Local Government Elections

11 Nov 2010 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for State/Local Government Relations a question about local government candidates

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The Local Government Association has called, at its upcoming AGM, for the state government to amend the Local Government Act to require candidates in local government elections to publicly register their involvement and/or association in a political party or professional body, and has previously recommended that political staffers be banned from standing for local government office. The upcoming resolution is based on a previous resolution from an LGA meeting. My questions are: does the minister support either of these measures; and what representations have been made to the minister by the LGA seeking amendments to the Local Government Act?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for State/Local Government Relations, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Government Enterprises, Minister for the City of Adelaide) (14:30): I presume that the second part of your question is in relation to those particular matters that came out of the last meeting. In April there was a general meeting of the LGA and they resolved to call on the LGA to consider supporting an amendment to the Local Government Act that would prevent a person from being a member of council if they were employed as a ministerial officer or parliamentary adviser or an electorate officer for the state or federal member of parliament.

As I have said in this place before, I am not convinced that it is necessary or justifiable for us to take that step to remove the right of people who work in the office of any member of parliament to participate as members in their local council. I am already on record as saying that I believe that the banning of any particular group from running for councils in this way risks chipping away at grassroots democracy.

These people are often real activists in our community. They are interested, very active in community networks and real community contributors, and I fail to see that they should be disadvantaged from participating in local government. I believe that they have just as much right as anyone else to put themselves forward and then let democracy prevail. In saying that, in terms of candidates' political affiliations in the context of the current local government elections, there has been some media coverage about the issue of party political affiliations of candidates.

Political parties in SA do not generally endorse candidates for council elections although I understand that this year the Port Adelaide branch of the Greens is officially backing three candidates in various wards for the Port Adelaide election, but here in South Australia that generally is the exception rather than the rule, unlike in many other states where candidates are very strongly political party aligned. That, generally speaking, has not been the trend here. That might have something to do with the fact that our elections are also voluntary.

Some analysts do interpret the fact that we have voluntary rather than compulsory elections as affecting that sort of alignment in elections. Many might see that as positive; others might not, but generally I think it is a positive thing. The LGA AGM in October 2010 considered a motion from Campbelltown council that candidates be required to publicly declare in their nomination any membership of a political party in the preceding two years, and there has been some further debate and discussion around that in the media from time to time.

Candidates can now of course volunteer information about their political and other affiliations in their candidate profile or statements. Once elected, council members are currently required to disclose for the public register their interests and a wide range of personal matters, including the name of any political party, any body or association formed for political purposes or any trade or professional organisation of which they are a member. This ensures that the political and other affiliations of council members are known—that is, their particular interests, I guess. The particular stance that they might take on various subjects and issues would be then well known. They are then in a position to make decisions that affect the community.

Following some debate, that LGA AGM resolved to petition the state government to amend the Local Government (Elections) Act to include a requirement that all candidates in local government elections must declare in their nomination any interests, consistent with the interests elected members are required to disclose for the register of interests under the Local Government Act, including membership of professional bodies, political parties, etc.

There will be time to consider an appropriate approach to this issue before the next local government elections in 2014 and, once elected, council members are required to disclose certain information about pecuniary and other interests which they or members of their family have in place, including things like investments, properties and debts, etc.

As far as I am aware, no other state has taken the approach of requiring candidates for local government, who are not yet in a position to make decisions on behalf of the community, to make the sorts of public disclosures of their financial affairs and, even when elected, council members are now only required to disclose current memberships of professional bodies and political parties. I am not ruling out options for improving legislation designed to prevent personal interests from interfering with the validity of council decision-making, but I certainly think ad hoc changes made without proper evaluation are not likely to produce those intended consequences.

In terms of the most recent AGM of the LGA, the issue there was about amending the Local Government Act to prevent a person from being a member of a council if they are employed in a minister's office, etc. To the best of my knowledge, I have not received any communication from the LGA in respect of that. I would expect to be hearing from them. I meet with them roughly every four to six weeks and I would imagine that that will be an agenda item at that particular meeting, so I will be expecting to talk with the LGA about that. But at this point in time I do not believe I have heard from them or, if I have, I have not seen that particular piece of correspondence, that I can recall.