A decision of the council is the result of a democratic process and debate.
Good decision-making means that:
- councils can only make decisions that are legally within their power
- decisions must be consistent with legislation, the local government principles, and the council’s own policies
- councillors have a responsibility to make sure they are well informed and make considered and informed decisions
- councillors must be impartial, objective, free from bias and act in the public interest
- decisions must be clear and transparent.
Download the Make the most of council meetings quick reference guide (PDF, 79KB)
On this page
- Local government principles
- Making decisions together
- Council meetings
- How you can help make good decisions
- Role of the chairperson
- Scenario – managing a healthy debate
- Delegated decisions
- Informed decision-making
- Officer reports
- Acceptable request guidelines
- Scenario – information request
- Community consultation
- Open communication
- Scenario – good decision-making
- Managing your interests
- Fair judgement
- Confidentiality and reports
- Clarity and consequences of council resolutions
- Message from the Queensland Information Commissioner
Local government principles
Councils in Queensland are created under the Local Government Act 2009 and City of Brisbane Act 2010, which contains provisions to ensure councils are accountable, effective, efficient and sustainable.
These two Acts are ‘principles based’ legislation, founded on five local government principles that councillors must comply with while performing their roles as elected representatives. All principles are of equal importance.
These principles are:
- transparent and effective processes, and decision-making in the public interest
- sustainable development and management of assets and infrastructure, and delivery of effective services
- democratic representation social inclusion and meaningful community engagement
- good governance of, and by, local government
- ethical and legal behaviour of councillors, local government employees and councillor advisors.
All councillors are responsible for complying with the local government principles when making decisions for their communities.
Councillors must ensure they effectively represent the overall public interest when making decisions for the benefit of the whole community.
The local government principles also guide councils when determining processes and procedures that are well-adapted to the unique circumstances experienced by councils no matter where they are in the large and diverse state of Queensland.
Making decisions together
Full council meetings are the most visible activity of the work of councils – the principal
decision-making forum. Decision-making in council meetings is a collaborative process where the majority of councillors need to vote in favour of a decision and make collective decisions.
Decisions are taken by a majority vote of elected councillors and the mayor. Regardless of whether or not a councillor agrees or supports a decision of council, what is most important is the collective decision made by all councillors. There needs to be a focus on what’s best for the whole community, not just for residents of a specific councillors own local division (in a divided council) or area where they live.
Councillors must attend all meetings and vote on matters on the meeting agenda. As elected representatives, all councillors have an equal voice in decisions. It is a councillor's job to actively participate in council meetings, policy development and other general decision-making.
Councils must hold a full council meeting at least once in each month. Councils can also have standing committees or other meetings where some decisions are delegated to a smaller group of councillors. In the full council meeting, the chairperson is the mayor, when they are present (except for Brisbane City Council).
The chairperson facilitates good decision-making through skilful chairing, controlling the debate and ensuring councillors, staff and public gallery attendees behave appropriately and in accordance with the council’s meeting procedures and standing orders. Meetings are a public forum, so councillors must respect the right of the chairperson to run them appropriately to ensure public confidence in the decision-making process.
Some chairpersons might interpret the meeting rules more casually but must always make sure that councillors behave respectfully. As a councillor, you must respect the meeting process and other councillors in the interest of making decisions which are fair and equitable, and without wasting valuable meeting time.
How you can help make good decisions
Always ensure that every councillor has ample opportunity to participate equally in a healthy debate. Be respectful of the different opinions and ideas each person has, listen to them, and consider the middle ground where there is a difference of opinion on a matter.
The chairperson will ensure that they are not seen to be taking sides in a debate, other than expressing their own views like every other councillor. It is also important to support the chairperson in dealing with disruptive conduct by any councillors. Always focus on the issue at hand, not personal opinions of council officers, other councillors, or anyone else.
Role of the chairperson
The role of the chairperson is:
- managing the agenda
- preserving order
- managing a healthy debate
- conducting votes and declaring results
- supervising the preparation of the minutes
- managing meeting behaviour and dealing with unsuitable meeting conduct if necessary.
More about the role of the chairperson is covered on meeting procedures page.
Scenario – managing a healthy debate
The Sunrise Shire Regional Council is conducting a regular council meeting with the mayor, all councillors and the CEO present. Council is considering a development application to convert riverfront parkland to holiday condominiums.
