A government rejig of legislation allowing councillors to vote on matters where they stand to personally benefit has been blasted by an MP as ‘madness’ which could legalise corruption.
In a scathing attack Greens MLC David Shoebridge said changes to pecuniary interests disclosure rules of the local government act passed last week would also encourage property owners and developers to run for council in September’s local government elections.
The MP told the Upper House the government had been unable to explain ‘why a councillor should be able to vote to rezone their own land and receive windfall profits.
‘It is nothing short of a potential abuse of office. Heaven help us come the September local council elections now that the door has been opened for carpetbaggers and property developers to get themselves elected and then do their own dirty work on council. It is a bad law that should never have been passed.’
Byron Shire mayor Jan Barham agrees, saying the loss of an open and transparent process will be ‘chaotic’ for councils.
‘How will we ever know someone’s not abusing their power when their decisions benefit them due to their pecuniary interest, especially in regard to property ownership and interests?
‘I’m still confused as to why this legislation got up, it seems we’re going backward very quickly,’ she said.
A move by the Greens to allow councillors to vote if their declared pecuniary interest only related to their home was rejected.
Mr Shoebridge says the new rules mean that councillors are now free to vote in major local planning matters even if they have a declared pecuniary interest.
‘This will allow councillors who own shops in commercial precincts or other land holdings to vote to increase the floor space ratio on that land and thereby greatly increase its development potential and substantially increase the value of their property holdings…’
He said it would allow rural and regional councillors to vote to rezone land they owned on the outskirts of town, such as from rural to industrial or residential ‘and potentially reap very large personal profits.
‘It will allow councillors who own commercial or industrial land to vote, for example, to water down contribution requirements in council-wide parking development control plans where there is a change of use, such as changing from low off-street parking use of industrial to higher commercial parking uses, thereby delivering them hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings if they change from a less to a more intense use.
‘It also will encourage property owners and property developers to put up their hand to run for council in September, knowing that if they are elected they can vote to improve the development yield on their own land and personally enrich themselves.
‘Allowing councillors to vote on matters where they stand to gain a direct personal financial benefit is just madness. This effectively legalises corruption at a local council level. We should be making laws for people, not angels, and this absolutely holds true for local councillors.’
Local government minister Don Page is yet to comment on the changes.