About Campaign Contributions
In a book about Australia’s political institutions, its author Gwynneth Singleton, says,
“…it is all too easy for a local council to be dominated by an influential clique, and so charges of corruption have been a regular feature of Australian local government.”
This shameful indictment of the local government sector in Australia, unfortunately applies in large measure to Redland City Council.
This is not the sort of corruption via cash-stuffed bags, which occurred at the State level in Queensland 30 years ago. Instead a candidate for office strikes an unethical bargain with a wealthy donor by promising to exercise his or her power in office for the benefit of the donor in return for financial assistance with their election campaign.
These elected Councillors are then obliged to make decisions about important zoning and assessment issues, along with development proposals, based – not on their own merit and in line with the desires of their constituents – but according to the wishes of those who helped finance their election campaign.
In the Redlands, the most divisive issues have been planning decisions. Both the 2004-2008 Council and the 2012 – 2016 Council have operated under a cloud with widely held perceptions of undue developer influence. Why leave our most important council decisions vulnerable like this?
University of Queensland law professor Graeme Orr said because most Councillors stood as independents they were especially vulnerable to corruption.
“It’s easier to corrupt an individual than it is to corrupt a party,” he said.
In 2009, the Nathan Rees government in NSW, had experienced similar problems with developers having undue influence on their local councils. Some Mayors and Councillors were sacked due to their corruption and unethical behaviour. NSW then passed laws banning property developers from making political donations to candidates in local government elections. The laws took effect in January 2010. In October 2015, this ruling was challenged by developers but the NSW High Court upheld the state-wide ban on political donations from property developers.
In Court a question was asked by the developer’s lawyers:
“Why single out the development industry?” The Court replied: “Property developers are sufficiently distinct to warrant specific regulation in light of the nature of their business activities and the nature of the public powers which they might seek to influence in their self-interest”
Donations from developers isn’t yet illegal here in Queensland, but it could be banned in the near future. Redland City Council recently voted to lobby the State Government to ban all political donations to Councillors including candidates running for elections The vote came after Councillor Craig Ogilvie proposed a motion to ban donations by developers. Craig has campaigned for years to highlight the unhealthy relationships between Redlands Councillors and commercial development interests.
Annastacia Palaszczuk promised independent MP Peter Wellington her government would instigate a Royal Commission-style inquiry into donations to political parties and candidates in order to win his support in Labor’s bid to form government.
Click on this link for a summary of the shady politics of sandmining on Straddie over the last few years:
Sibelco – the Straddie sand mining company – spent much more than the $90,000 it declared to the Electoral Commission, as the above Guardian article revealed. The Campbell led LNP Government extended sand mining on Straddie following a donor campaign from Sibelco at the 2012 election to assist the LNP and particularly Campbell Newman, get elected.
This shows that a ban must be made not only on mining company and developer donations
but all deep-pocketed business interests – at all levels of government
Our donations and disclosure system at the federal level is woeful and every call for a national integrity body gets buried. We need to be careful we don’t sleepwalk into the same place the US is in. For decades American politics have been a sham, elections bought and paid for by special interests and corporations. We need reforms that strengthen accountability and take steps to bring communities into – and business out of – politics. Post election we will discuss this issue more deeply. For now we’ll focus at the local level.
Ex Division 2 Councillor, Craig Ogilvie has said,
“Imagine a future where:
- the only thing that divides Councillors is a difference of opinion
- the merits of developments are the basis of government decisions
- elections are a contest of ideas and not a contest of dollars
Our finances will be better for it, the environment will be better for it, and our community will be better for it… Anyone who argues that we need to continue to allow developers to fund elections – because the alternative is that the public will have to pay for elections – has no understanding of how much the public is already paying for bad planning and development decisions.”
We have just been to the polls in 2016 to elect a new Council. The City Plan has not been finalised so we must ensure it goes back to the drawing board to preserve our liveability in the Redlands. Mayor Williams has lost her majority but we must be vigilant she doesn’t continue to support development at all costs without proper consideration
When it comes to campaign contributions by developers, it’s not just a problem of ethics, it’s a question of time and money. In Council, the most divisive and time consuming issues are planning decisions, which use up precious resources. The Toondah proposal alone has cost almost $1 million to date and involved many hundreds of hours of work. This diversion of resources starves the Redlands of funds for much needed community infrastructure.
But it’s also about ideas. It’s not uncommon for leadership that lacks integrity to be also lacking in ideas. The intellectual ecosystem becomes bereft of innovation. It’s all a question of priorities and ideas. Choices that are made at the Council level affect the liveability of the Redlands and there are many issues crying out for attention.
See Redlands Opportunities link for new ideas that Council could implement.