MY SAY: State needs some courage on disclosure laws

THE decision by most candidates in the 2016 Sunshine Coast Council Local Government elections to embrace the concept of pre-disclosure of campaign donors is a small step towards a more transparent democracy.

Investigations into local government matters both in 2006 and again last year have led to recommendations from the Criminal Justice Commission and later the Crime and Corruption Commission that campaign funding be revealed in real time and for contributions to campaigns to cease a week before poll date.

The initiative by peak community group OSCAR to follow a Tasmanian-set example and give candidates in this election that opportunity deserves praise.

The need to address electoral reform around political donations has already been established by Queensland's corruption watch dog.

It is nonsense for Local Government Minister Jackie Trad to suggest the state needs a functioning Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee to make a recommendation to that body to further investigate before she can act.

How much clearer does the CCC have to be before a State Government finds the courage to act in the interests of democracy.

Electoral reform must however go beyond clear and transparent declaration of campaign donations.

Certainly there is a strong argument that Queensland needs to follow the lead of NSW and ban developer and developer associates' contributions outright.

That would ensure the full complement of councillors was in the room to assess development projects seeking additional yield than allowed under the relevant planning scheme.

There are very real concerns at the process that has followed the gazetting of the Sunshine Coast Plan in May, 2014, with a series of site specific major amendments to the document made behind closed doors and without the broad community consultation that was engaged to produce the original.

It is not good enough for a mayor or councillor to simply say they declared a conflict and left the room.

If they at any point - in an open forum or at any other time - have argued the merits of a non-conforming project being pushed by a benefactor they have brought influence to the outcome.

The issues are serious and involve perception as well as fact.

Planning schemes are long in the making, broad in the consultation that precedes them and expensive to produce.

They are meant to provide certainty, not to be a starting point for further negotiation.

Local authorities that fail to defend the planning schemes they formed partnerships with their communities to create may provide some short-term financial benefit to some.

But a willingness to tinker ultimately sends signals to the market that encourage speculation, not construction.

And it denies the right of those who have invested their lives in their communities to the certainty they deserve.

Sound planning is based on principals greater than tired arguments about the short-term jobs on offer from the next high-rise proposal to come along.

And planning schemes are documents that should have ambitions beyond the amount of profit that can be rung from a plot of land.

It is because no greater opportunity exists to create wealth than at the point of a government pen that it is essential total clarity exists in a democracy about the motives of the hand that guides it.

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