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ICAC issues lobbying guidelines for councillors

Tuesday 29 August 2006

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has for the first time issued guidelines for councillors on the appropriate way to handle lobbying from constituents.

The ICAC has issued the advice in response to difficulties experienced by councillors in handling lobbying, particularly regarding controversial or significant local matters.

ICAC Commissioner the Hon Jerrold Cripps QC says in relation to controversial or significant matters councillors need to handle lobbying in a transparent manner to avoid any perception they have been inappropriately influenced.

"Lobbying can be a minefield for councillors, particularly when they're being petitioned by opposing groups on a controversial issue," he said.

"We recognise that appropriate lobbying of councillors is a normal part of the democratic process. It's in the public interest that lobbying is fair and does not undermine public confidence in impartial decision-making.

"However, suspicions of inappropriate lobbying can occur when the lobbying is not open to public scrutiny," Commissioner Cripps said.

"When dealing with significant matters, councillors should exercise judgement in deciding whether to be involved in private meetings with people that are seeking to influence a council decision," he said.

The ICAC appreciates councillors operate in a unique environment where it can be difficult to avoid informal discussions with constituents who may also seek to lobby them.

Rather than restrict councillors in their interactions with the community, the ICAC guidelines offer practical advice on the most transparent way for councillors to conduct themselves whilst being lobbied on controversial or significant matters, such as major local developments.

"Inappropriate or unlawful conduct by someone lobbying a councillor usually involves an attempt to obtain preferential treatment based on factors other the merits of the matter," the guidelines state.

The ICAC advises a number of ways councillors can help ensure transparency whilst being lobbied, particularly on controversial matters. These include:

  • documenting meetings with proponents;
  • having other people present during meetings;
  • conducting meetings in official locations, such as council premises;
  • asking people who have requested a meeting to put their arguments in writing; and
  • making a declaration at a council meeting about lobbying activities they have been engaged in that are not part of council's formal processes.

Lobbying local government councillors