Integrity Commission CEO Michael Easton has spoken about the misconduct risks posed by links between councillors and property developers.
His comments come after the Commission tabled the findings of Investigation Fisher in State Parliament today.
Investigation Fisher was an own-motion investigation undertaken by the Integrity Commission into the relationship between a former councillor at Derwent Valley Council, Paul Belcher, and Roostam Sadri, a local property developer.
The investigation found that, as a councillor, Mr Belcher agitated for Mr Sadri’s interests and pressured council employees, while Mr Belcher had a personal and financial association with Mr Sadri.
Mr Belcher also received $5,000 from Mr Sadri when running for Council. Mr Belcher used at least part of this gift for his re-election campaign.
‘Without systemic change the same misconduct risks which drove the issues uncovered by this investigation are liable to repeat themselves,’ Mr Easton said.
‘This is why the Commission has also tabled a Research Paper calling for legislative reform.’
The Research Paper, titled Managing Conflicts of Interest Between Local Government Councillors and Property Developers (PDF, 1.3 MB), recommends that the Tasmanian Local Government Act be amended to ensure councillors are required to routinely disclose all of their relevant personal interests.
The Paper also recommends that the scope of an interest that may cause a conflict under the Local Government Act be widened to include both pecuniary (financial) and non-pecuniary conflicts of interest. Currently, the management of non-pecuniary interests in council meetings is only addressed in the Model Code of Conduct, and not in legislation.
As occurs in Queensland, the Commission recommends that other councillors at the council meeting where an interest is declared should decide how the conflict will be managed – not just the councillor declaring the conflict themselves.
‘Often the least suitable person to assess whether or not someone has a conflict is the person with the conflict themselves. Our suggestion allows for a more modern and mature approach to the management of declared interests,’ Mr Easton said.
The Paper also called for all council candidates to be required to disclose campaign donations – not just sitting councillors as is currently the case.
‘The work of our investigators in uncovering this misconduct was exceptional and deserves to be praised for its thoroughness and diligence,’ Mr Easton said.
‘The matter shows the integrity and justice system working hand-in-hand. Our investigation identified potential criminal offences arising from breaching the confidentiality provisions in the Local Government Act 1993. These were referred to the Director of Local Government and successfully prosecuted. We have identified systemic improvements that we believe the Government should consider.’
‘We believe these reforms will not only help increase public confidence in the system but also protect people engaged in public life at the local government level,’ Mr Easton said.
- This investigation was what the Integrity Commission Act 2009 (Tas) terms an ownmotion investigation meaning it was brought about by the Commission itself, not as a result of a complaint.
- The initial information sparking this action was a referral from the Office of Local Government highlighting the links between the councillor and the developer at the centre of this investigation.
- Tabling of a detailed Research Paper in State Parliament containing recommendations for legislative reforms in conjunction with an Investigation Report highlights the Integrity Commission’s aim to improve public sector conduct through systemic change, while dealing with individual cases of misconduct.
- In August 2022, Mr Belcher pleaded guilty to two breaches of section 338A(1)(b) of the Local Government Act 1993. He was fined $2,000 and banned from running for any council for five years.
Media release by Michael Easton, Chief Executive Officer
Julia Hickey, Director Misconduct Prevention
Ph: 1300 720 289 / 03 6165 6874