Caretaker is coming…your survival guide is here!

With quadrennial local government elections upon us in Queensland this March, the myth of the local government caretaker period will surely again be told. You know what i’m taking about (I hear it every election) –

“We’re in caretaker mode, so we can’t:

  • travel;
  • spend money;
  • performance-manage staff; 
  • meet with community members;
  • …breathe.”  

The ‘Caretaker Period’ is the period of time between when then the election is called by the Queensland Electoral Commission (likely late February), to the date of the election (28 March). The facts are that during a Caretaker Period, there is very little a Council cannot do (even post-Belcarra changes).

The facts are that restrictions only apply to:

  • election material – a Council cannot publish or distribute material that could influence the voter or affect the election result (eg. fact sheets promoting the profile of an incumbent Councillor/ Mayor); and
  • major policy decisions – a Council cannot make a decision regarding:
    • the appointment, remuneration or termination of the CEO;
    • entering into a contract greater than $200,000 (or 1% of the Council’s net rate and utility charges);
    • establishment of preferred supplier arrangements, or creating exceptions to established procurement processes of the Council;
    • making, amending or repealing Local Laws; or
    • making, amending or repealing a Local Planning instrument.

Remember, Councils also cannot decide to allocate fresh Councillor discretionary funds from 1 January this year.

If a Council does do one of these things during a Caretaker Period, it will be invalid, unless the Council seeks the approval of the Minister (must be exceptional circumstances).

So no, there is no blanket rule saying Councils cannot travel, spend money, performance-manage staff, meet with community, breathe, or do most other things to keep Council running the way it must, during a Caretaker Period. These rules exist just to ensure that no significant policy decisions are made near the end of a Council term that would bind a future elected Council, and also to ensure that individual incumbent Councillors, are not given preferential treatment in the upcoming election race. The show must go on. 

So, don’t let a Caretaker Period paralyze your Council this election season.

Government and independent

Dr Chris McLaughlin, Founder and Practice Director 

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