Reporting any wrongdoing by your local council

Words by Jane Gillard

A report by Victoria’s anti-corruption body has lifted the lid on how two councillors had accepted bribes in exchange for influencing council decisions related to planning or land use.

The Operation Sandon report found that these councillors, Sam Aziz and Geoff Ablett, promoted the interests of developer John Woodman in exchange for payment.

But what does Operation Sandon’s report by the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) mean for residents in Banyule and Nillumbik? 

If you think something is wrong at your council – how do you report it?

There are three major integrity bodies which handle complaints about councils. 

What they are allowed to investigate is set out by law.

Complaints about corruption

IBAC, the Victorian Ombudsman and the Local Government Inspectorate can all take complaints about councils..

They are not able to investigate something not in their jurisdiction. However, they can refer complaints to each other if they believe the complaint fits in another organisation’s jurisdiction.

Referring complaints between these bodies takes time and will slow down the time taken to assess your complaint.

IBAC handles the most serious complaints about corruption and misconduct. This includes:

  • taking or offering bribes 
  • using a position of influence dishonestly 
  • fraud or theft 
  • misusing workplace information.

In the 2021-22 financial year IBAC assessed 5,646 complaints and 9 percent of them were in relation to local government. This is more than 500 complaints.

Complaints about decisions and services

For complaints about council services and decisions, the first thing you should do is make a complaint to your local council. 

If this is not resolved to your satisfaction, you can make a complaint to the Victorian Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman takes complaints about public sector bodies in Victoria, including councils.

The kinds of complaints handled by the Ombudsman are:

  • services provided by councils
  • communication
  • council’s complaint handling process
  • compliance with policies, procedures of the law
  • other decisions that might be unreasonable.

During the 2021-22 financial year, the Ombudsman dealt with 3,555 complaints about local councils. This was a 3 per cent increase on the year before.

Common complaints were about decision making (including reasons) and financial matters such as rates or compensation for damage caused by council works.

In 2021-22, the Ombudsman dealt with 67 complaints about Banyule City Council and 35 about Nillumbik Shire Council.

Complaints about conflict of interest, misuse of position and elections

The Local Government Inspectorate investigates certain types of complaints against councils and councillors that are set out in the Local Government Act.

The Inspectorate can investigate suspected:

  • misuse of position by a councillor
  • conflict of interest by a councillor, senior council employee or person providing advice to council
  • disclosure of confidential information
  • council election offences
  • nomination of someone not qualified to be a council election candidate
  • authorisation of electoral material.

In the 2021-22 financial year, the Inspectorate looked into 330 allegations and conducted 203 investigations.

Of these, a third of complaints were about conflict of interest and about a fifth were about misuse of position.

Complaints about council elections can include to ensure that advertising is correctly authorised and that people who cannot run for council don’t.

More information

There is a lot more information on these three bodies on their websites. You can also make a complaint there.

It is worth noting that the biggest investigations often start from someone noticing something small. If something does not look right, you should consider reporting it.

For more information and to make a complaint to: 

Jane Gillard has worked in communications at different times for IBAC and the Local Government Inspectorate. She no longer works for either organisation.