Role & responsibility

Council members are public officers. This means that if you become a council member, you must act on behalf of your community, and not your own personal interests.

You must also uphold the law. These laws are to protect the public and preserve trust in local government.

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Ethics, behaviour and the law

Council members are public officers. This means you must act on behalf of your community, and not your own personal interests.

You must uphold the law. These laws are to protect the public and preserve trust in local government.

Behavioural standards

If elected, you must meet the standards of conduct:

  • follow the law
  • act honestly
  • only use your position for proper purposes
  • bring an impartial and informed view to council decisions
  • declare your relevant private interests. This includes the interests of your family, friends, or associates
  • avoid making decisions where you are not impartial
  • submit to public and official scrutiny
  • report wrongdoing by others.

The community judges a council by its council members. Therefore, council members must behave in a way that is appropriate. You must be respectful to fellow council members despite personal, policy, or political differences.

A final draft of a state-wide standard of expected behaviour and values, known as Behavioural Standards, has been published by the Office of Local Government.

Read the Behavioural Standards for Council Members final draft

Upholding these standards of behaviour builds trust and community confidence in elected representatives. Being a team player on council helps deliver greater outcomes that benefit the community.

Other laws that affect council members

As a councillor, you are defined as a public officer (for the purposes of offences relating to public office) under the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935. The Act covers ways that council members can commit an offence. This includes bribery, corruption of office, abuse of public office, and demanding (or requiring) benefits based on public office.

Under the Independent Commission for Corruption Act 2012 you must report corruption (or any matter that you reasonably expect corruption) in public administration to the Office for Public Integrity.

As a council member, you must declare any conflict between your private interests and your public role. The Local Government Act (1999) sets out what is a conflict of interest and the actions you must take. You will complete training on how to identify a conflict of interest and what to do to reduce the risk of, or avoid, a conflict of interest.

Penalties for not following the laws

Not following the law is a serious offence and will be dealt with by the authorities. These include the District Court of South Australia, the Office for Public Integrity, SA Police, or the Ombudsman SA.

Punishments may include a reprimand, training, suspension, fines, or disqualification from office. More serious offences such as corruption can result in imprisonment.

You are not personally liable for the actions of a council where it is acting in good faith and properly exercising its powers and functions. You cannot personally be sued by someone disputing a council action.

However, you can be sued for defamation. For example, if you make comments to damage a person’s reputation. You should not say or write things about a person that you know are false (or are unsure if they are true or false).

Losing your position on council

It is also possible to lose your position on council. As set out in the Local Government Act, the ways this can happen include:

  • if you are declared bankrupt
  • are sentenced to imprisonment
  • become a member of a State, Territory, or Federal Parliament
  • become an employee of the council.

If you have been successfully elected, you will get training and support to help you to understand your duties and legal obligations.

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