The Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) has made 31 recommendations to strengthen transparency and integrity in local governments throughout Queensland following Operation Belcarra.
The recommendations are contained in the CCC’s report Operation Belcarra: A blueprint for integrity and addressing corruption risk in local government which was tabled in State Parliament this morning.
CCC Chairperson Alan MacSporran QC said Operation Belcarra and other recent investigations have identified significant weaknesses in the current framework and 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. If supported by Parliament, the package of recommendations in my view will result in the most substantial reform of the local government sector in Queensland’s history,” Mr MacSporran said.
“The recommendations target the four key components of the local government sector being councillors, candidates, donors and the Electoral Commission.”
The CCC identified widespread non-compliance with the Local Government Electoral Act 2011.
The CCC also identified deficiencies in how the Electoral Commission Queensland (ECQ) currently operates and has recommended changes to broaden its role.
The CCC 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.
However, a number of matters remain under active investigation by the CCC.
The 31 recommendations would create new obligations for candidates, councillors, donors and the ECQ to ensure equity, transparency, and integrity and accountability is improved during local government elections and in the ongoing administration of council business across Queensland.
For context and accuracy, the full recommendations are outlined in the report.
A summary of the key recommendations are listed below:
- 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.
To address how conflicts of interests are managed, the CCC recommends legislative reform so other councillors in the room decide if a councillor has a conflict and therefore should take no part in a decision or vote rather than allowing individual councillors to decide for themselves.
The CCC also recommends the advisory and public awareness functions of the Queensland Integrity Commissioner be extended to local government councillors to help provide advice to them on possible conflicts of interest.
The CCC also recommends a number of changes to the ECQ to ensure they have the adequate resources and powers to more effectively administer local government elections. These recommendations include:
- Amending the disclosure return forms to ensure they capture all information required to be disclosed by the law to assist candidates and donors comply with their obligations
- Improving the use of the Electronic Disclosure System (EDS) to make more data available to the public
- Resourcing the ECQ to monitor compliance adequately.