Posted on June 22, 2016 by Stuart Simington

Local Government and Elections Legislation Amendment (Integrity) Bill 2016 introduced

The Bill was introduced into the Legislative Assembly, yesterday 21 June 2016, addressing further governance issues relating to the disclosure of pecuniary interests and political donations in local government.

The bill proposes the following:

(a) To amend the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act 1981 to impose caps on political donations in respect of local government elections and various related matters. On commencement (having regard to CPI indexation) the caps will be:

  • $5,800 in the case of any such political donation to or for the benefit of a registered party or group,
  • $2,500 in the case of any such political donation to or for the benefit of a party that is not a registered party or an elected member, a candidate, or third-party campaigner.

But the caps on donations for State and local government elections apply separately, with the result that the aggregation provisions for multiple small donations apply separately and separate donations for State and local government elections (up to the respective caps) can be made to parties and third-party campaigners.

(b) To amend the Local Government Act 1993 to disqualify a person from holding civic office if the person has been:

  • convicted of an offence against the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act 1981 relating to unlawful political donations or the failure to disclose donations or electoral expenditure, or
  • has been convicted of an offence of any kind that is punishable by imprisonment for 5 years or more.

(c) To repeal section 448 (g) of the Local Government Act 1993. Section 448(g) currently exempts councillors, general managers, senior council staff, advisers and certain others from disclosing certain kinds of pecuniary interests. As a result of the amendment, disclosure will be required of a pecuniary interest in a proposal relating to the making, amending, altering or repeal of a local environmental plan or other environmental planning instrument even if it does not change the permissible uses of land in which a councillor or related person has a proprietary interest or land adjoining, adjacent to or in proximity to the land.  Matters relating to this exemption have recently featured in the public inquiry into the former Auburn Council and earlier an unsuccessful suspension imposed on its former Councillor Saleem Mehajer (see Mehajer v Director-General of the Department of Local Government [2016] NSWSC 143).

(d) To enable the Chief Executive of the Office of Local Government to apply to the Supreme Court for an order to recover, from a councillor who has been found to have contravened the disclosure obligations of the Local Government Act 1993, the amount of any monetary benefit obtained by the councillor as a result of the decision to which the contravention relates.