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Local Government and Elections Legislation Amendment (Integrity) Bill 2016


I speak in debate on the Local Government and Elections Legislation Amendment (Integrity) Bill 2016. Just a few hours after the State budget was handed down, the Premier is taking out the trash—a concept seen in The West Wing, a television program that we all used to watch. The Premier is hoping that this bill will be ignored by the media, in the excitement over the budget and the Federal election, so that he can ram it through this place with minimal scrutiny. The bill is a half-hearted attempt to clean out corruption in local government.

After comprehensive and constant pressure from Labor members, the Premier earlier this year promised to put caps on expenditure and donations at local government level. This bill fails to do that. This attempt by the architect of the failed council amalgamations process, the Minister for Local Government, does not go anywhere near far enough. The Government cannot put a cap on donations without also capping expenditure. Failure to exclude developers from becoming councillors undermines the point of the legislation. It is a disgrace that the bill has the word "integrity" in the title, as there has been no integrity in the way this Government has dealt with local government. There have been forced amalgamations and on again, off again and then on again mergers. My electorate of Maitland has been declared not fit and then fit for the future. Now we have the kicker: the Government shows no integrity by rushing the discussion in Parliament about promoting integrity in local government.

The Government needs to understand that corruption is like pregnancy. You cannot be half pregnant, and neither can you just be just a little corrupt. Once a councillor takes a dodgy donation, once they are compromised, they cannot come back from that. This Government fails to understand that. That developers can continue to stand as elected representatives on councils is clearly an issue. We know that developers have a lot of cash. Good luck to them. We have seen in my region, the Hunter, that they are very keen to influence the political process through donations to candidates in whatever way possible. The member for Kiama said that a system to fix corruption is only as good as the people who enforce it—this from a member of this Government, which lost so many members following investigations carried out by the Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC] into the actions of the walking automated teller machine [ATM] in Newcastle, a developer who threw money around willy-nilly at the last election, usually in large paper bags.

The member for Maroubra said that we should look at the funding for ICAC. If we are serious about tackling corruption and introducing integrity into local government then we need to ensure that, just as the member for Kiama said, the people who are looking after the system are okay. If their funding is cut then their oversight is compromised. Who were the beneficiaries of the largesse of that developer? They were the Liberal representatives of the Hunter who were elected in 2007. How many of them are here today in this place? How many still hold their seats in Parliament? None. What does that mean? Is this only about corruption? Is it just that we do not like developers spending money on elections? No. I do not care if they spend money on advertising or in the papers or in our local communities, but I care when that money has an impact on our communities. Communities in my electorate have suffered much at the hands of developers.

Communities across my electorate were right to reject the Liberals at the 2015 State election. Just as the Hunter took the lead in rejecting the Liberal-Nationals Government at the State election, so should the rest of New South Wales. Other communities should look to the Hunter to see what was infrastructure changes. We just have these pie-in-the-sky promises of hospitals that never get delivered. It is a disgrace.

I hope that the people of our community will reject the Liberals again at the current Federal election in the Hunter. It is important for the Liberals to understand that once a community's trust is breached it is difficult, if not impossible, to rebuild it. The Premier of New South Wales promised to go around the Hunter and apologise for the corruption suffered in the Hunter under his Government. We have hardly seen him since. He appears only to rip up our rail lines. We never see any cranes indicating new infrastructure. It is a very slow pace on infrastructure changes. We just have these pie-in-the-sky promises of hospitals that never get delivered. It is a disgrace.

Who do these developers support? They support predominantly men, not women. The walking ATM did not throw any of his largesse the way of the first female member for Maitland, my predecessor. In fact, of all the Liberal State members in the Hunter, she was the only one who came through the Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC] without having to admit to taking donations from a developer. She actually did get one but she returned it. So in this debate, truncated as it is, I want to speak for the large majority of people in our community who are not represented in local government in their community. I am talking about the 51 per cent of women in our community—they hold nowhere near that percentage of positions on local councils.

The representation of women in political life is a key concern for my party and for the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians, of whom I am the New South Wales chair. We have identified the need to get more women into local government because it is a significant pipeline to getting women into elected positions in Australian parliaments. We need to ensure that women who are seeking to get into parliament are on a fair playing field, and this is clearly not the case. We know that the developers are predominantly men and that they do not give money to women. And that is just one aspect.

More than that, we need to look at the corruption that is caused when they are able to influence the determinations of our local councils in terms of policy, planning and land use in our communities. My community of Maitland has five new people come to live in it every day. Communities like mine need to be able to have certainty and trust in their elected members on council. They need to know that every time a development application comes before that council, the council will determine it in the interests of the community. When the people at the table are allowed to be developers that cannot happen because they cannot remove their interest from their decision-making. They cannot remove that conflict from what they are deciding when they look at what is on the table in front of them. This is a major concern.

In my electorate we have already had people having to remove themselves from local government issues because of previous donations from developers. At least the disclosures and the donation information will now be there. But expenditure is also an issue. How many women in our community, and how many ordinary people who are not backed by developers, have the kind of money it takes to go up against someone like Salim Mehajer or the other developer mayors we have seen in this State? We will never clean out local government whilst we enable people who have a particular view of this State to have a say and get what suits their companies and their investment strategy rather than the good of the community. We need to exclude developers from local government.

I will finish my speech by talking about the whole concept of corruption. Corruption is the bane of the existence of every politician in this place. It is the reason why when we go out campaigning and we ask our community to support us they look at us with suspicion and distrust. It is because of the disgraceful behaviour of developers in our State who have donated to councils and who have influenced community decisions in planning and development to the detriment of our local communities. It is all about the ability to provide infrastructure and services for our community based on need, fairness, equity and social justice. It should not be about having someone in the driver's seat who is able to influence the process to line their pockets. I ask that the House give due consideration to any amendments brought on this bill.

I urge, actually I beg members on the other side to think about the communities they represent and how they are best served. They are best served by having councillors who are there for the entire community and who put the interests of their community above those of themselves. When we have people who have the ability to gain significant financial advantage for themselves out of a planning or council decision we cannot guarantee that. For that reason, I urge the Minister to accept amendments to stop developers being allowed on councils and to limit the expenditure of candidates running for local government.

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Office address: 2/12 Elgin Street, Maitland NSW 2320 | Mail: PO Box 920, Maitland NSW 2320

Phone: 02 4933 1617 | Fax: 02 4933 4782 | Email: maitland@parliament.nsw.gov.au

Authorised by Jay Suvaal, Country Labor Party, 9/377 Sussex Street, Sydney NSW 2000

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