Queensland local government cops a pasting

Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) has handed down a report making 31 recommendations to improve transparency and integrity in local government in the state.

The reports follows Operation Belcarra, a program the CCC put in place following March 2016 Queensland local government elections, which led to a number of complaints about the corrupt practices of many candidates.

The CCC looked at the behaviour of a number of candidates in Gold Coast, Ipswich, Moreton Bay and Logan councils. The 31 recommendations are contained in the CCC’s report Operation Belcarra: A blueprint for integrity and addressing corruption risk in local government, tabled in the Queensland Parliament on 4 October.

CCC Chair Alan MacSporran QC (pictured)  said Operation Belcarra and other recent investigations have identified number of significant weaknesses in the current Queensland local government electoral framework.

He says reform is needed to deliver equity, transparency, integrity and better accountability in council elections and council decision-making.

“The report tabled in Parliament today demonstrates why reform of the local government sector is required,” he said. “If supported by Parliament, the recommendations i will result in the most substantial reform of the local government sector in Queensland’s history.”

The recommendations target four key components of the local government sector: councillors, candidates, donors and the Electoral Commission.

The report identifies widespread non-compliance with Queensland’s Local Government Electoral Act 2011. It also identifies deficiencies in how the Electoral Commission Queensland (ECQ) currently operates, and has recommended changes to broaden its role.

The CCC said it will not pursue criminal prosecutions where it identified the current framework may have contributed to the non-compliance or where the time period for a prosecution has expired.

This includes allegation against Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate, who has been under fire for failing to operate a dedicated banks account during the election. He escapes prosecution because the practice was widespread (‘systemic’ says the report), and because more than 12 months has elapsed since the offence.

 But the CCC has recommended prosecuting failed Gold Coast mayoral candidate Penny Toland for not declaring more than $30,000 in donations.

Key recommendations:

  • Consider the introduction of campaign expenditure caps
  • Introduce real-time disclosure of electoral expenditure
  • Make all candidates’ interests, including party political membership, known to voters before polling day
  • More clearly define what is meant by a “group” of candidates
  • Ensure all donations are known to voters before polling day
  • Make more information about donors and donations available to the public
  • Prohibit donations from property developers to local government councillors and candidates
  • Improve compliance by candidates and donors with disclosure obligations
  • Improve candidates’ management of campaign funds
  • Improve how councillors identify and manage conflicts of interest
  • Strengthen regulatory responses to non-compliance.

The full report is available at:www.ccc.qld.gov.au/operationbelcarra

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says her Government is “considering” the recommendations.

“The CCC report is comprehensive and thorough,” she 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. I fully support both those recommendations.

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

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

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