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Push for state candidates to step aside from council

Local

The state Liberals say they will introduce their own legislation that would effectively force six of their candidates to take leave from their local government roles once the next state election is officially called.

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The Opposition has confirmed it will not back a private member’s bill by Labor MLC Tung Ngo that would require any preselected candidate serving on council to stand down for the duration of the state campaign.

But legal affairs spokeswoman Vickie Chapman says the Liberals agreed with the bill on principle and were set to introduce their own version of it into state parliament’s lower house.

Labor is yet to preselect a raft of candidates in target Liberal-held seats, while the Liberals have largely finalised their candidates – including two mayors and a handful of councillors.

Unley mayor Lachlan Clyne has previously said he would step aside later this year, to avoid inflicting the cost of a by-election for his position ahead of a round of council elections in 2018.

But there is no word as to the intentions of new Morphett candidate Stephen Patterson, the mayor of Holdfast Bay, who won preselection by a single vote over incumbent Duncan McFetridge last week.

The Liberals have also preselected councillors Karen McColl, Paula Luethen, Steven Rypp and Kendall Jackson in winnable seats – all of whom would be forced to take leave during the campaign.

The Liberals argue Ngo’s bill, which involved changing the state’s constitution act, was unnecessary, and could be better achieved by amending the Local Government Act instead.

However, neither bill – both of which maintain elected councillors “must not carry out any function of office” during a state election campaign – contains any punitive measures if councillors fail to acquiesce, nor any recourse to the court of disputed returns.

But the state’s Local Government Association appears set to put pressure on to toughen up the measures, after a campaign by Mitcham mayor Glenn Spear saw a series of caveats placed on Ngo’s original proposition.

In a letter to Ngo last month, the LGA expressed “in-principle support” for his bill, but wanted the leave to coincide with the issuing of writs and member allowances to be suspended for the duration of the leave.

The LGA also argued that councillors should not have access to council reports and other documents during their leave, arguing: “This could feed a perception of a conflict of interest if matters relevant to the state election were coming before council on a confidential basis.”

Spear told InDaily today he had previously pushed for support for such a measure in the LGA, which was rejected.

“I’m quite happy that this time I got it through,” he said.

“We actually took it a little bit further… we’re calling for suspension of pay and allowance drawing from the people.”

Spear, who was a vocal critic of three of his Mitcham councillors who nominated to run in last year’s federal election, said he would prefer the measure to kick in from the moment a candidate wins party preselection.

“That’s my personal viewpoint, yes,” he said, adding that councils’ conflict of interest provisions ensured preselected candidates could not participate in a lot of debates.

“My argument is: are they representing the electorate? I have a problem with people that stand for federal and state positions [after being elected to council]… I think when you put your hand up to stand for council, people vote for you with the understanding that you’re going to serve your term,” he said.

“If you get preselected, you’re a candidate [and] from that point on you’re campaigning for your political party.”

He said there was a “very strong political influence” in many council debates, including rate-capping, and that the measure would fill a notable legislative void, with “nothing in place currently that those people have to stand down”.

Ngo said he didn’t expect his own bill to pass without Liberal support, given a change to the constitution act requires a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

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