year. Given the urgency and importance of dealing with these complaints, IBAC, LGI and VEC have invested significant resources to make sure our collaboration is seamless and dynamic.
When it comes to elections, each agency has its own jurisdiction. Broadly speaking, the LGI handles complaints relating to candidates (breaches of regulations, false nominations) and the VEC about the way elections are run (ballot packs, ballot papers, behaviour of election officials).
IBAC deals with allegations of serious or systematic corruption. Our jurisdiction extends to any councillor, or council organisation, that participates in the election. IBAC also has responsibilities falling under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, sometimes referred to as whistleblower protections.
Despite our different areas of responsibility, the integrity agencies share intelligence to make sure that every complaint, no matter who it is made to, ends up with the right agency. A new video produced by IBAC in collaboration with the other agencies makes it clearer and easier for Victorians to make a complaint, or report wrongdoing.
Our inter-agency collaboration continues post-election, where the focus shifts to supporting newly elected councillors to make sure they understand the integrity responsibilities of their role, particularly around managing conflicts of interests and not misusing their position for personal gain.
Unfortunately, there have been too many recent examples of the negative and insidious impact of corruption in local government. IBAC and other integrity agencies are committed to working together to detect and expose activities which undermine the very foundations of our democracy. And importantly, we support councils to strengthen their integrity approaches.
To help Victorians understand who they can complain to about local government and council matters, watch and share My local council: if something is not right, who do I complain to? accompanied by a step-by-step guide to local council complaints.
IBAC has resources to help councils detect and prevent corruption. See our latest information sheets on building integrity during times of crisis or emergency.