Local government is an important part of our democratic system. It is the level of government that is closest to us and that delivers many of the basic services on which communities rely. It is also the level where many decisions about property developments are made.
Local council decision making can be easily corrupted by political donations. At a local government level, a donation does not have to be large to have a significant impact on a candidate’s or party’s election campaign budget. Whereas the major parties will spend millions on their state and federal election campaigns at a local council level campaign costs are usually measured in thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, so a much smaller donation can have a much bigger effect at local council level.
In NSW the evidence that emerged from ICAC inquiries into Wollongong, Tweed and Liverpool Councils made it clear that corruption does exist in some local councils; that corrupt developers are using bribes and “donations” to corrupt those who are making decisions about their developments.
The new Local Government and Elections Amendment (Integrity) Bill 2016 limits future donations for local council elections. However, candidates in the coming September Local Council election could already have been bankrolled by the property industry.
The bill also allows property developers and real estate agents to be elected to local councils. They would be constrained only by the obligation to abstain from voting on planning decisions where they or a relative have a pecuniary interest.
A Greens amendment banning the election to council of people in these professions was rejected in parliament.
David Shoebridge Greens Member of the NSW Parliament said :
“With donation caps not kicking in until 1 July 2016, developer interests will have basically already bought the next council elections. Expenditure caps would be a simple and accountable way to ensure that a measure of equity is introduced for the next local government elections, and that the integrity of local government is prioritised. This bill isn’t about integrity, but is empty political posturing that will do nothing to improve accountability in the upcoming September Local Government elections. It is disappointing that a bill supposedly relating to integrity in local Government is considered so unworthy of consideration and scrutiny that it is being rushed through without proper consultation. This disrespect for communities and councils is seen in the fact that the bill was rushed through Parliament in just 24 hours.”