Councillor harassment prompts online course

Denise S. Cahill and Geoff VivianGeraldton Guardian
Geraldton mayor Shane Van Styn said councils were often blamed and criticised for things they were forced to do by State laws.
Camera IconGeraldton mayor Shane Van Styn said councils were often blamed and criticised for things they were forced to do by State laws. Credit: The Geraldton Guardian, Geoff Vivian The Geraldton Guardian

Mayors and councillors are increasingly the targets of personal vendettas, particularly on social media, the State Government has warned.

Local Government Minister David Templeman said this was a major reason for introducing a new online induction for candidates that focused on the code of conduct and roles and responsibilities of elected members.

City of Geraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn said it was important people standing for council understood the legal framework in which Local Government operated.

“Often councillors and councils are blamed and criticised for things they are forced to do by State laws,” he said.

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“An online induction should help people looking to get into local government to understand what it is they can influence and control.”

Mr Van Styn gave several examples.

“The methods and the way you go about recycling are dictated by State law,” he said.

“Also, for such things as animal control, getting your dog registered and pool inspections, the fees are set by State Government. Every planning approval by council has to be signed off by the State Government. Simple things such as road markings, speed limits, street names, which many people think are local government responsibilities, are also controlled by the State Government.”

Mr Templeman said it was hard to legislate against members of the public unfairly harassing councillors.

The minister recently returned from Kalgoorlie-Boulder, where the council will allow elected members and staff to access funds for legal action when a constituent’s comment is defamatory and targets a person.

Employees can also obtain restraining orders.

“There’s been a number of examples where people have been vilified and it currently goes unchallenged,” Mr Templeman said.

The former City of Mandurah councillor said there had been a trend of “one-issue” candidates nominating and it was the voter’s responsibility to “scrutinise” those people.

“In the training and induction, people need to go in understanding there really is more than just saving the park across the road,” Mr Templeman said.

People elected to councils on October 19 will also have to complete a training module that addresses topics such as legislation and governance.

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