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Council takes a lead

05 May 2016

Council takes a lead Image

In an effort to kick-start action at all levels of politics, the City of Melbourne (CoM) has taken a voluntary lead on reforming laws surrounding the disclosure of electoral donations.

Cr Jackie Watts spearheaded a motion at last month’s Future Melbourne Committee meeting on April 19, which called on councillors to commit to voluntarily disclose future donations on a new register on the council website.

However, while her fellow councillors welcomed the motion in principle, it contained a number of impracticalities, which resulted in the unanimous support of an alternative motion foreshadowed by Cr Stephen Mayne.

The alternative motion called on all candidates, not just councillors, to voluntarily disclose donations and extended the disclosure deadline beyond the council election on October 22.

“The obvious one that we missed earlier is the fact it needs to cover everyone not just councillors so my alternative will propose that we cover all candidates,” Cr Mayne said.

“The motion also finishes up on October 22, which is election day and many donations will come in afterwards, so you need to have a later close date and I’m proposing a final date of November 15.”

The motion also called on the adoption of an independent, third-party to host the register rather than listing councillor and candidate donations on the council’s website.  

Victoria’s Local Government Act restricts councils from talking about candidates on its website due to the impacts it can potentially have on community attitudes towards candidates.

“We could be in breach of the state legislation under caretaker provisions if we are publishing information on our website about candidates during the caretaker period,” Cr Mayne said.

Current laws in Victoria, as stated under section 62 of the Local Government Act 1989, only require councillors to declare donations 30 days after an election.

Cr Mayne said he hoped that the City of Melbourne’s lead would help trigger changes to laws at all levels of government.

“The principle is absolutely right, the law is an ass. It’s even a bigger ass at state and federal level. I mean donations received to the coming federal campaign on July 1 is completely unlimited and not disclosed until February 1, 2018,” he said.

“It’s anything goes in Canberra, which is a disgrace. Victoria largely has the same rules, which is also a disgrace.”

The council’s initiative comes as welcome news for Southbank, which has been on the wrong end of planning decisions as a result of electoral donations.

In May last year, council was unable to consider a proposal for Kavanagh St because too many councilors had received election campaign donations from developer Central Equity.

And again in December 2014, the quorum was lost over a Central Equity proposal for the corner of Balston St and City Rd.

Southbank Residents Association president Tony Penna commended Cr Watts for prompting action on the issue.

“Cr Watts clearly understands the affect this has on the community,” he said. “This is very close to Southbank.”

“So many time we have been robbed of the ability to have a say about developments that affect Southbank because this council has lost its quorum because of conflicted councillors.”

Cr Watts thanked the community for its enthusiastic support of what she considered to be a “no brainer”.

“We are in a position at council where the public at large, and the media I fear as well, is not confident that we’re doing the right thing,” she said.

“The law doesn’t require that we do the right thing but we can take action ourselves. That’s why I brought this motion before council”

Cr Mayne said council officers would start the process of engaging an independent third-party to host the register in time for this year’s election.

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