NSW Labor have proposed ‘laws to ban property developers and real estate agents being elected to NSW councils – in time for the forthcoming Local government elections’.
Yesterday the Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock was asked her view on the proposal in Budget Estimates at NSW Parliament but appeared unwilling to definitively answer the question.
‘The government will formulate a response to the legislation in due course,’ Ms Hancock said on several occasions.
‘If we started to ban certain groups of people from running for local government, where do we stop?’
The bill appears to have general support from councillors across the North Coast region including Katie Milne, Mayor of Tweed Shire Council, Deputy Mayor of Lismore City Council, Darlene Cook as well as members of the Ballina and Byron Shire Councils.
The bill, Local Government Amendment (Disqualification from Civic Office) Bill 2020 was drafted by Labor shadow minister for Local Government, Greg Warren.
‘Labor partnered with the local government sector and we even tried to work with the Liberals and Nationals to get it done, but in 2017 Ms Berejiklian directed her Liberal and National mates to vote against these draft laws,’ said Mr Warren.
A key area of concern for supporters of the bill is the conflict of interest that both real estate agents and developers have being councillors regarding issues from development to re-zoning.
‘I think real estate agents and developers should be excluded from local government councils because to the obvious conflict between their professional and Councillor interests. If they were honest then they would have to leave the chamber for discussions on every development application, every rezoning application, every acquisition of lands, or changes to the DCP or LEP that came before council,’ Ms Cook, Lismore’s deputy mayor told Echonetdaily.
Ballina Shire Councillor, Kieth Williams, points out that ‘while there are procedures in place to manage day to day conflicts of interest in local government, there are some that just can’t be managed. Councillors will have access to privileged information that could confer a commercial advantage.’
‘There is undoubtably a conflict of interest for developers and real estate agents with so much money involved in the property industry,’ Tweed mayor Milne said.
‘Governments at all levels must become squeaky clean to regain the trust of their communities so this really is no brainer.’
Only ban developers
While most councillors who responded to questions from Echonetdaily agreed that both real estate agents and developers should be banned from holding office Byron Shire Councillor Alan Hunter felt that only professional developers should be banned.
‘In regards to professional developers I can understand that. But for real estate agents as long as they have a commitment to declaring pecuniary and non-pecuniary interests I can’t see how they can get a commercial advantage,’ he told Echonetdaily.
However, BSC Basil Cameron pointed out that ‘recent experience in our Shire is a good reminder of the corrosive effect that real estate agents can have on local government. In the last term of Council, Rose Wanchap, a practicing real estate agent in the Shire, was elected to Council as a Greens Party representative. Within a very short period, Ms Wanchap abandoned the progressive majority elected by the community and altered the balance on Council in favour of developer voices. Her decision making was filtered through the lens of “in my business”, a statement that regularly preceded her speeches.
‘Good planning was upended. Building heights were allowed to incrementally creep up above the valued community standard. Longstanding coastal policy was undermined and there was a rush to push through rapid suburbanisation of rural areas such as Main Arm and The Pocket.’