The Mayor, Councillor Sandra Shaw is chairing the debate about the issues. Mayor Shaw strongly supports approving the development and wants to create a replacement parkland by draining the mangrove swamp area.
Councillor Robbie Mitchel is not in favour of the redevelopment as the land has historically been a traditional meeting area for local Indigenous people and is now a community area for everyone to use.
Councillor Guarav Patel is not supportive of Mayor Shaw’s opinion and does not support the development application.
A rigorous debate is taking place as a number of councillors are not in support of the recommendation. Mayor Shaw provides extra time for those arguing in favour of the development, while restricting those arguing against the development to the precise time limit set out in the council’s meeting processes.
Mayor Shaw comments unfavourably on every speech which argues against the recommendation, and also takes the opportunity to make a speech of her own in support of the development application from the chair.
In this scenario, Mayor Shaw should have managed the council meeting by being impartial and fair in the debate and allowing all councillors to have the same opportunity to present their views and consider the best decision in the public interest. Lessons from this scenario include the following:
- The mayor, as chairperson of the meeting, has a very important role when chairing debates. This includes facilitating a debate in a fair and impartial way. They should ensure that all councillors have ample opportunity to present their views.
- The mayor can participate in the debate and express their opinion but should ensure all opinions are heard fairly and all councillors have a chance to speak.
- Having a strong opinion on a matter being debated can be a difficult role for a mayor when chairing a council meeting. The perception of bias as chair when managing a meeting can impact negatively on the decision-making process and can affect the views of those involved in the debate. Certain members of the community may also think that a mayor or councillor is not being impartial, which can ultimately undermine community confidence in council’s decision.
- In the scenario circumstances, Mayor Shaw should ideally not be an active participant in the debate and should instead focus on managing the issues through to the decision. If Mayor Shaw feels the need to express a preferential view on a matter being debated before council, this should happen after all other councillors have had their chance to voice their opinions before the matter is put to vote. In any event, Mayor Shaw should treat all councillors the same way even if they do not support her preferred view.
Local government legislation allows a wide range of council powers to be delegated. The careful use of delegations, with appropriate accountability, contributes to good decisions by allowing councillors to focus on strategic rather than operational issues. However, some decisions require a council resolution and must be made by full council, such as adopting council’s corporate plan or annual budget.
In some circumstances councils can also delegate a decision to another council (if there are joint council activities).
Brisbane City Council can also delegate its powers to the Establishment and Coordination Committee.
How decisions are delegated
A council may, by resolution, delegate a power to make certain types of decisions to:
- the mayor
- the CEO
- a standing committee of councillors
- the chairperson of a standing committee.
To delegate a decision, councillors must, within a council meeting, pass a resolution to devolve the ‘decision-making responsibility’ by delegated authority. The CEO must also keep a register of all delegations made by the council, mayor or CEO in the register.
Once a power is delegated, the delegate has the authority to use the power and does not need to seek further approval or endorsement before exercising the power. However, the delegation does not prevent council making the decision itself if it wishes.
Unless otherwise specified in the resolution approving a delegation, entities receiving delegated responsibility for decision-making can further delegate the responsibility.
Councils are required to review their delegations annually (except for Brisbane City Council).
Make sure you have access to all of the relevant information about an issue on the agenda to be considered by council so that you can help make the best decisions in the public interest.
Matters coming to council are usually accompanied by a report from council officers. The advice contained in the reports needs to be well researched and accurate.
If a matter comes before council and councillors do not feel fully informed, they can vote to defer the final decision to a future meeting. However, you have a responsibility to be fully prepared before meetings, making sure that all reports on the agenda are read and asking for further information if required (in line with the council’s acceptable request guidelines) before the meeting takes place.
Informed decision-making means that councillors:
- consider all relevant information before making a decision
- thoroughly read through officer reports and recommendations
- seek further information before the meeting if needed, by following the council’s acceptable request guidelines (the council’s policy on asking council officers for advice or information)
- vote to defer matters for future debate if needed.
Matters that come before council for a decision will be accompanied by a report written by a council employee with the necessary expertise in the relevant area. The report should contain a summary of the matter, an analysis of relevant issues, data and recommended options or a course of action for councillors to consider before deciding on the matter.
