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Help curb corruption in local governments

17 May, 2019

Two Bills seeking to further reduce potential corruption in local governments and their elections are currently open for your comments

The Local Government Electoral (Implementing Stage 2 of Belcarra) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 (Belcarra Stage 2 Bill) and the Electoral and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2019 (Electoral Amendment Bill) were introduced to the Queensland Parliament on 1 May 2019.

Both Bills are now open for public submissions to the parliamentary committee inquiry, submissions are due by 12 midday on Tuesday 21 May 2019. Details of how to make a submission are below, and on the links above. 

The Bills are intended to implement Stage 2 of the State Government's commitments to implement the recommendations from the Crime and Corruption Commission’s (CCC) report Operation Belcarra: A blueprint for integrity and addressing corruption risk in local government (‘Belcarra Report). 

They will also implement recommendations from an Independent Panel’s Inquiry Report, A review of the conduct of the 2016 local government elections, the referendum and the Toowoomba South by-election (Independent Panel’s Report). This Inquiry was established by the Queensland Government in response to a large number of complaints following the 2016 elections and referendum.

If the Bills are passed, the reforms will apply to local governments and candidates for the 2020 local government elections.

EDO Qld is pleased that the Queensland Government is continuing to work to reduce risks of corruption and improve transparency and accountability in local and state governments, furthering this work commenced which commenced with the Local Government Electoral (Implementing Stage 1 of Belcarra) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2018) (the first Act introducing changes recommended by the CCC in Operation Belcarra).

However, there is still much room for improvement. These Bills do not implement sufficient changes to reduce corruption risks in Queensland. Further amendments needed have been previously raised by EDO Qld and include:

  • banning all corporate donations (including from mining companies and the tobacco industry) at both local and State levels, in order to prevent the loopholes that exist when the ban is limited to property developers at a local level only; 
  • capping the expenditure of 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. Bringing Queensland into line with the expenditure cap already in place in NSW; 
  • 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; 
  • 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.

To see our full summary of suggested improvements to anti-corruption measures in governance, see our previous post here.

The Belcarra Stage 2 Bill proposes to introduce:

  • real-time disclosure of electoral expenditure and disclosure of details of electoral expenditure of $500 or more incurred by candidates, groups of candidates, registered political parties and associated entities during the disclosure period for the election (Belcarra Recommendations 2 and 19);
  • require disclosure of a candidate’s interests upon nomination (Belcarra Recommendations 3 and 4);
  • require candidates to declare additional matters on their nomination form and require the Electoral Commission Queensland (ECQ) to publish a copy of the nomination on its website, including any recent contracts with local government they or a close associate has entered; whether the candidate is, or was within the last year, a member of a registered political party, trade or professional organisation; and whether the candidate or a close associate of the candidate has made particular applications and representations to the local government under the Planning Act 2016 and Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (Belcarra Recommendation 4);
  • prohibit a person from engaging in a group campaign activity (such as use of the same campaign slogans, brands, election resources and how-to-vote cards) for an election unless the activity relates to candidates who are members of a group of candidates as stated in a published record for the group or candidates who are endorsed by the same political party for the election (Belcarra Recommendation 5);
  • expanding the list of disclosable details around loans or gifts, including requiring the true source of a loan or gift to be disclosed if it is not the entity through which it was provided (Belcarra Recommendations 6 and 18);
  • implementing a presumption that, unless proven otherwise, an election participant or councillor knows the source of a gift or loan, and requires an entity making a gift or loan to disclose this via notice to the recipient (Belcarra Recommendations 7 and 21);
  • implementing increased penalties and limitation periods to existing offences (Belcarra Recommendations 29 and 30).

The Electoral Amendment Bill proposes to improve the integrity, transparency and public accountability of State elections by:

  • expanding the ECQ’s statutory functions to include administering and promoting compliance with the election funding and financial disclosure provisions of the Electoral Act and the corresponding provisions of the Local Government Electoral Act 2011 (LGEA) (Belcarra Report - Recommendation 31);  
  • placing an obligation on donors to notify a recipient of the true source of a gift (Belcarra Report - Recommendation 6);
  • amending and introducing new offence and penalty provisions within the Electoral Act to improve consistency with the LGEA and the Referendums Act 1997 to support compliance (Belcarra Report - Recommendation 30; and
  • increasing from three years to four years the period over which funding and disclosure prosecutions can be brought from commission of the offence.

Submissions are due by 12 midday on Tuesday 21 May 2019

Submissions should be sent to either:

Emailegc@parliament.qld.gov.au

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

Submissions must include:

  1. author’s name; and
  2. at least two of the following:
  • mailing address
  • email address
  • daytime telephone number

 

 

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