Victoria accepts council anti-corruption recommendations

The Victorian government says it is increasing accountability in local government after a report found  ‘clear evidence’ of councillors accepting personal benefits from making or influencing council planning decisions.

However, it is also considering a separate recommendation saying property developers shouldn’t be banned from donating to councils.

Melissa Horne: high expectations of councillors

The government has accepted 32 of IBACs 34 recommendations, contained its 2023 Operation Sandon report, to improve transparency in the planning system and build accountability in local government, Premier Jacinta Allen said.

“In response to the Operation Sandon report, 32 of IBAC’s recommendations made to Government will be accepted either in full or in-principle, with one accepted in part,” Ms Allen said in a statement on March 20.

The report was tabled in July 2023 after a series of public hearings into allegations of corrupt conduct involving councillors and property developers in the City of Casey in Melbourne’s south-east.

The report found two former councillors accepted combined benefits of more than $1 million for promoting the interests of a property developer, and exposed corruption vulnerabilities in Victoria’s planning decision-making processes at both state and local government levels, IBAC said.

Many of IBAC’s recommendations, aimed at reducing the risk of corruption in the planning system, will be implemented as part of a review into the Planning and Environment Act, the government said.

The government says it will also update guidelines to streamline and improve decision-making and introduce legislation to improve the performance and accountability of councillors.

Panel recommends against ban on developer donations

A recommendation to prohibit donations from property developers was considered but rejected by an Electoral Review Expert Panel.

In a report handed down this month, the panel recommended against the introduction of industry-specific donation bans, saying this could make the situation worse by encouraging secret donations.

“The introduction of industry-specific donation bans would involve significant policy and administrative challenges,” the panel says.

“Industry-specific donation bans are not required, as long as political finance laws are sufficiently robust.”

The government is currently considering that report, Ms Allen said.

Local government minister Melissa Horne said the government will now establish an interdepartmental Taskforce to support the implementation of IBAC’s recommendations and report back within 18 months.

 “Victorians rightly have high expectations of their local councillors, and these changes will support councillors to serve the interests of their communities,” she said.

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