Happy 2020 to all our friends and followers in local government and welcome to the Weekly Wrap for the first time this decade. It has certainly been an eventful start to the year. On the one hand, our half-yearly Colmar Brunton community attitude survey results were considerably better than we hoped for, especially in south east Queensland (SEQ) and rural and remote parts of the state. Indeed, it’s the best overall result in three years. I’m constantly comforted by the considered views of what our Prime Minister calls the quiet Australians - quiet Queenslanders even. Those folk trust and value what councils do, more than any other level of government, and even more so just getting on with the job of building better communities.
On the other hand, the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC), in a last-ditch effort, has tried to upend the State Government’s so-called Trad Laws currently before the Parliament. As you will recall, those laws governing conflicts of interests, registers of interests and penalties for both our elected members and state MPs were introduced into the State Parliament in late November last year. The LGAQ supported those yet-to-be passed laws because they were fair and balanced and applied equally to State and local government.
As is normally the case, the bill was sent to a Parliamentary Committee for review. Written and oral submissions were requested, and the LGAQ, CCC and other interested parties did both. Indeed, a bunch of us appeared before the Parliamentary Economics and Governance Committee Monday this week.
What has shocked me, and many in the legal profession, is the downright forcefulness of the CCC’s submissions. They wanted- demanded - that the centuries old legal doctrine of Mens rea (having to prove intent to commit a crime) be scrapped when it came to the keeping of registers of interests.
As two very senior learned legal practitioners said to me – that’s a case of guilty until proven innocent. Or worse still - guilty despite being innocent of any intent to wrong. Reminding me of the most central tenet of the criminal law - it’s better that a guilty party avoids punishment, than an innocent person be jailed.
The CCC's proposed law would treat elected members in both spheres of governments worse than pariahs; eternally under suspicion. Of course, the LGAQ said no, no, no - as did the Law Society, and other leading jurists.
Rest assured we will fight this morally wrong attempt to change the will of the parliament to the bitter end. Honest politicians, people to be precise, need to be protected while honestly carrying out their responsibilities.
An honest mistake is not a crime, it’s a mistake.
There are three arms of government in our Westminster system of democracy: the Parliament, cabinet and the judiciary. The CCC is none of those. Its role is as a very important watchdog / inquisitor of public and private institutions with respect to crime and corruption, and it does that well.
That’s where it ends though; it has no broader role. That’s for the Parliament, the first law officer of the State the Attorney- General and then the courts.
Talk about parallel universes. The community sees and increasingly appreciates the good work of their councils while the CCC see bogeymen behind every council chamber.
Local Government Association of Queensland
LG House, 25 Evelyn Street, Newstead Qld 4006
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