Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson.
Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson. Patrick Woods

Jamieson rejects CCC call for developer donation ban

DESPITE findings that loose legislation and regulation led to an unfair playing field at local government elections, Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson has rejected calls from the Crime and Corruption Commission to ban developer donations.

Speaking as head of the Local Government Association of Queensland, Cr Jamieson said such bans would drive activity underground and had been proven not to work in NSW.

It has put him and the LGAQ immediately at odds with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk who has committed her full support to what she said was one of two key recommendations made by the Operation Belcarra inquiry into the 2016 local government elections.

The government is now considering all 31 recommendations handed down today by the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) in its report on addressing integrity and corruption risk in local government.

LATEST: Coast groups, experts back ban on developer donations

"The CCC report on Operation Belcarra is comprehensive and thorough," the Premier said.

"Two of the report's major recommendations are a ban on developer donations, and better means to deal with perceived conflicts of interest for councillors.

"Let me be very clear - I fully support both those recommendations.

"The Belcarra report highlights serious cultural and structural issues within specific councils, and Queensland local government more broadly.

"The CCC has made recommendations about councillors, candidates, donors and the role and powers of the Electoral Commission of Queensland.

"Queenslanders should have confidence in the transparency and integrity of all levels of government.

"I will not make rules for local councils that I am not prepared to follow myself, so any changes we make will apply to state, as well as local government.

"I will bring a submission to cabinet on Monday that addresses all the implications of this report.

"This work will build on the extensive reform my government has undertaken in the last two and a half years to restore and improve accountability in local and state government in Queensland.

"We have already lowered the council disclosure threshold to $500 and legislated to make sure council candidate bank accounts are accountable.

"We have introduced real time donation reporting, which was put to use for the first time during the Ipswich Council by-election.

"We are committed to ensuring there is a modern, fair, transparent and accountable local government system in Queensland."

The Premier's statement appears to rule out an early election with Parliament now likely to sit as planned next week.

Given all considerations that would mean if there is to be an election this year it won't come until November 18 at the earliest and no later than November 25.

The CCC's recommendations follow an inquiry into the 2016 elections in Ipswich, the Gold Coast, Logan and Moreton councils, with the LGAQ indicating it would support all except the developer donation ban and rules to empower councils to force councillors with conflicts of interest from the room.

Taking a combative stance Cr Jamieson had earlier said any legislative changes to improve the transparency of local government election campaigns should, in the LGAQ's view, also be applied to state elections.

"What's good for the goose is good for the gander," he said.

"Our position regarding the conduct of candidates in local government elections is very clear: transparency is paramount."

The CCC found current practice was anything but, identifying six key issues arising from the elections that could adversely affect not only transparency but also equity and accountability.

They were:

1. Uneven competition between candidates in Queensland council elections, particularly with respect to campaign funding. This carries the potential for wealth to be seen to buy power and influence in local government.

2. Distortion of the concept of an independent candidate, with many candidates using the independent label despite being closely affiliated with a political party or having other interests that may be seen to affect their independence in the eyes of voters.

3. Ambiguity about the nature of relationships between candidates, with some candidates engaging in cooperative campaigning and receiving funds from common sources but not declaring themselves as a group of candidates.

4. That the existence and nature of relationships between donors and candidates is being obscured by some candidates receiving campaign donations via third party entities. The transparency of financial relationships is also reduced by significant levels of non-compliance with disclosure requirements, and the lack of a best practice disclosure scheme.

5. Perceptions of compromised council processes and decision-making, especially where councillors have received campaign funding from donors involved in the property and construction industries. These perceptions are compounded by the failure of many councillors to adequately deal with their conflicts of interest.

6. Considerable deficiencies in the compliance and enforcement framework for local government elections in Queensland.

If the recommendations are adopted candidates could not declare themselves independent if they received the majority of their campaign funding from a common or shared source; or have a common or shared campaign strategy including shared policies, common slogans and branding or used common or shared campaign resources including campaign workers and signage or engaged in cooperative campaigning activities, including using shared how-to-vote cards, joint advertising or formally endorsing another candidate.

Cr Jamieson said the LGAQ supported the Premier's decision to introduce real time disclosure of electoral donations and had asked but received no reply to its request to make a register of interests compulsory for candidates at the time they nominate for election.

He said it had also proposed an expenditure cap of $2 per voter for mayoral candidates and $1 per voter for council candidates to restrict mayoral candidates to $200,000 and council candidates to $50,000 for campaign spending.

The caps have been described as too high by peak resident group OSCAR which said candidates would be better served "pressing the flesh".

Cr Jamieson said empowering councils to remove someone from debate because of a conflict of interest had previously been in legislation but was removed because it could be used as a political tool by councillors intent on ganging up on a colleague.

The LGAQ said independent polling had found the community did not support the option of public financing of local government elections, as a measure to help prevent corruption and undue influence.

"Such a system would also reduce or contain the costs of elections and make them more competitive and fairer to all who want to run for their local council," Cr Jamieson said.

Queensland executive director of the Property Council, Chris Mountford, said the peak body did not donate to any political party, but took the view that regardless of occupation or sector, people should be treated equally under the law.

"There are many sectors and interests that are impacted by government policy, regulation, tenders or subsidy and the community should rightly expect that political donations do not distort decision making in any area," he said.

"Queensland has a world class anti-corruption body and quite rightly, it will throw the book at any elected official or business person who seeks to use donations to distort decision making.

"All businesses, environmental groups, community groups and unions should be treated the same when it comes to donations. If we start singling out individuals or groups, where will it end, and how will the community have confidence that the definitions and delineations are relevant?

"We are certainly open to changes aimed at ensuring community confidence in the political system is strengthened. But in the interest of community confidence, these rules should apply to all, not just some." 

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