Call to ban election donations

A NATIONAL expert in public policy said developers should be banned from making campaign donations to local council candidates because it was done to get ''favourable treatment''.

''At the council level there is no justification for donating cash to campaigns, no justification at all,'' Professor of Public Policy at the Australian National University, Adam Graycar, said.

''Why would you give a donation? You would only give a donation to get favourable treatment, so that you can have your guy in there,'' he said.

Melbourne City Council is grappling with donations from developers, with many councillors - including the lord mayor - facing exclusion from consideration of important planning applications because of the contributions.

Lord mayor Robert Doyle has said he, and other councillors elected on his ticket, would rule themselves out of considering development applications from developers who had donated to his team. Cr Doyle's Team Doyle won five of 11 council seats with the help of more than $100,000 from the property industry.

Other councillors also accepted donations from developers and the council faces the prospect of being unable to make up a council quorum to consider important planning considerations because more than half the councillors have abstained from considering the issue.

Professor Graycar said there were other measures councils could take to protect the integrity of planning decisions, including making sure that two separate officers look at any development application and rotating staff.

In addition to his university work, Professor Graycar was head of the cabinet office, government of South Australia, for four years and was director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, a Commonwealth government statutory authority.

He said all meetings between council staff and developers should be documented by council staff and developers so the diaries could be compared and any discrepancies investigated.

According to Professor Graycar, the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption received 303 complaints regarding development applications and rezoning in the 12 months to June 2011.

Legal experts have argued that Victoria's new Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission will have a limited investigatory capacity.

Before it can investigate, the commission must be reasonably satisfied that it has allegations of conduct that constitute ''serious corrupt conduct''. It must also have ''facts'' before it that, if found ''proved beyond reasonable doubt at a trial'', would constitute a relevant offence.

A relevant offence includes an indictable offence, an attempt to pervert the course of justice, and bribery of a public official. It will not investigate other conduct such as misconduct in public office or conflicts of interest.

Any allegations that do not amount to ''serious corrupt conduct'' under the definition used by the commission may be referred to the Ombudsman's office for investigation.


This story Call to ban election donations first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.