Council reports should be impartial and represent the officer’s professional opinion of what is the best recommendation in the public interest. A councillor must not attempt to influence council officers or encourage them to make particular recommendations to council. If you disagree with a recommendation, you can argue against it and seek to persuade enough councillors to support those ideas in the meeting, rather than trying to influence council officers to make favourable recommendations.
To ensure that councillors are transparent and accountable, the council meeting minutes are required to record full details of any votes where councillors make a decision that is significantly different to the council officers’ recommendations. In some cases, there is a requirement that the reason for such decisions be recorded.
Acceptable request guidelines
As a mayor or councillor you cannot direct council employees. If you need any information from a council employee, you must follow the acceptable request guidelines of that council. However, the mayor does not have to comply with the acceptable request guidelines when making requests for advice to the CEO. Through the appropriate request process, you can ask council’s officers and technical experts for more information or advice before the council meeting. Under acceptable request guidelines, you must make sure that any requests for information or reports are legitimate, lawful and related to your role. Under the legislation, the CEO must provide a councillor with the information within 10 business days. If the CEO believes that is not practicable, they must advise the councillor within 10 business days and then provide it within 20 business days. If the council has established committees, the chairperson of a committee does not need to comply with the acceptable request guidelines if their request relates to the role of the chairperson. The requirements for Brisbane City councillor requests are also slightly different. When you request information, the request is registered, and the information shared with all the other councillors. Councillors can also seek additional information from outside of council including from the department, or other relevant stakeholders and the community.
Scenario – information request
Cr Pavlois wants more information about a planned project, the Waterfront Redevelopment Project. She asks the engineer charge for a report. Engineer Steel tells her that she has to ask the council’s CEO, not him. Cr Pavlois asks the mayor for help, as she needs that report as soon as possible to prepare a research proposal before they start discussing the preparations needed for the project. Mayor Shaw tells the councillor that the engineer is correct.
Any requests for information by a councillor must be made through the CEO under the council’s acceptable request guidelines. Otherwise, they would be directing council staff, which is a breach of the Local Government Act (LGA). The LGA now requires that the CEO must provide the information within 10 business days where practicable, or within 20 business days if it is not practicable to comply within 10 business days. But Cr Pavlois doesn’t even have to request reports, as all relevant information about the matters for discussion at the council meeting are attached to the meeting agenda that everyone receives prior to the meeting. This concerns Cr Pavlois because she feels like she won’t get information when needed – but are the concerns justified? No.
Mayor Shaw can reassure her that the agenda papers are provided with sufficient time to read all the papers. Mayor Shaw advises Cr Pavlois that she can move to adjourn debate on the issue at the council meeting if she and the other councillors need more time.
To make a good decision, a councillor must understand the views of people, businesses or groups who might be affected by it.
By asking for feedback from stakeholders, will better understand the key issues and consequences of any decision.
By taking the time to check with stakeholders, or even go through a formal consultation process, the community will feel they are valued, their opinions matter and they have been heard. It means that the decision is made through a fairer process, and stakeholders are then also more likely to accept the outcome, even if they don’t agree with it.
Consultation does not detract from the decision-making powers of councillors or the accountability for those decisions. It also does not mean that you are bound to follow the majority position on the issue. Remember, that your job is to make the best decision for the overall public interest.
Consultation should be designed to capture the views of all sections of the community including those who may be geographically isolated, illiterate or without access to the internet. Council should undertake planning to ensure that community consultation is adequately resourced.
Community engagement, consultation and public participation are terms that are often used interchangeably. Typically, it refers to the process of involving people in the decisions that affect them.
Council officers can provide advice about when and how to run a formal consultation process. However, as a councillor you can also seek out the views of affected stakeholders or the general community directly, through everyday conversations or other methods.
Make it meaningful
In some situations, councils are required by law to consult with the community. At other times, it’s good practice, helps make better decisions, and will build community confidence that council is making decisions in their best interests.
When asking for informal feedback or proceeding with community consultation, ensure it is meaningful. If council officers are running the consultation, ask them tough questions to make sure they considered everyone’s views. Take the time to understand the community’s views, or the views of stakeholders who are going to be affected. That way you can make sure your decision is reasonable and fair.
Good decision-making, community consultation and transparency also relies on strong two-way communication between council and the community.
