Queensland’s crime watchdog says council candidates should be banned from receiving donations from property developers.
It also recommended setting a limit on how much candidates and parties can spend during council election campaigns.
The Crime and Corruption Commission has tabled its long-awaited report following Operation Belcarra, which was in response to complaints about the conduct of candidates contesting the 2016 local government elections.
The investigation centred on allegations candidates had operated as undeclared groups, lodged electoral funding disclosure returns that contained false information and failed to operate a dedicated bank account during their disclosure period.
The CCC identified widespread non-compliance with the Local Government Electoral Act and deficiencies with how the Electoral Commission of Queensland operated and recommended changes to broaden its role.
It made 31 recommendations, including prohibiting candidates, groups of candidates, third parties, political parties, associated entities and councillors from receiving gifts from property developers.
Removal from office should be considered for several proposed offences, including failing to declare a conflict of interest and receiving gifts from property developers, the report recommended.
Property Council Queensland executive director Chris Mountford said while the council did not donate to any political party, it believed all businesses, environmental groups, community groups and unions should be treated the same when it came to donations.
“We are certainly open to changes at ensuring community confidence in the political system is strengthened. But in the interest of community confidence, these rules should apply to all, not just some,” he said.
Greens Councillor Jonathan Sri called on the Queensland government to ban political donations from property developers immediately.
The watchdog also said changes should be made so that after a councillor declared a conflict of interest, other people entitled to vote at the meeting would decide whether that person had a “real or perceived conflict of interest” in the matter and whether they should leave the room when it was being discussed and voted on.
The CCC asked a Parliamentary committee to review the feasibility of introducing expenditure caps for local government elections for candidates, groups of candidates, third parties, political parties and associated entities.
It suggested there could be different expenditure caps for incumbent versus new candidates.
The CCC recommended real-time disclosure of electoral expenditure by candidates and political parties – within seven days or immediately if it was incurred within seven business days before polling day.
The state government introduced a real-time disclosure system for donations to Queensland political parties and candidates earlier this year.
The CCC also said candidates, political parties and others should be banned from receiving gifts or loans for an election within seven business days before or after polling day.
CCC chair Alan MacSporran said Operation Belcarra and other recent investigations identified significant weaknesses in the current framework and reform was needed to deliver equity, transparency, integrity and better accountability in council elections and council decision-making.
“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,” he said.
Mr MacSporran said it became apparent that many of the issues it was investigating had been explored previously in recent decades, including issues of property developer donations and conflicts of interest.
“The recurring nature of these issues, despite increased regulation and oversight of local government, elections and political donations over time, highlights their inherent potential to cause concerns about corruption and adversely affect public perceptions of, and confidence in, the transparency and integrity of local government,” he said.
Mr MacSporran said if media coverage reflected public sentiment, it appeared the community was calling for councils to be held to a higher standard.
The CCC will not pursue criminal prosecutions where it identified the current framework may have contributed to non-compliance or where the time period for prosecution had expired.
But, several matters were still being investigated by the CCC.