Most people are eligible to vote in local council elections, and as such, also likely to be eligible to stand for a position on council.
You can nominate for a position on council regardless of qualifications, religion, race, gender, experience or profession. In fact, councils encourage nominations by people from diverse backgrounds to ensure that a wide range of views are being represented.
In South Australia there are around 700 council members who are as diverse as the reasons that motivated them to stand for election.
Anyone can stand for election as a council member (either mayor or councillor) if they are:
an Australian citizen (or, if not a citizen, they were a member of a council between 5 May 1997 and 1 January 2000), and
an elector for the area or the designated person for a body corporate or a group which has its name on the voters roll for the area.
You are not eligible if you:
- Are a State or Commonwealth parliamentarian.
- Are an undischarged bankrupt or receiving the benefit of a law for relief of insolvent debtors.
- Are disqualified from holding office by a court order.
- Are an employee of the council for which you are considering nominating.
- Are a candidate for election in another council area.
- Have been sentenced to imprisonment and are, or could become liable to serve the sentence or the remainder of the sentence.
To be a councillor in South Australia you must meet the above eligibility criteria, however there is no restriction on people with dual citizenship.
If you have any doubts as to whether you are eligible you should contact your council or speak to the Electoral Commission of South Australia (ECSA) Deputy Returning Officer.
Having ensured you are on the State or supplementary voters roll, you must complete the appropriate nomination form which is available in the nomination kit from your council.
Nomination kits will be available approximately two weeks before nominations open.
Nominations can be accepted after nominations open, for a period of approximately two weeks.
The supplementary elections timetable (included in your nomination kit) will set out the applicable dates.
Councillors serve the community by listening to residents and local businesses, representing their views on council.
You will work with council members to make strategic decisions about how the council will address the needs of the community. This
will include setting objectives to meet local requirements, establishing priorities between competing demands, and deciding how resources should be raised and allocated.
Legislation and policies, together with the council’s strategic management plans, provide the framework for the ongoing management and operation of the council.
Councillors do not get involved in the day to day running of the council, which is the responsibility of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
One of the most important roles you will have as a council member is to participate in making policy decisions - establishing the rules, regulations and guidelines by which your community is governed - within the parameters of laws set by State Parliament.
Your role as a councillor will typically involve:
- Taking part in discussions and decision making at council and committee meetings.
- Reading council agendas and business papers to prepare for meetings.
- Reviewing strategic plans, policies and budget information.
- Being available to discuss and advise community members on individual concerns and relay these through the appropriate channels.
- Participating in civic events such as citizenship ceremonies and awards.
- Representing council on other bodies and meetings.
- Visiting council facilities and liasing with the CEO on the progress of council projects.
- Providing leadership within your community.
To keep in touch with electors, your commitment as a councillor may involve:
- Keeping yourself informed about current state and national issues that may affect the area.
- Attending meetings of local organisations.
- Taking part in a range of local activities.
- Meeting residents and businesses to understand their views.
- Monitoring the local media to keep abreast of local news and issues.
Allowances and expenses
During your term on council you are entitled to an annual allowance. This is not a salary.
The level of allowance is set by the SA Remuneration Tribunal every four years before council periodic elections. The amounts are adjusted annually by a CPI-based formula during the council term.
The Remuneration Tribunal was established in 1990 and determines the allowances of parliamentarians, judges and other statutory office holders.
The Tribunal is required to determine allowances by taking into account a number of factors, including the size, population and revenue of each council, as well as any relevant economic, demographic and regional factors.
As allowances vary between councils you should contact your council or download the allowances policy from your council’s website to find out what allowances apply in your council area. You should also investigate any taxation and Centrelink implications of receiving an annual allowance.
In addition to an allowance, you are entitled to receive reimbursement for some expenses incurred in the course of your duties as a council member. These expenses include travel and child care or care of dependents to enable you to attend council or committee meetings and functions.
Councils may also decide to reimburse other expenses such as telephone and internet costs incurred in the course of council duties. Your council’s allowances policy will explain what expenses you will be able recover.
Ethical and legal issues
Council members are public officers, exercising powers, functions and duties on behalf of the community.
Council members are required to separate public interest from self-interest and to respect and uphold principles and laws designed to protect the public interest and to preserve public trust and confidence in government institutions.
If elected, you need to be ready and willing to meet the required standards of conduct including:
- Understanding and complying with laws that apply to the conduct of council members.
- Acting honestly and only using your position as a council member for proper purposes.
- Bringing an impartial and well informed view to every council decision.
- Declaring, and avoiding, making decisions on matters when your private interests, or those of your family, friends or associates conflict with the impartial exercise of your duties as a council member.
- Publicly disclosing specified information about your personal, family, business and financial interests.
- Submitting to public and official scrutiny of your conduct and decisions as a council member and reporting wrongdoing by others that relates to public office.
The Local Government Act 1999 sets out the general duties and code of conduct for members. It requires each council member,
at or before the first meeting attended, to make a formal undertaking to carry out all duties conscientiously and to the best of their ability.
The community will often judge a council according to the behaviour and public image of individual council members. It is essential that council members conduct themselves in a way that is appropriate for elected community representatives. You also need to behave respectfully towards fellow council members despite any personal, policy or political differences you may have.
Council members are public officers for the purposes of offences relating to public office under the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935. The offences most relevant to council members relate to bribery or corruption of public office, abuse of public office and demanding or requiring benefit on the basis of public office.
Under the Independent Commissioner for Corruption Act 2012 (ICAC Act), council members have specific obligations to report any reasonable suspicions of corruption or serious or systemic misconduct or maladministration.
As a council member you will have to declare any conflict between your private interests and your role as a public decision maker. The Local Government Act 1999 sets out what constitutes a conflict of interest and the actions you must take. Generally you will be required to leave a meeting if a conflict of interest arises.
Failure to comply with the various provisions under the law is a serious matter and will be dealt with by appropriate authorities including the District Court, Office of Public Integrity, SA Police or the Ombudsman. Penalties may include a reprimand, a direction to attend training, suspension, a fine, and/or disqualification from office. More serious offences, such as corruption, can result in enalties including imprisonment.
You are not personally liable for the actions of a council where it is acting in good faith and is exercising its powers and functions. You therefore cannot be personally sued by someone disputing a council action.
However, individual council members can be sued for defamation if you make comments which may damage a person’s reputation. You should not make statements about a person that you know to be false or if you are unsure if the information is true or false.
The Local Government Act 1999 sets out ways you may lose your position on council, including if you are declared bankrupt convicted of an indictable offence punishable by imprisonment, become a member of a State or Federal Parliament or become an employee of the council.
If you have been successfully elected you will have access to training and support to assist you to understand your duties and legal obligations.
While there are no special qualifications or experience required to be on council, you should be passionate about your local community, willing to work as part of a team and keen to learn.
Leadership skills are fundamental to working effectively on council and influencing the future direction of the local community. However, it is important to understand that councillors do not make decisions on their own. Decisions are only made by the council as a whole, which means you will be expected to work well with councillors.
This doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything, rather be prepared to engage in respectful debate on issues and build effective, professional working relationships.
If you are successful in becoming a councillor, a mandatory training program, council induction and ongoing professional development opportunities will help you to develop the skills and knowledge needed to operate effectively on council. You won’t need to know everything from the start, however, it is important that you have a strong interest in your community and a commitment to learning in order to grow into the role of a council member.
The information booklet, ‘Make a difference, nominate for council’ describes the types of leadership qualities and personal attributes that may help you to become an effective council member. Please click to download an electronic copy of the booklet.