Donations from property developers to local and state government candidates and/or political parties will be banned under new legislative reforms introduced in State Parliament on Thursday.
The reforms are contained in the “Local Government Electoral (Implementing Belcarra) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017”.
This bill will amend the City of Brisbane Act 2010, the Electoral Act 1992, the Local Government Act 2009 and the Local Government Electoral Act 2011 to implement recommendations from the Crime and Corruption Commission’s (CCC) “Operation Belcarra Report: A blueprint for integrity and addressing corruption risk in local government”.
The CCC report made 31 recommendations designed to reduce the risk of corruption and increase transparency, integrity and accountability in Queensland local government.
The State Government has adopted all of its recommendations in principle and pledged to adopt the same rules itself.
The bill inserts a new sections in the Electoral Act 1992 and the Local Government Electoral Act 2011 which make it unlawful for a donation from a prohibited donor to be directly or indirectly made or accepted.
The term “prohibited donor” is defined to include a property developer and their close associates, such as related corporations, directors and their spouses, and any industry representative organisation whose members are mainly property developers.
For the purposes of the ban, a political donation is defined to include direct and indirect gifts to a political party, elected member or candidate in an election.
While gifts made to an entity in a private capacity are specifically excluded, the ban will apply to political party subscription fees which exceed $1000 per year and any fundraising contributions.
The bill includes a range of new offences with strong penalties, including a specific provision for prohibited donations to be recovered by the State.
Under these provisions, if a person accepts a prohibited donation, the State may recover up to twice the amount or value of the donation.
The bill also strengthens the requirements about how councillor conflicts of interest – real or perceived – are managed.
It introduces requirements for additional information to be included when a councillor declares a conflict of interest or a material personal interest in a matter, to enable the community to have a better understanding of precisely what the conflict is when it is declared.
The bill establishes an obligation on other councillors to report a councillor’s conflict of interest or material personal interest, if they believe, or suspect on reasonable grounds, that the councillor in question has an interest that has not been declared.
The bill also introduces significantly stronger penalties for non-compliance by councillors with the tighter conflict of interest obligations.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the ban on developer property donations was being introduced because the CCC found that other types of donors do not demonstrate the same risk of actual or perceived corruption in Queensland local government as property developers, and “a more encompassing ban is not appropriate”.
“I am prepared to be guided by the advice provided by our independent corruption watchdog, and I urge others to do the same,” the Premier said.
The Premier also said the new laws should not be taken as a reflection on the majority of Queensland councils.
“Let me make this clear – Queensland is home to some of the most innovative and successful local governments in the nation.
“Councils are led by mayors and councillors who are passionate and committed to serving their communities.
“I know the majority of local government elected representatives are doing exceptional work, work in the best interests of their council and community, and I want to acknowledge their efforts.
“But the system is not perfect and, when problems are identified, we should address them.”
Queensland will become the second state to ban donations from property developers, after NSW introduced the same system for similar reasons.