This week, the Queensland Government announced it would introduce new laws designed specifically to allow it to dissolve Ipswich City Council (ICC) and put an administrator in place until 2020. The unprecedented move follows a protracted Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) investigation into a number of local government bodies across Queensland and has resulted in a number of elected officials being charged with corruption related offences.
While the attention should rightly be on the alleged actions of those who have been the subject of regulator investigations, spare a thought for those elected officials who have given years of dedicated service to their community only to be let down by the actions of a small minority. The unprecedented action by state government has left not only the current Ipswich City Councillors in a position of uncertainty, it also leaves the people of Ipswich with questions on how their needs will be met. Removal of the remaining Councillors has been met with mixed reaction. What is not in doubt however, is the experience and community representation that will be lost as a result of the proposed changes and that surely cannot be easily replaced through external appointment.
Councils across Queensland should be watching the development closely as there are lessons to be learned given the fallout from Operation Belcarra continues to be felt and a slew of scandals have enveloped several council administrations. In order to restore trust and stability, local councils should be developing robust frameworks to mitigate the risk of corruption. This will allow them to have positive and proactive engagement with state government and the CCC, and to showcase any action they have taken in response to reports of crime or corruption within their ranks.
Clearly any perceived lack of governance can lead to the extraordinary measures we have seen this week and that means Councils need to demonstrate they are above reproach. Only in this way will there be a return to stability and restoration of lost trust in local representatives.