As a councillor, helping the community be informed about council’s decisions, and council activities in general, for example its long-term vision, operational strategy and budget strategy is important.
Councillor’s also need to hear the community’s views about council matters and understand what’s important to them, a skill that requires practice over time.
Some tips for good communication as a councillor include:
- prioritising communications with your community is one of the most important parts of your job
- always being open and honest
- aiming to help your community understand the complex issues that council must deal with
- encouraging positivity
- not thinking about ‘us’ and ‘them’, think about the community and council always being on the same side
- focusing on finding out people’s opinions, their reasons, and understanding what is important to them
- using as many different ‘channels’ to talk to your community as you can, for example talking to people when you are out and about in the community, attending community meetings, and using council’s communication channels.
Scenario – good decision-making
All people have personal interests. We have families and friends, jobs, businesses, hobbies, sporting interests, political persuasions, religious beliefs, and other interests that fill our lives.
There is nothing wrong with having personal interests. They are very important. In fact, they are probably what helped drive the councillor’s reasons for wanting to represent their community.
However, the councillor’s role is to represent the whole community. Therefore, you need to be unbiased and objective when making decisions. The community must have faith that decisions are made in the public interest and that councillors are not showing favouritism.
Managing your interests
Aspects of legislation relate in one way or another to objectivity which are covered in the councillor induction course modules. These include:
As a councillor, an important part of being objective is waiting forall the information and following a good decision-making process before making a decision.
A councillor must keep an open mind. The community may lose trust in council decisions if they see councillors as being biased, or if councillors pre-judge important decisions before they have all of the facts.
For councillors, it is better to avoid making definitive public statements or commitments about issues before it is properly considered. This will help the community understand that all decisions are made through a fair and transparent process, based on full information and an understanding of all of the community’s views rather than just the views of some.
Examples of appropriate ways to make a public statement
Instead of “I will be voting against the development application at the next council meeting”, try ‘I have some concerns with the development application that I will be raising as part of council’s deliberative process during the council meeting”.
Instead of “I think this company should be awarded the tender”, try “council will be running a transparent tender process to ensure the best outcome for the council and community.”
Instead of “the person should be prosecuted for their breach of the law”, try “council takes these matters seriously. We are investigating the matter thoroughly and will let you know what we find”.
When councils make a decision (a resolution), they should record the reasons for the decision. Recording reasons helps stakeholders and the community understand why the decision was made.
Where an officer’s report is provided on particular matters, it will usually set out the reasons supporting their recommendations. If council accepts the recommendations made in the officers’ reports, the reports should be included in the meeting minutes (unless previously published with the meeting agenda or they are confidential reports).
If a matter does not contain an officer’s report, or if the council decides not to accept the recommendations, council must document its reasons for the decision in the meeting minutes.
The reasons why the council made a decision might seem obvious, but carefully recording reasons for any decision is important for accountability and building community trust, particularly where not all councillors have agreed with the decision.
Confidentiality and reports
Some officer reports or other information may contain information that is confidential to council and therefore may not be appropriate to make public.
However, the basis of council’s decisions must still be recorded for the community to view. If there is a formal review of the decision, for example by the Queensland Ombudsman or in court, it will be very important that council has officially recorded its reasons for the decision.
Unless council is considering an allowable closed-meeting matter, full council and committee meetings must be open to the public, even if some information in reports is considered confidential. For example, development assessment, tender, and procurement reports may contain some confidential information but must be discussed and voted on in an open meeting.
Points to note:
- Companies who tender for contracts involving public money should be advised before tendering that council must publish the reasons for any recommendations to council, including how proposals have been assessed against the key criteria such as overall tender price and which tender best meets the Council’s requirements.
- Confidential information such as full tender proposals, or a list of submitters for an application, can be included as a separate confidential attachment to the report without being published.
- Councillors must take care during meetings to only discuss aspects of the reports relevant to the decision, without disclosing specific confidential information.
Clarity and consequences of council resolutions
To help the CEO and council officers implement council decisions, it is important that the wording of a council decision, specifically the resolution, is as clear as possible. This helps the CEO and other employees understand what to do, and helps the community know what to expect.
