New Act includes sexual harassment
In an Australian first, the new Victorian Local Government Act includes a clear definition of sexual harassment in the Councillor Code of Conduct and introduces the power to remove councillors for serious sexual harassment.
Minister for Local Government, Marlene Kairouz, said, “Mayors and councillors who behave badly will be gone for a year – the days of them acting with impunity are over.”
The Australian Local Government Women’s Association (ALGWA) has welcomed the changes.
National President, Councillor Coral Ross, said, “We hope other States will follow Victoria’s lead and include sexual harassment in their Local Government Acts.”
In a joint statement from ALGWA Victorian and National branches, Cr Coral Ross and Victorian Branch President, Councillor Michelle Kleinert, said, “We are very pleased that sexual harassment is included in the definition of gross misconduct and serious misconduct, and that the Councillor Conduct principals also include sexual harassment – this is a great step forward.”
In its detailed submission to the Act the ALGWA urged the Government to include changes to the internal disputes process in relation to council’s individual Codes of Conduct.
“We believe there must be an independent person to hear disputes between councillors and that any sanctions should not be decided by the council itself,” Cr Ross added. “This could be included in the guidelines which follow the new Act.”
The Act now allows for an individual councillor to make an application for a Conduct Panel hearing for misconduct or serious misconduct offences.
“This means a claim of sexual harassment can now be heard by a Conduct Panel,” said Cr Michelle Kleinert.
“We are very pleased that an individual councillor can make an application for a Conduct Panel.”
The new Act will also include automatic maternity and paternity leave and measures to seek gender equity and diversity.