What does it take to be a councillor?
Information for prospective candidates in Queensland local government elections
This website is designed to act as a guide for anyone interested in becoming a local government councillor or mayor. Local government elections are held every four years with by-elections a possibility during this period if an elected position becomes vacant.
The roles of a local government councillor and mayor are a rewarding opportunity to serve your local community. It requires an interest in people, a willingness to learn and a significant investment of your time to serve the needs and interests of the local community. It can, at times, be demanding and will require you to have knowledge of, or the ability to learn local government legislation, policies and systems.
Do I have what it takes to be a councillor?
Councillors and mayors demonstrate their enthusiasm for their local community every day. They draw on many skills, attributes and diverse knowledge to help guide their decision-making and to connect with their community in positive ways.
Useful qualities for councillors to have include:
- a commitment to behaving with integrity and in an ethical manner in adherence to the Code of Conduct
- strategic thinking with an ability to engage with the community
- effective communication and negotiation skills, including respecting other opinions, listening, mediation and conflict resolution skills
- ability to analyse and problem solve to reach successful solutions
- ability to work as part of a team
- understanding of financial and budget processes and reports
- time management and organisation skills
- understanding, or be able to acquire an understanding of, local government legislation.
What activities are councillors and mayors involved with?
The role of a councillor or mayor requires enthusiasm and motivation. It is a very diverse role and time commitments will depend on the size of the local government, its geographical location and any additional roles and responsibilities undertaken.
In some local governments, the role of a councillor is a part-time one while in others it will be a full-time role.
A councillor is expected to attend all the local government meetings. Each meeting has an agenda and there are usually reports prepared that relate to the topics on the agenda. Councillors should spend time reading all the reports and material provided prior to each local government meeting. This helps to ensure they make informed decisions.
Councillors may also have committee responsibilities or portfolios that require attendance at meetings as well as further research and investigation. Each local council will have their own committees or portfolios that may be made up of or chaired by elected representatives. Committees can be based around areas such as finance, infrastructure, public transport or the environment.
It may be helpful to think about your interest in the points below before making your final decision to nominate for election:
- Being actively involved in decisions that help your local community
- Ensuring all members of the local community have access to services and opportunity
- Being a representative for community members and managing that against your responsibility to act in the interest of the wider community
- Using existing or learning new skills such as public speaking and leadership, policy formulation, corporate planning, advocacy and budgeting
- Participating in civic events, such as openings, awards and ceremonies
- Visiting to inspect utility and infrastructure project sites
- Attending council meetings.
Councillors and mayors are not involved in the day to day operations of the council such as routine scheduling and maintenance. It is the responsibility of the chief executive officer to manage council’s operational activities.
As council activities vary, talking to a councillor in your area may help you understand the activities and time commitment required to be a councillor.
Conflicts of interest
It is important to understand that councillors and mayors are required to inform of any ‘conflict of interest’. These arise when a councillor or mayor has, or may be seen to have, a conflict between their personal interests and the public interests and could be of financial, personal association or other significant identifiable interest which may impact on a councillor’s decision making.
A councillor must inform the local government if they have an interest in a matter that could either benefit or cause detriment to the councillor or a related party. In some cases, the personal interest may be no greater than other persons in the local government area such as an upgrade to a local park that was part of the council’s scheduled works program. However, in some cases, councillors may not be able to participate in decision-making on that matter, for example in a proposal on whether to upgrade the road the councillor lives on that would significantly impact on property values.
There are penalties if a mayor or councillor fails to inform of a conflict of interest.
In addition, councillors must not influence or attempt to influence any other person who is participating in a council decision on the matter.
A councillor who reasonably suspects that another councillor with a conflict of interest in a matter is participating in a decision on that matter must inform the local government of that suspicion as soon as practicable. It is an offence for a councillor to take any retaliatory action against a councillor for complying with their obligation to report another councillor’s suspected conflict of interest.
If you decide to nominate for a local government election, it is mandatory to complete a free training course, otherwise you will not be eligible to nominate with the Electoral Commission of Queensland. This training will provide more detail on your obligations under legislation.
Further information about dealing with councillors’ conflicts of interest can be found on the Department of Local Government, Racing and Multicultural Affairs website.
Last updated: Monday, Nov 30, 2020