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A councillor has a conflict of interest if their decisions are, or may be seen to be, influenced by their personal interests.

A conflict of interest exists when a reasonable member of the public with the proper information would think that the conflict is unacceptable and might inappropriately influence a local government's decision or action or lead to a decision that is not in the public interest (Local Government Act 2009, section 173; City of Brisbane Act, section 175).

Councillor must declare conflict of interest

You must tell the local government of your interest if you have a real or perceived conflict of interest in a matter before the local government (for example, to a personal or family relationship or because of an election gift).

You must then decide on the most appropriate action to take, depending on the level and type of your interest and your capacity for placing the public interest ahead of your own.

For example, if you:

  • believe that you have a perceived conflict of interest in a matter before the local government but know that you, or people close to you, will not receive any personal benefit from the matter and that you are able to deal with the matter in the public interest, you may stay in the meeting and vote
  • or persons close to you stand to gain a personal benefit from a matter before the local government, you should consider absenting yourself from the debate and/or abstaining from voting on that item of the meeting so that the community can be confident any decision is not going to benefit you over the community.

The appearance of a conflict of interest can be as serious as an actual conflict because it undermines public confidence in the local government.

Exceptions

The legislation does provide some exceptions. A councillor does not have a conflict of interest if the:

  • local government is considering an 'ordinary business matter' (such as setting rates and charges or adopting the council budget)
  • councillor's interest is no greater than that of other persons in the local government area

or merely because he or she:

  • is a member of, or has a personal connection with, a community group, club, school, church or political party. However if the councillor is an office holder in any of these, they must declare a conflict of interest
  • attends or addresses a community group, sporting club or organisation in their capacity as a councillor.

Failure to declare a conflict of interest

If you fail to declare or appropriately deal with a conflict of interest you may be guilty of misconduct.