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Transparency in Local Government Elections

11 May 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I move:

Amendment No 1 [Simms–1]—

Page 98, after line 25—After clause 180 insert:

180A—Amendment of heading to Part 14

Heading to Part 14—after 'donations' insert 'and disclosure'

180B—Insertion of Part 14 Division A1

Part 14—before Division 1 insert:

Division A1—Disclosure of political party memberships

79A—Disclosure of political party memberships

(1) A candidate for election to an office of a council must, at the prescribed time, notify the returning officer, in the manner determined by the returning officer, of—

(a) whether or not the candidate is a member of a registered political party (within the meaning of the Electoral Act 1985); and

(b) if the candidate is a member of a registered political party—

(i) the name of the party; and

(ii) when the candidate became a member of the party.

Maximum penalty: $10,000.

(2) The returning officer must make a copy of each notification given under this section in relation to an election available on a website maintained by the returning officer within 7 days after the day on which the notification was required to be given.

(3) In this section—prescribed time means—

(a) in the case of a periodic election—within 21 days after the close of nominations for the election; or

(b) in any other case—within 7 days after the close of nominations for the election.

This amendment seeks to improve transparency in local government elections, but from the outset I do want to thank honourable members for their indulgence. I recognise that there has been significant discussion about this bill before I came to this chamber, and so I will make my remarks brief. It is for that reason also that the Greens' amendments are modest in nature.

What we are seeking to do here is improve transparency, and this amendment No. 1 [Simms-1] relates to requiring people to disclose their political party memberships. What we are requesting is that this happen within 21 days after the close of nominations, and that it be published within seven days after the notification, so the returning officer would put this information on the website.

Why is this important? Presently, candidates who are standing in local government elections are required to disclose their political party memberships along with their memberships of a range of other organisations after the community has cast their votes. It has been a long-held principle of the Greens that members of the community should get all the information they require to enable them to make an informed choice. It seems really wrong to us that we have a scenario where members of the community are voting without that vital information. Somebody could be a member of a political party and that information has not been disclosed to the elector at the time they have cast their vote.

Elections for local council should not be a lucky dip where the community just kind of puts their hand in the hat and pulls out whatever they land with. Members of the community have a right to that information so that they can make an informed decision. We have seen situations in local councils where you have members of particular political parties who have not disclosed and then may form some sort of a faction or informal grouping, and there are some that have been very well advertised involving, in particular, the conservative side of politics, and there have been a number of scenarios where that membership has not been made clear to members of the community at the time that they cast their votes. So we are seeking to clear that up, and there are a few amendments that relate to that.

It is my understanding that the government is intending to pursue this element through regulation, but I have received no information about how that is going to be done. Today, I would welcome some clarification from the government about that on the public record.