After discussing an issue, the council should vote on draft motions that will be accurately recorded in the formal minutes of the meeting. Resolutions should contain enough detail so that any person reading the minutes knows exactly what council decided, such as:
- resolutions that are too vague:
- council resolves to take the action discussed in the council meeting.
- resolutions that are clear:
- council resolves to commence legal action against Example Company Pty Ltd for breach of contract for the construction of the new library.
- council resolves to adopt the organisational structure as set out in the document titled Council Organisation Structure 2020 attached to the chief executive officer’s report.
In addition to recording decisions in the minutes, council can notify stakeholders directly in other ways such as on its website, through the media, in person or by emailing them.
Message from the Queensland Information Commissioner – Rachel Rangihaeata
In your role, you'll need to understand and meet legal requirements when dealing with information.
In Queensland, all council information must be released, unless there's a good reason not to. This helps build trust with the community. Let me start by sharing a story with you.
Sam lives in a quiet neighbourhood with her family. She's heard that the local council is planning on building a new road in her area. Sam wants to know exactly where it will be built, and if it'll impact on her house, as well as how council decided on the preferred route. She contacts the council for information.
Now there's a couple of ways this story could go. Scenario one, Sam visits the council's website and finds everything she needs. Or scenario two, Sam can't find relevant information on the website, so she calls council, but they refuse to give her any information about the project and won't explain why. Sam gets frustrated and doesn't feel like she can trust council. Scenario two is what we're trying to avoid.
People have the right to access government information, and that includes information from local government and councillors. Queensland has strong right to information, or right to information (RTI) laws that protect the community's rights and set out rules for councils to follow. We work with councils so they understand and comply with the RTI Act.
At the end of the day, the right to information helps councils to be open, transparent, and accountable to their community. RTI laws require councils to push as much information as possible out to the community, so people can get information easily. This means Sam's council should use their website, social media, newsletters and customer service centre to share up-to-date information about that road project. This will help Sam know what's happening and have her say. And if Sam can't access some information, this takes longer, creates more paperwork, and costs both Sam and her council. If Sam isn't happy with council's decision, she can ask our office to conduct an independent review.
By making information easy to find and access, you'll be helping to make your council more open and transparent, which will help build a trusting relationship with the community. It also means better decisions made by government, better services and outcomes for your local community.
As councillors, you'll create records every day. Records aren't just formal minutes of meetings, agendas and reports, they're also emails and text messages sent or received in your role as councillor, even when received on your personal phone or account, content in your social media accounts and apps, including chats, direct messages, images, and even private, restricted or draft posts. It's important to remember these records can be part of an RTI application. Councils can't prevent access to information just because it might embarrass them. There are limited circumstances when access to information can be refused. And your council's RTI decision maker is the one who will make that decision.
Keeping accurate records is a legal requirement and helps councils comply with the RTI laws. Good record keeping helps councils provide evidence of their decisions and actions. This shows they're accountable to the community. We also help councils understand and comply with the Information Privacy (IP) Act, which deals specifically with personal information, or information about people. The information privacy rules are like a privacy roadmap, to help councils navigate how to keep people's personal information safe, and to use it in a way that respects their privacy.
When it comes to personal information, only collect what you need, and only share what you should. Privacy is not about keeping information secret, it's about respecting and protecting your community's personal information, to ensure you don't lose trust. There are times when the IP Act can be flexible so information can be shared to ensure public safety during disasters or emergencies, like floods, bush fires, cyclones and pandemics.
Councillors should be aware that if people's information isn’t handled in a way that respects their privacy, there are consequences. If a person believes that someone in council has breached their privacy, they can make a complaint and potentially be awarded up to $100,000 in compensation. We deal with privacy complaints about councils, and we'll try to mediate an outcome. If you misuse personal information, you could face misconduct, corrupt conduct, or criminal charges.
As you can tell, there are lots of important things to understand about RTI and privacy. But don't worry, you're not alone. Your council can help you, and we work with councils across Queensland to provide support and training.
There are a range of resources on the website that can help you and your local community. You can also call our inquiry service and get advice about how the RTI and privacy laws apply to you. I encourage you to visit our website or call us.
We look forward to working with you and your council, so you can be open, transparent and accountable, and build trusting relationships with your communities.
Contact the Office of the Information Commissioner
Phone: (07) 3234 7373 or 1800 642 753
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Last updated: 21 Oct 2021