Law Reform · Healthy Communities

Help clean out corruption in local government

21 March, 2018

The Local Government Electoral (Implementing Stage 1 of Belcarra) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 was introduced to the Queensland Parliament on 6 March 2018. Submissions are due 12 noon, Friday 23 March 2018.

This Bill is intended to implement some of the recommendations of the Crime and Corruption Commission’s (CCC) report Operation Belcarra: A blueprint for integrity and addressing corruption risk in local government (Belcarra Report). Specifically, the Bill aims to:

  • ban donations from property developers to ‘reinforce integrity and minimise corruption risk’ caused by political donations from property developers at both a state and local government level;
  • strengthen and clarify how a councillor must deal with a real or perceived conflict of interest or a material personal interest; and
  • improve transparency and accountability in state and local government.

EDO Qld congratulate the government for taking this step to introduce some of the recommendations from the Belcarra Report.

However, significant new provisions are needed in this Bill to reduce incentives which increase corruption risks in Qld, including:

  • a cap on expenditure by candidates and other parties for elections (Belcarra Report Recommendation 1) which will effectively stop the constant hunt for donations to support election promotional work and for donors to find ways around the rules. This is in place in NSW currently;
  • providing for a ‘betterment tax’ payable to the government where land zoning benefits a property developer in order to reduce the incentive in existence to change zoning to benefit particular developers, and to compensate the community adequately in exchange for the windfall to the developer due to the change in planning regulation; and
  • addressing the revolving door between industry and government, which can lead to inside relationships being used to the benefit of the private sector without due regard being given to the public interest. While Queensland has comparatively strong restrictions around when a senior public servant/Minister can work as a lobbyist, our framework could be further strengthened by:
    • improving the definition of ‘lobbyist’, for example to include acting for even non-profit entities that represent private industry, such as the Queensland Resource Council; and
    • better enforcing existing limitations on lobbyists moving between government and the private sector.

We also highlight the need for reforms which would enable the CCC jurisdiction to extend, as raised in the Belcarra Report (p3), to:  

  • disciplinary breaches by councillors. Currently councillor disciplinary breaches do not fall within the definition of corrupt conduct under the CC Act as they are not ‘criminal offences’ or non-discretionary dismissible breaches; and
  • possible corrupt conduct by unsuccessful candidates.

Banning property developer donations

  • EDO Qld supports the intention to ban property developer donations to both state and local government.
  • However the Bill emulates the NSW regulatory framework which has proven to not be sufficient to prevent the risks associated with allowing any kind of election donations to candidates. Operation Spicer uncovered significant corruption in NSW even with the prohibition on property developer donations, as donations were going through other entities.
  • We therefore recommend that there be a ban on all corporate donations, including from mining companies, the tobacco industry etc be introduced through the Bill, to prevent the loopholes provided by limiting the ban to one narrowly defined sector. Operation Spicer demonstrated the strong need for enforcement of the ban as well, to ensure it is effective at achieving its aim.

Conflicts of interest and material personal interests – stronger regulation and process proposed

  • EDO Qld supports the strengthened provisions proposed requiring that perceived or real conflicts of interests held by councillors must be disclosed as they arise and then put to vote by the other members as to whether the councillor should not remain in the meeting.
  • We are concerned that where there are many other councillors with shared interests, or possibly lower levels of integrity within a council, that this vote may be biased towards the councillor remaining regardless of the level of conflict, however this is an improvement on current regulations which leave the discretion as to how to manage the conflict to the person holding the conflict.
  • We support the further provisions increasing regulation and clarity of process around conflicts of interest and material personal interests, as outlined in the explanatory notes:
    • ‘prescribe additional information to be provided by a councillor when informing a meeting of a real or perceived conflict of interest or a material personal interest in a matter other than an ordinary business matter
    • require any councillor at a meeting who believes or suspects on reasonable grounds that another councillor at the meeting has a real or perceived conflict of interest or a material personal interest in a matter other than an ordinary business matter to inform the person who is presiding at the meeting of the councillor’s belief of suspicion
    • strengthen penalties for councillors who fail to comply with their obligations
    • provide that it is an offence for a councillor who has a material personal interest or a real or perceived conflict of interest in a matter other than an ordinary business matter to influence or attempt to influence any vote by another councillor or any decision by a council employee or contractor in relation to the matter’

This Bill is substantially similar to the Bill introduced in 2017, being the: Local Government Electoral (Implementing Belcarra) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017. This 2017 Bill was referred to the former Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee prior to the election but the committee had not yet reported when the Bill was dissolved with the calling of the 2017 State Government election. While the committee may consider evidence provided to the previous inquiry in 2017, even if you put a submission in to the 2017 Bill it is advisable to get a new submission in on this Bill to ensure your comments are considered.

Submissions are due 12 noon, Friday 23 March 2018.

Submissions must include:

  • Author’s name

And at least two of the following:

  • Mailing address
  • Email address
  • Daytime telephone number

Submissions should be sent to:

Email: egc@parliament.qld.gov.au

Committee Secretary
Economics and Governance Committee
Parliament House
George Street
Brisbane Qld 4000

View the parliamentary inquiry page for the Bill here.