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    Media Statements

    Coat of ArmsMedia Release
    Minister for Environment, Local Government, Planning and Women
    The Honourable Desley Boyle

    Monday, August 14, 2006

    Electoral reform to commence, no more hidden ‘blocs’

    Minister for Environment, Local Government, Planning and Women
    The Honourable Desley Boyle

    Monday, August 14, 2006

    Electoral reform to commence, no more hidden ‘blocs’

    Changes to the Local Government Act will put an end to hidden blocs in future council elections.

    Local Government Minister Desley Boyle said groups of candidates linked by fundraising will have to declare their alliances upon nomination whether they consider themselves a group or not.

    “This reform will avoid a repeat of the deception many voters felt over the 2004 Gold Coast council election.

    “In addition we are giving people greater access to information about councillors’ gifts and other interests and we are forcing councillors to draw a line in the sand about conflicts of interest.

    “These are part of a suite of Government reforms in response to the Crime and Misconduct Commission’s Inquiry into Gold Coast City Council’s 2004 elections.

    “In our entire reform package we have worked on the principle that the requirements for councillors should as much as possible be in line with those for state and federal members.

    “Of the 19 CMC recommendations the Government has accepted 17 in full or with amendment and rejected just two,” Ms Boyle said.

    Major reforms include:

    • The definition of ‘group’ in the Local Government Act will be amended to include candidates who undertake fundraising activities together, whether they consider themselves to be a group or not. They will be required to record the name and membership of the group on their nomination form.
    • The details of councillors’ gifts, sponsored hospitality benefits, membership of political and community associations and other interests will be displayed on the Council’s website. Where there is no website a person will be able to walk in and view the material free of charge.
    • The Department of Local Government will work closely with councils across the State to clarify exactly what information is required to be disclosed and the disclosure obligations of councillors.
    • The Department of Local Government will be able to check disclosures, and will have greater powers to cross check election returns and investigate irregularities where necessary.
    • The penalties in both the Local Government Act and Electoral Act will be reviewed with a view to toughening up penalties for offences such as failure to accurately disclose gifts
    • The Local Government Act will be amended to force councillors to be conscious that considering matters involving people who have given them gifts may be a conflict of interest. Additionally, training in relation to matters of conflict of interest will be delivered and, so far as Gold Coast City Council is concerned, advice will be available form the independent ethics advisor Mr Des O’Shea.
    • Councils will be required to minute any declaration by a councillor that they have a conflict of interest, the nature of the conflict, how the councillor deals with it, whether they vote, and how they vote.
    • To prevent a councillor from directing a council officer who is providing advice about a significant decision a significant penalty will be included in the Local Government Act.

    Two other major reforms are to be introduced as a result of the Government’s separate review of local government elections. They are:

    • The introduction of a caretaker period for local governments in line with the caretaker provisions for state government. This will prohibit major policy decisions during an election campaign.
    • A code of conduct for candidates in local government elections will be developed to reinforce what is considered appropriate behaviour for candidates. A similar code already exists for state election candidates.

    “In relation to the rejection of recommendations 8 and 10 so far as possible the principle of the same requirements for councillors as for state and federal members applies. In relation to recommendation 8 the Electoral Act and the LGA already provide for appropriate disclosure of election gifts by parties and candidates for election.

    “So far as recommendation 10 is concerned, the Government does not accept that unincorporated associations, including community groups, should be prevented from making donations.

    “The Government at this time is not implementing all of recommendation 1 which suggests candidates for local government elections continuously disclose gifts and donations and then be stopped from accepting further gifts and donations at specific times before and after an election.

    “This recommendation from the CMC is not workable, not equitable and would put a huge burden on council CEOs to administer.

    “Being clear therefore about who can receive donations and when and how they should be declared is sufficient. The complications of a turn off and turn it back on system are too difficult to make practicable,” Ms Boyle said.

    Ms Boyle said all of these reforms will be in place before the next local government elections in 2008.

    “On the matter of the potential charges against six people arising from the CMC inquiry a decision on whether to proceed is unfortunately some months away.

    “Barristers briefed by crown law have said the information provided by the CMC was not in such a form as to allow an immediate decision on whether anyone can or should be charged.

    “The evidentiary requirements of the CMC inquiry were significantly different from the requirements for a prosecution.

    “Crown Solicitor Conrad Lohe agrees with the barristers’ view that more investigative work is required before a decision is made to prosecute or not any of those named. The barristers have indicated to get to that decision we are looking at several months of work.

