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Push strengthens for greater local govt transparency

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Proposed legislation aimed at improving transparency at council elections is likely to be strengthened, following a recommendation from the Adelaide City Council this week.

Family First MLC Robert Brokenshire’s Bill would require candidates for local government to disclose membership of political parties before elections.

On Tuesday, the Adelaide City Council recommended the Bill be bolstered to require also that donations and affiliations outside of party politics be disclosed before elections.

“I think it’s got merit, I think they’ve carefully considered it and debated it, and I congratulate them for doing so,” Brokenshire told InDaily this morning.

“I’m duty-bound now to strongly consider that, and I think there’s merit in bringing that in as an additional amendment.

“I think that the ACC have been constructive and made good points, and I’ll be talking to some of the other people in local government to see whether they would agree that that should be another amendment.”

Brokenshire said one of the goals of the Bill was to curb the influence of party politics in local government.

However, north ward councillor Susan Clearihan told Tuesday evening’s committee meeting that the Bill may backfire.

She said she supported transparency, but warned that informing the public about candidate’s political affiliations may encourage more partisanship rather than less.

“I think that there’s a real danger here where people who are genuinely interested in local issues are suddenly seen as less value to the local community and they revert to a political party that they would normally vote for at the state and federal levels,” she told the committee.

“I’m hoping … South Australia doesn’t go down the path of some of the eastern states whose local govt elections are very much aligned with state and federal elections.

“That would be a great shame if that does happen.”

However, Brokenshire contended that Clearihan’s fears were the exact reason he had drafted the legislation.

“What we’re seeing is a growing trend in South Australia, particularly from the major parties – and especially from the Labor Party – to infiltrate party politics … into local government, or to use local government as the training forum for future politicians,” he said.

“Many people, including myself, don’t think that’s healthy.

“If voters are allowed to know if there’s a political affiliation, then I think that’s a counter against the stacking of councils by political parties.”

Minister for Local Government Geoff Brock would not reveal the government’s position on the bill, but said he was concerned by the influence of party politics in local government.

“Local government in South Australia hasn’t suffered the same problems as have occurred in other states with regard to party politics intruding at this level of government.

“And I think there is broad agreement that we should continue to avoid party politics being the norm at the local government level.

“It’s an interesting debate with strong views being put on both sides of the argument.”

He said a review was underway into the 2014 local government elections, involving the Electoral Commission, the LGA and the Office of Local Government.

“As part of that process, a discussion paper will soon be publicly released providing a formal opportunity for interested persons and organisations to give feedback on how to improve the elections processes to ensure the best outcomes for our communities,” Brock said.

 “I expect that issues around the amount and types of information candidates should be required to disclose will be raised during the review.”

Lord Mayor Martin Haese told the committee he would be happy with a requirement to disclose campaign donations before council elections.

“As a Lord Mayor that did accept campaign donations I have no problem whatsoever in transparency surrounding it,” he said.

Flinders University political scientist Haydon Manning told InDaily council candidates backed by political parties have an advantage over independent candidates.

He said candidates with party backing get help with distributing their campaign literature in shopping centres and mail boxes.

“If you’re an independent, you’re not able to do that – you just have to get people to support you.”

He said it was a “reasonable and long-overdue reform” to have political ties, donations and other affiliations disclosed before council elections.

Brokenshire’s Bill is due to come before the parliament in September or October.

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