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Understanding complaints

  • The OIA must by law assess all complaints it receives.
  • Since establishment, the OIA receives on average 1,100 complaints a year.
  • The OIA may initiate its own investigations.
  • Under the OIA’s broad discretion, a complaint can be dismissed on assessment as subject to no further action if it is out of jurisdiction; does not raise a reasonable suspicion of councillor conduct; does not contain sufficient information for a proper assessment; it is not a justifiable use of resources to take further action; is not in the public interest; or is improper i.e., vexatious or frivolous.
  • Complaints assessed as possible misconduct will be investigated by the OIA and may, following a natural justice process, be referred to the Councillor Conduct Tribunal to decide.
  • Those assessed as inappropriate conduct will be referred back to local government for investigation.
  • Those assessed as corrupt conduct will be referred to the Crime and Corruption Commission.
  • The OIA receives, assesses, and potentially investigates and prosecutes, complaints about the conduct of all Queensland councillors.

    The OIA does not deal with complaints about council services such as rates, parking fines, bin collection or noise. The Queensland Ombudsman investigates complaints about the administrative actions and decisions of councils.

    Four types of councillor conduct

    Unsuitable meeting conduct occurs in a council meeting.

    Inappropriate conduct must, by law, be referred to councils for possible investigation and resolution. The OIA can only assess this complaint, not investigate it.

    Misconduct complaints are assessed, potentially investigated, and prosecuted by the OIA but heard by the independent Councillor Conduct Tribunal.

    Corrupt conduct is referred to the Crime and Corruption Commission.

    See below for What constitutes a councillor conduct complaint.

    • The OIA cannot enforce confidentiality but we ask all parties to respect it.
    • We ask both complainants and councillors to maintain confidentiality and respect the legislated process for resolving complaints by not publicly revealing the details of a complaint or the existence of an investigation.
    • When a complainant goes public; this is not fair to the councillor; it undermines due process and may cause reputational damage on a matter which may not result in a referral to the CCT or a misconduct finding.
    • When a councillor goes public this is not fair to the complainant; can be perceived as trying to undermine the councillor conduct framework and may encourage complainants to also reveal the complaint for their own purposes.
    • The identity of a complainant will be protected unless disclosure is required for investigations or prosecution. Complainants will be contacted if their identity is likely to be disclosed.
    • If a complainant is making a public interest disclosure the requirements of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 will be followed.
  • Unsuitable meeting conduct

    Inappropriate conduct

    • Inappropriate conduct complaints must be referred by councils to the OIA to assess the complaint.
    • The OIA can only assess this complaint, as by law, it must be referred to council for possible investigation and resolution.
    • It is inappropriate conduct when a councillor contravenes a behavioural standard (a breach of the councillor code of conduct), or a policy, procedure or resolution of council, an order of the chairperson of a council meeting to leave and stay away, or when a councillor received orders for unsuitable meeting conduct three times in one year.

    Misconduct

    • Misconduct is assessed, investigated, and prosecuted by the OIA, with the complaint heard by the Councillor Conduct Tribunal.
    • Misconduct behaviour includes releasing information confidential to council, breaches of trust, giving directions to council employees and failing to report suspected conflicts of interest of other councillors.
    • See the full list of the categories of misconduct.

    Corrupt conduct

    • Corrupt conduct is dealt with by the Crime and Corruption Commission.
    • Common examples of corrupt conduct include fraud and theft, extortion, misuse of council information for a benefit, or obtaining or offering a secret commission. Corrupt conduct is behaviour that:
      • adversely affects or could adversely affect the performance of functions or the exercise of powers of the councillor; and
      • is not honest or impartial; or
      • results or could result directly or indirectly in the performance of functions or the exercise of a councillor’s powers in a way that is
        • not honest or impartial; or
        • a breach of trust placed in the councillor; or
        • a misuse of information acquired by the councillor; and
    • is engaged in, to the benefit or detriment of a person; and
    • if proven, would be a criminal offence.
    • Under the OIA’s broad discretion, a complaint is dismissed or subject to no further action if it is not within the OIA’s jurisdiction; does not raise a reasonable suspicion of councillor conduct; does not contain sufficient information for a proper assessment; it is not a justifiable use of resources to take further action; is not in the public interest; or is improper i.e., vexatious or  frivolous.
    • A complaint is dealt with as suspected inappropriate conduct by undertaking a natural justice process, i.e., asking a councillor for their side of the complaint, prior to a possible referral to the relevant council for investigation and resolution.
    • A complaint is subject to an OIA investigation as potential misconduct and possible referral to the CCT.
    • A complaint is referred to the CCC if it raises a reasonable suspicion of corrupt conduct.
    • The OIA will dismiss a complaint on assessment as being frivolous, vexatious or lacking in substance.
    • The OIA also has the power to prosecute such complaints as a criminal offence under the Local Government Act.
    • The OIA uses a three-step escalation process to deal with improper complainant behaviour.
      • First complaint - dismissed but complainant given vexatious warning
      • Second complaint - dismissed as vexatious and offence warning
      • Third complaint – dismissed as vexatious and OIA may commence an investigation into the complaint lodged as vexatious.
    • This process demonstrates a course of conduct by the complainant.
    • If proved in the Magistrates Court, the complainant may be fined up to 85 penalty units (approximately more than $11,000).
    • It is also an offence for a person to make or ask someone else to make a vexatious or mischievous, reckless or malicious complaint and could face the same fine.
    • CEOs, councillors and local government employees who make a complaint or intend to make a complaint against a councillor are protected from acts of reprisal.
    • A councillor who takes, threatens or attempts to take detrimental action against another councillor or council employee for making a complaint or notification, can be fined or imprisoned for two years.
    • If a councillor or a CEO receives a conduct complaint from a member of the public or another councillor, they must refer it to the OIA. Corrupt conduct must be reported to the Crime and Corruption Commission.
    • If a councillor or a CEO becomes aware of information  indicating a  councillor may have engaged in inappropriate conduct or misconduct, they must refer it to the OIA.
    • Local governments, through usually the CEO, must give notice to the OIA if a councillor has been disciplined for inappropriate conduct on three occasions in 12 months.

Last updated: 06 Jul 2022