    “I understand the frustrations of those who have possible prosecutions hanging over their heads but legal requirements must be met and these are matters beyond my control,” Ms Boyle said.

    Response to recommendations of the Crime and Misconduct Commission

    Crime and Misconduct Commission recommendation

    How will existing legislation change.

    Recommendation 1

    Accept with amendment

    • LGA amended so a councillor’s register of interests listing gifts, sponsored hospitality benefits, membership of organisations is displayed on the council’s website or is available at the counter free of charge.
    • Arrangements proposed for continuous disclosure and pre-election disclosure are not workable.

    Recommendation 2

    Accept

    • LGA be amended to require a local government to minute any declaration made by councillors that they have a conflict of interest, the nature of the conflict, how they dealt with the conflict and, if they voted on the matter giving rise to the conflict, how they voted.

    Recommendation 3

    Accept

    • Ethics principles for local government councillors at schedule 1 of the LGA amended to specify that councillors should be conscious that the consideration of matters before council involving people who have given gifts to a councillor may give rise to a conflict of interest.

    Recommendation 4

    Accept with amendment

    • LGA amended to deem all payments for fundraising functions, auctions, raffles etc. to be fundraising gifts; and, so as to remove any confusion, the amount required to be declared by the candidate should be the gross amount raised by the fundraising activity.
    • Payments for fundraising functions, auctions, raffles etc. to are to be disclosed as a special category of “fundraising amounts received”

    Recommendation 5

    Accept

    • LGA amended to require candidates who are part of a group of candidates to record, on nomination, their membership of the group, the name of the group and what other candidates are members of that group
    • Define “group” to include both candidates who publicly identify as a group and those who undertake fundraising together

    Recommendation 6

    Accept with amendment

    • Electoral Act and LGA will provide that it is an offence not to give electoral returns within prescribed times (15 weeks) and that it is an offence to make a misleading return.

    Recommendation 7

    Accept

    • LGA and Electoral Act amended to better reflect the policy intention that donations that come to a candidate through a solicitor’s or accountant’s trust account are not be treated as though they came from the solicitor or the accountant, and that the candidate must disclose the true source of the gift.

    Recommendation 8

    Reject

    • Electoral Act and LGA already provide for appropriate disclosure of election gifts by parties and candidates for election.

    Recommendation 9

    Accept

    • LGA amended so that loans must be declared in the same way as other gifts received by a candidate or councillor.

    Recommendation 10

    Reject

    • The Government does not accept that unincorporated associations, including community groups, should be prevented from making donations.

    Recommendation 11

    Accept with amendment

    • LGA amended to require that a third party that receives a gift of $1000 for a political purpose must provide a return within 15 weeks of the end of the election.
    • LGA amended to require that a third party that incurs expenditure of $200 or more in the election period must provide a return within 15 weeks of the end of the election.
    • LGA amended to require donors to candidates to provide a return showing gifts of more than $200 within 15 weeks of the end of the election.
    • LGA and Electoral Act amended to require third parties to make annual returns

    Recommendation 12

    Accept with amendment

    • LGA amended to require how-to-vote cards to be lodged with the Returning Officer before the election to align with the Electoral Act.

    Recommendation 13

    Accept

    • A review of penalties in the LGA and Electoral Act will be conducted with a view to increasing penalties.

    Recommendation 14

    Accept

    • LGA be amended to enable CEOs to require candidates and councillors to provide further information in response to requests for information in relation to candidates’, councillors’ and third parties’ gift declarations and returns. A failure to respond, or the provision of false information in response to a request from the CEO, will be an offence.
    • CEOs required to report any suspected breaches under these provisions to the DLGPSR.

    Recommendation 15

    Accept with amendment

    • LGA amended to provide DLGPSR with necessary investigative powers to undertake effective cross-checking of electoral returns.

    Recommendation 16

    Accept

    • A review of penalties in the LGA and Electoral Act will be conducted with a view to increasing these penalties.

    Recommendation 17

    Accept

    • Section 222 of the LGA amended to provide that the disqualification provisions in that section will apply, unless the councillor or other person who is convicted of a relevant offence satisfies the court that there are special circumstances why they should not be disqualified or their office vacated.

    Recommendation 18

    Accept

    • LGA be amended to require local governments to provide minuted reasons, where requested by a councillor, in relation to significant decisions of council made not in accordance with the recommendation of council officers and conduct review panels.

    Recommendation 19

    Accept

    • LGA amended to make it an offence for a councillor to direct an officer in circumstances where the officer is providing advice about a significant decision.

    Ends

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