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Arrangements for the caretaker period and amendments affecting councillor discretionary funds from 1 January — 2020 Local Government Quadrennial Elections

Purpose

The purpose of this bulletin is to provide advice to Local Governments on the limitations on making major policy decisions and publishing election material during the caretaker period.

What the legislation says

The caretaker provisions under the Local Government Act 2009 and, for Brisbane City Council, in the City of Brisbane Act 2010.

The caretaker period for a Local Government is the period during Local government elections that starts on the day when public notice of the holding of the election is given. The caretaker period ends at the conclusion of the election. The Electoral Commission of Queensland has indicated that the notice of election is likely to be published on 22 February 2020 at which time the caretaker period will commence. The caretaker period will conclude when the declaration of the poll is published by the Electoral Commission of Queensland for each Local Government.

Recent amendments to the Local Government Act 2009 and City of Brisbane Act 2010 have changed the definition of major policy decisions by Local Government to be consistent with some of the restrictions on State Government Elections.

Major policy decisions

A Local Government must not make a major policy decision during the caretaker period. However, in exceptional circumstances, a Local Government may make a major policy decision in the public interest during the caretaker period, only if approval has been granted by the Minister for Local Government.

Under the legislation, a major policy decision means a decision:

  • about the appointment, remuneration or termination of a Chief Executive Officer of the Local Government
  • to enter into a contract greater than $200,000 or one per cent of the Local Government's net rate and utility charges (as stated in the Local Government's audited financial statements included in the Local Government's most recently adopted annual report)—whichever is greater
  • to establish an exception for obtaining quotes or tenders before entering into a contract such as a panel of pre-qualified suppliers or a panel of pre-approved suppliers
  • to make, amend or repeal a local law
  • to make, amend or repeal a local planning instrument under the Planning Act 2016 (i.e. a planning scheme, a temporary local planning instrument or a planning scheme policy)
  • to approve variation requests or change variation approvals under the Planning Act 2016 that involve:
    • varying the category of development or category of assessment of consequential development
    • varying the assessment benchmarks or criteria for accepted development that would apply to consequential development
    • facilitating development that would result in a greater demand on infrastructure than the demand anticipated in the Council’s infrastructure plan.

A major policy decision made by a Local Government during a caretaker period will be invalid if the Minister's approval has not been sought prior to making the decision. A Local Government may be liable for damages for contracts entered into for major policy decisions during the caretaker period without the Minister's approval.

Election material

A Local Government, including any entity of a Local Government, must not during the caretaker period, publish or distribute election material. Election material is anything able to, or intended to:

  • influence an elector about voting at an election, or
  • affect the result of an election.

For example, a Local Government is not permitted to publish a newsletter during the caretaker period that promotes or raises the profile of a sitting Councillor.

Planning for the caretaker period

Local Governments should prepare for the caretaker period by planning to make any major policy decision before or after the election period. However, it is understood that unforeseeable events can result in a Local Government having to make major policy decisions during the caretaker period. Accordingly, in exceptional circumstances, Local Governments can apply to the Minister for approval to make a major policy decision.

The Minister will decide on a case-by-case basis whether the decision meets the exceptional circumstances requirement of the Local Government Act 2009 and the City of Brisbane Act 2010.

Amendments affecting councillor discretionary funds from 1 January

Councillors should note that recent amendments require changes to their allocation of councillor discretionary funds. Amendments to the Local Government Regulation 2010 and the City of Brisbane Regulation 2012 restrict the allocation of Councillor discretionary funds during the period leading up to the quadrennial Local Government elections.

A councillor must not allocate discretionary funds to a community organisation for a community purpose or for another community purpose, during the period starting on 1 January in the year a quadrennial election must be held and ending at the conclusion of the election. These provisions commenced from18 November 2019 and therefore apply to the quadrennial local government elections to be held in 2020.

Applying to the Minister

Please send all applications or questions to the Department of Local Government, Racing and Multicultural Affairs’ Regional Directors:

Ms Jo Stephenson, Regional Director, Northern Region
Telephone: 4758 3419
Address: Level 4, Verde Building, 435-453, Flinders Street, Townsville Qld 4810
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Mr John Martinkovic, Regional Director, Southern Region
Telephone: 3452 6872
Address: Level 12, 1 William Street, Brisbane Qld 4000
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Each application for an exemption should include:

  • details of the proposed major policy decision
  • an explanation of why the decision was unforeseeable
  • an explanation of why the decision cannot wait until the end of the caretaker period.
  • an explanation of how the decision is in the public interest.

Major policy decisions related to the Planning Act 2016

A ‘Major policy decision’ now includes a decision under the Planning Act 2016 on certain development applications that include a variation request or change applications that involve a change to a variation approval. An amendment to the Development Assessment Rules (DA Rules) ensures that the rules for the development assessment process in Queensland recognise this prohibition and make clear how these applications are to be dealt with during caretaker periods.

The amended DA Rules were notified in the Queensland Government Gazette on 11 November 2019 but will not take effect until it has been prescribed by the Planning Regulation 2017. It is anticipated that this will occur prior to the commencement of the local government caretaker period.

The amended DA Rules, summary of changes and accompanying guidance material are now available on the Department of State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning’s website.

For further information about major policy decisions related to the Planning Act 2016, specific questions can be directed to the Planning Group in the Department of State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by telephone 3452 7662.