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By Preston Law

Preston Law’s local government team assists councils throughout the length and breadth of Queensland with legal and strategic matters that impact them on a day-to-day basis.  Preston Law is pleased to be a pre-qualified supplier on Local Buy’s LB311 (Legal Services) and LB328 (Human Resources) Arrangements and through these panels has secured work from councils across the State.

Our team is engaged to assist councils in the many and varied areas of local government law.  We have set out below some recent examples of work that we have been engaged to consider, and which might be of interest to other councils in Queensland.  

Right to Information and Privacy

Councils throughout Queensland will be familiar with their obligations regarding information and privacy, under the existing legislative frameworks set out in the Right to Information Act 2009 and Information Privacy Act 2009.

In December 2023, Queensland Parliament passed amendments to the information and privacy framework in the Information Privacy and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2023.  The Amendment Act introduces key new changes, which will come into effect on a day to be fixed, to how Councils deal with right to information and privacy matters.

These changes include:

• Replacing the Information Privacy Principles with a uniform set of Queensland Privacy Principles (QPPs), and giving Councils the ability to develop QPP codes about how the local government proposes to comply with the QPPs;

• The introduction of a Mandatory Data Breach Notification Scheme;

• Enhanced powers for the Information Commissioner;

• Amendments to the publication scheme requirements.

Our team assists councils with all aspects of the right to information and privacy regime, from reviewing access applications and assisting in decision-making, to the development of policies, procedures template documents and capacity-building for privacy officers.  We can also assist local governments with the implementation of the changes introduced by the Amendment Act when those changes come into effect.

Liability for volunteer works

Local governments often develop volunteer programs for particular community activities, including park maintenance.  However, these programs need to be considered carefully from a risk perspective, and any arrangements with individuals or groups (including, for example, groups that are responsible for directing volunteers) need to deal with council’s liability exposure and work health and safety considerations.

The issue has recently come into focus for local governments Australia-wide following the New South Wales District Court decision of SafeWork NSW v Camden Council [2021] NSWDC 709, in which a local government was fined $750,000 under the NSW Work Health and Safety Act following the death of a member of a Men’s Shed, which had been engaged to carry out management activities at a council-controlled park on a volunteer basis.

Work health and safety considerations in that case included the need for inductions, safe work procedures suitable to the nature of the activities being undertaken and the implementation of findings following risk assessments.

Often local governments will seek to engage interested community members for particular volunteer activities, and the development of detailed paperwork can impede that objective.  However, the Camden case makes it clear that councils need to consider their exposure not just from a civil liability perspective, but also from a regulatory perspective under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Rates and Charges

As the end of the financial year approaches, councils will be considering in detail the preparation of financial statements and all of the other material that forms part of council’s budgetary processes under the Local Government Act 2009 and Local Government Regulation 2012.

The validity of special and separate rates and charges remains an area of law that keeps Courts busy, and disputes about the categorisation of rateable land is also something that occupies both councils and the Land Court of Queensland after rates notices are issued and ratepayers exercise rights of objection and appeal under sections 90 – 93 of the Local Government Regulation.

Courts have traditionally taken a strict approach to interpreting the mandatory criteria that are set out in the Local Government Act and Regulation and which govern the way in which local governments are required to adopt rates and charges.  With that being the case, we recommend that local governments carry out compliance reviews of all documents forming part of their annual budget every time the document is prepared, to ensure these materials continue to meet the requirements set out in the Act and Regulation.

In particular, we suggest councils consider carefully the development of special rates and charges, and the completeness of associated overall plans and annual implementation plans, to minimise the risk of successful challenge. 

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Preston Law

Preston Law’s government team comprises seven lawyers, two human resources consultants and a further four paralegal and legally trained staff.  Our government team is augmented by the broader Preston Law team of a further 13 lawyers and nine paralegal and legally trained staff.

Our team understands local government, and five members of our team have spent a combined decades working in-house in councils across Queensland in various roles.

We are proud to be sponsoring Local Buy’s NQ Procurement Summit as trade exhibitors and look forward to seeing attendees in Cairns on 21 March.

If you have any queries about anything in this blog, please contact Julian Bodenmann of our team on or 07 4052 0717

News (Feb 2024) My LB Story - Preston Law