NSW local government minister Shelley Hancock has refused to say whether the government will ban property developers from running in the upcoming local government elections.
Ms Hancock was questioned during a budget estimates hearing at NSW Parliament House on Wednesday about whether the government would back a Labor bill banning property developers and real estate agents from running for a spot on council.
She said she didn’t want to see property developers getting themselves elected to office just so they could line their own pockets.
But she said there could be constitutional issues around the right to political participation if certain groups were banned.
“None of us want to see the kind of behavior that’s happened in the past with property developers who get themselves elected to councils to line their own pockets. Nobody wants to see that,” she said.
“But if we go down the line of banning certain groups of people we may run into constitutional problems”.
Ms Hancock said property developers shouldn’t be treated as “evil” or as “an enemy species”.
“They’re entitled to have a voice around the table,” she said. “Maybe we should start to ban other groups, maybe teachers.”
She said the most important measure was implementing existing integrity measures that “took the sugar off the table” for any property developer who might be seeking to benefit from being elected.
DPIE Deputy Secretary of Local Government, Planning and Policy Tim Hurst told the hearing that since 2015 there were increased transparency requirements for property developers to declare any interests, with the NSW electoral commission responsible for investigating any complaints.
He said he wasn’t privy to the number of complaints investigated in the last five years.
When pressed if the government would ban property developers before local government elections in September Ms Hancock said she wouldn’t speculate on government decisions.
“Do you intend to take a proactive approach and ban developers from being elected to local councils?” Labor MP Mark Buttigieg asked.
The minister replied that the government would “formulate a response” to Labor’s bill.
“I’m not going to pre-empt what the government’s response will be to the opposition legislation,” she said.
Allegations against Mayor
Mr Hurst also declined to provide details about any investigations into Strathfield Mayor Antoine Doueihi who has allegedly failed to declare his interest in at least 11 companies.
Mr Hurst told the hearing it was departmental policy not to comment on any matters “that may or may not be under investigation”.
“There’s a clear allegation of a failure to declare an interest, and the office of local government is unable to tell us whether or not there’s an investigation afoot, what the findings might be, when they might be released?” Mr Buttigieg said.
“And on the other hand you’re telling me there’s no problem with current system?”
Mr Hurst replied: “Anyone is entitled to have any allegations dealt with appropriately”.
Asked if the government would review decisions made by Strathfield Council under the current mayor, Mr Hurst said the office of local government had broad investigative powers.
“If you would like to provide information about any positions of council that you are concerned about we will assess them and if necessary activate the powers under the local government act to review those decisions,” he said.
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