Political ties on the agenda for local government reforms

The Marshall Government will consider forcing council candidates to publicly reveal their political affiliations before elections as part of its broad-ranging local government reform process scheduled for early this year.

Jan 08, 2019, updated Jan 08, 2019
Local Government Minister Stephan Knoll says the Government will focus on increasing transparency as part of its local government reforms. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Local Government Minister Stephan Knoll says the Government will focus on increasing transparency as part of its local government reforms. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Several dozen of the 1374 candidates who ran for council seats at November’s council elections were members of political parties, with some also having run at the March state election.

Under the Local Government Act, successful candidates are currently obliged to notify council CEOs of their formal links to political parties, unions or other organisations within one month of being elected, with that information published on an online register.

But Local Government Minister Stephan Knoll told InDaily this morning that the Government would “certainly consider” amending the Act to force candidates to reveal their political ties or union memberships before council elections.

He said while he did not have a personal opinion on whether the change should be made, he said the Government was aware that it had a degree of public support.

“In my mind it is an issue that should be considered as part of this reform process,” Knoll said.

“Nothing is off the table from being considered and it’s an issue that has come up previously”.

Knoll said reforms to the Local Government Act would be informed by a public consultation and would seek to increase council transparency, improve council delivery and cut red tape.

The process follows an unsuccessful Labor-led local government reform Bill tabled in parliament in October.

SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo had raised the idea of forcing council candidates to reveal their political affiliations and union memberships during those discussions, with his call supported at the time by Labor and the Greens.

Pangallo told InDaily this morning that he was now in favour of amending the Act as part of the Liberals’ local government reforms.

“I would certainly hope that it would be considered as part of the Local Government Act review,” he said.

“If, in the end, it isn’t, I will be moving an amendment to the Act myself because I do think that there should be full disclosure before the elections.

“It’s important for people to have that information before the election so that they know who the person is and what they stand for, rather than only finding out after the vote.”

Ironically, his call comes just after Ombudsman Wayne Lines admonished former SA Best candidate Hazel Wainwright for failing to duly inform Onkaparinga council of her political affiliation with the Nick Xenophon-led party.

The call also comes as Adelaide City Councillor and former federal Greens senator Robert Simms prepares to move a motion later this month for City Council to back reforms to the Local Government Act to force candidates to disclose affiliations and financial donations before local government elections.

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He said the issue of candidate transparency was “particularly concerning” for Adelaide City Council given what he said was the emergence of “secret factions and groups” during last year’s council elections.

InDaily revealed last year that a group of Adelaide City Council candidates endorsed by then-Lord Mayor Martin Haese had been meeting regularly, in private, ahead of this month’s local government election – but none was willing to acknowledge an affiliation with the so-called “Team Adelaide” publicly.

Of the 12 councillors (including the Lord Mayor) that comprise Adelaide City Council, four – including Arman Abrahimzadeh, Franz Knoll, Houssam Abiad and Alexander Hyde – are listed on the council’s Register of Interests as being affiliated with the Liberal Party.

The four Liberal-affiliated candidates are part of the six “Team Adelaide” representatives on council.

Simms said his planned motion was not “a reflection of any particular councillors or make-up of council”, but he said there was a need for “transparency across the board”.

“The current system means that we rely on the media to report on the affiliations and therefore certain affiliations are amplified over others,” he said.

“This would really level the playing field.”

Simms said it would be a “fair comment” to surmise that his affiliation with the Greens had been more amplified than other Adelaide City councillor’s political ties.

“But that’s also just because mine is well known and on the public record and I’ve made no secret of that,” he said.

“In saying that, we can’t just rely on that kind of information just trickling out through osmosis.

“This is a way of bringing those kinds of things into the open and ensuring that the community has all this information at their fingertips before they cast their vote.”

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