Local Government Association of Queensland CEO Greg Hallam has backed the renewed call of the Crime and Corruption Commission for an offence to finally be created to limit publication of complaints to the CCC during council elections to allow the watchdog time to assess them.
“The LGAQ had been advocating for the best part of a decade for a new offence to be created to stop the CCC being used as a political football during local government elections,” Mr Hallam said.
“In fact, the need for such an offence was raised by the then Criminal Justice Commission in 1992, almost 30 years ago.
“The LGAQ understands the need for transparency and accountability as well as the need to ensure the freedom of the press and the public’s right to know are not undermined.
“However, the Association also believes there is a need for this to be balanced against an individual’s fundamental right to be considered innocent until proven guilty and for the CCC to be able to conduct its assessment of complaints free from influence and pressure.
“The reporting of allegations against council staff and sitting councillors – and the subsequent publicising of those complaints - generally increases six to 12 months out from the quadrennial elections.
“CCC figures for the 2008, 2012 and 2016 election periods show the watchdog received an average of 27 complaints a month about mayors or councillors during local government election periods, compared to an average of 12 per month during non-election years with just 6 per cent of those allegations made during an election period substantiated.
“This causes damage not only to the institution of local government but also to the reputations of those council staff or elected members who are the subject of what are often subsequently found to be baseless complaints.”
The CCC held a public inquiry into the issue in 2016, presenting its findings to the Government in December that year, including a recommendation a new offence be created.
“…the CCC recommends the government consider making it an offence for any person to publicise allegations of corrupt conduct against a councillor or candidate during a local government election period, without first notifying the CCC and allowing the CCC at least three months to determine whether the allegations have merit,” its 2016 report states.
The watchdog again drew the Government’s attention to the need for this to be an offence in a report tabled in parliament yesterday.
“The LGAQ believes the CCC’s recommended offence would strike the right balance as the prohibition on making a complaint public would only be temporary to allow an assessment to take place,” Mr Hallam said.
“No one who is guilty of wrongdoing will escape justice due to this reform.”
Mr Hallam said the LGAQ had written to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and to LNP Leader Deb Frecklington urging them to support such a change.
For more information, please contact:
Sarah Vogler, Media Executive
Local Government Association of Queensland