Ms JODI McKAY (Strathfield) [5.20 p.m.]: I speak in debate on the Local Government Amendment (Councillor Misconduct and Poor Performance) Bill 2015. I note that the Minister for Local Government is in the Chamber. I thank him for his attendance today because this is an important issue that many of us feel strongly about. Sometimes councils do not do the right thing. As has been foreshadowed, Labor will not oppose the bill. Sensible amendments will be moved in the other place that I urge the Government to accept. Essentially, the bill is designed to fix the mess made by the Liberal Party in 2012.
We opposed the changes that are now in question but the Government went ahead and allowed councillors to be involved in decisions where there is a direct benefit to them. It is extraordinary that councillors who have vested interests in decisions are able to vote on planning instruments that will benefit those interests. These are the very instruments that provide enormous uplift in the value or otherwise of precincts within a local government area, including the development of local environmental plans [LEPs]. Councillors are privy to information that sometimes goes beyond what is provided to the community.
While this bill goes some way to rectifying the situation, I believe it does not go far enough. For instance, the bill applies only to a councillor's principal place of residence. Councillors are privy to such important information about the growth and progress of an area that they know, often before anyone else, the areas that are targeted for development or for a change in rezoning with, for example, a local environmental plan. This information is valuable to those who would seek to speculate on development. This is particularly relevant in the inner west, where we are experiencing enormous population growth and projects that will lead to significant development opportunities. Developers are speculating on property, particularly relating to the Parramatta Road renewal plan. I offer that as a hypothetical situation, but it is relevant to the discussion today.
The Parramatta Road renewal plan provides up to 40,000 units from Granville to Camperdown and involves eight local government areas. All those local government areas have been involved in discussions about the plan and the rezoning that UrbanGrowth—the Government's property development arm—wants to undertake. I am not suggesting in any way that any councillor involved in those discussions has done anything wrong at this point. But I will say that some of the councillors who are property developers have been privy to information that would benefit them and their interests. In August the Leader of the Opposition proposed a way forward that is strongly supported by the community. I can say that because of the situation I have identified in the inner west, where population growth is prompting significant development. It is a subject that has been discussed a lot within the community that I represent.
The Leader of the Opposition proposed—and it is the way we wish this bill was headed—that developers and real estate agents be banned from holding office in local and State government levels. I do not think anyone in this place would stand against that because it makes sense. However, it is disappointing that it is not included in the bill. I believe that, while it is important at a State government level, it is critical at a local government level. In this place there are mechanisms that go some way to ensuring transparency and disclosure while also minimising the potential for conflict of interest. Those mechanisms are much weaker at a local government level, as we have seen in recent times. I am disappointed, as are others on this side of the House, that the proposal by the Leader of the Opposition has not been included in this bill, or indeed considered by the Minister.
The Minister is in the Chamber and I urge him to consider banning property developers and real estate agents from serving as local councillors. I think it is a smart step that would be supported by the community. If it were introduced there would be no requirement for the bill to address the other issue that I spoke about. It is an overarching response that is important. Instead, the Minister—and I say this because he is in the House—is focused on amalgamating councils. On the weekend there was an anti-council amalgamation—
Mr Gareth Ward: Two words: Canada Bay.
Ms JODI McKAY: I think the Minister is in the Chamber because he wants to speak about Strathfield council, not Canada Bay.
Mr Gareth Ward: Section 430.
Ms JODI McKAY: I appreciate the involvement of the member for Kiama in this issue.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Lee Evans): Order! The member for Kiama will take his medication.
Ms JODI McKAY: I note that Mr Temporary Speaker said that, not me. What I will say is that it is great that the member for Kiama is interested in the inner west. In the inner west we have had local government issues and councillors and council staff who have done the wrong thing. A number of matters have ended up before the Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC]. That is why matters involving developers, population growth and development and councillors all come together, and unless we deal with that particular issue, as the Leader of the Opposition is proposing, we will not resolve a significant concern in my area. I return briefly to council amalgamations. That is the only policy that this Government has put forward: We make councils smaller, we take away local opposing voices and then we allow our developer friends to be councillors. It is a good deal for some. The Leader of the Opposition is showing leadership on that issue.
I mention one other issue that I know will interest the member for Kiama. Labor has urged the Government to place a cap on political donations and campaign spending during council elections. The member for Kiama does the right thing, and I know he feels strongly about this issue. The proper mechanisms have been put in place at a State level, but not at a local government level. If the Government is introducing a bill that purports to deal with council misconduct then surely it must examine the roots of that misconduct, including political donations. We urge the Government to put a cap on political donations and campaign spending during council elections. I think that State-level caps could serve as a starting point for re-examining the caps on ward level expenditure. Again, this action is supported by the community—and I do not think anyone in this place would argue otherwise.
In this State we have embarked on a long but necessary journey to clean up politics. There has been progress at the State level but not at the local government level. The Opposition has put forward those two sensible proposals that are strongly supported but are not in the bill. The bill is largely bureaucratic legislation dealing with matters that will not impact significantly on the conduct or misconduct of councillors in New South Wales. As the shadow Minister said, Labor will not oppose the bill. The shadow Minister also referred to our concerns with the bill, and I do not intend to go over them other than to foreshadow that amendments will be moved in the other place.
My contribution centres on two key issues that are missing from the bill. Councillor misconduct is real and the community is sick of it. It is disappointing that it has taken an over-the-top wedding to bring this issue before the House. It should have been dealt with a long time ago. We raised the issue that is at the forefront of this bill in 2012 when we opposed what was being proposed. It has taken the extravagant wedding of the deputy mayor of Auburn and his involvement in local development to push the issue forward. The Minister referred to Strathfield council, and in my area there have been problems with councillor and council staff misconduct. That is why I am speaking in debate on this bill.
I believe there are real concerns, particularly in an area like mine, where there is strong development and money is being made from speculating on rezoning applications and local environmental plans and the involvement of developers and real estate agents who are councillors and thus privy to information that would benefit them. That is why this bill does not go far enough. The Opposition will not oppose the bill because, like the Government, we believe misconduct is a serious issue within councils across the State, including in my electorate