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Local Government Amendment Bill 2009

Extract from Hansard [ASSEMBLY – Thursday, 18 June 2009]

MS A.S. CARLES (Fremantle) [3.45 pm]: The Greens (WA) are broadly supportive of the Local Government Amendment Bill 2009. However, I will comment on two areas of concern, the disclosure of donations and the investigative powers. Clause 19 concerns the disclosure of donations. Our interest is in improving the transparency of electoral funding to avoid the type of corruption that was exposed by the Corruption and Crime Commission in relation to the Port Coogee development. We support the power to require donors to disclose donations made in the lead-up to local government elections as an extension of the current power to require such disclosure to be made by candidates for local government office. However, the current disclosure regime requires only that the disclosure be made to the relevant chief executive officer and that the CEO must put the information on an electoral gift register, which is publicly accessible at the local government office. We say that the regulations regarding the disclosure by candidates and donors should go further than that. We would require the local government to place an advertisement in the relevant local paper in the lead-up to the election campaign. The advertisement would disclose the location of the gift register and preferably advertise a website address so that voters could access the register online.

We are seeing developers get involved in elections at the local and state government levels, particularly when the developers have an opportunity to make extraordinary profits, say for instance where they are seeking to build private housing over the ocean. There is a higher risk that they will try to influence the decision makers. We saw it happen at the City of Cockburn where there was a proposal to develop Port Coogee, and when the North Port Quay consortium attempted to influence the outcome of the recent Fremantle by-election. Voters have a right to know whether private developers are seeking to get candidates elected so that they can effectively influence the decision-making process. We believe that this electoral disclosure should be made in a timely manner, prior to the local government elections, so that the voters will have the information to hand prior to casting their vote.

My second point is about the investigative powers under clause 41. The Greens support the Western Australian Local Government Association in opposition to the mechanism by which information can be sought directly from individuals within local government or from individual councillors. Information should be sought using the existing and long-established protocols; that is, through the CEO, unless there are special circumstances precluding this, such as if the CEO is under investigation. The CEO is responsible for keeping proper records and managing the affairs of local government and therefore should be responsible for releasing information. We need to be mindful that elected councillors are unpaid. They receive a small allowance for costs but they contribute their time to the community without pay. It is inappropriate to burden unpaid elected members with the additional burden of releasing official information, particularly as this provision exposes them to penalties for noncompliance.

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