Sources of conflict in local government
There are a number of sources of potential conflict, and therefore disputes, in a local government context. Some examples include:
- Complaints from members of the public about the delivery of services or the decision of a local council
- Workplace conflict between employees or industrial disputes with unions
- Disputes between a local council and contractor who has been engaged to carry out works or provide services
- Conflict or disputes between elected members (such as councillors) or with staff/members of the public
- Disagreement within the community about an issue or decision such as a planning proposal or development consent
Some of these disputes are likely to give rise to formal legal proceedings either by or against the local council. Many of these will not escalate to litigation, but they will still require active management internally or assistance from legal representatives to resolve. This can be time consuming and costly for an organisation.
Mediation in local government – a new way forward
Mediation offers a way to resolve these types of conflicts and disputes in a cost effective and timely way. Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process which is guided by an impartial mediator. The mediator helps the participants to identify and discuss the issues and to develop options to find a mutually beneficial way to solve the issue. This has the benefit of improving decision making and focusing on outcomes for the community.
There are many avenues available for local councils to use mediation to help resolve conflict and disputes. Examples include:
- Mediation services are available through the Small Business Commissioner if the dispute relates to a local council and small business
- Mediation services are available through Community Justice Centres if the dispute relates to a neighbourhood issue (such as construction of a boundary fence or a barking dog).
In addition to these government funded services, local councils may participate in Court mandated forms of mediation (for example, workers compensation or section 34 conciliation conferences for planning appeals or mediation in Land and Environment Court proceedings).
Local councils can also use the services of a private mediator for other disputes which fall outside these areas.
How local councils can use mediation to resolve conflict
There are two immediate ways councils can increase the use of mediation and increase the knowledge of conflict resolution in their organisations:
- Actively considering mediation as an option for resolving a conflict or dispute. This would typically involve the engagement of a private mediator who would work with you to help you decide if mediation is appropriate. If so, the mediator would work with the relevant participants to identity and discuss the issues, and to facilitate an outcome that is mutually beneficial to all participants.
- Training staff on mediation and the techniques used in this process to build future capacity for early conflict resolution by staff. For example, development planners and human resources staff would benefit from being upskilled in conflict resolution skills.
Emma Broomfield, our Director – Governance and Mediation, is a nationally accredited mediator and welcomes any enquiries about how mediation can be utilised in local government: