24/02/2021 - 15:00

Kwinana industry body calls for election reform

24/02/2021 - 15:00


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One of the state’s leading industry councils is lobbying the state government to ban political donations from property developers, mirroring similar regulations implemented in Queensland and NSW.

Kwinana industry body calls for election reform
Chris Oughton has been director of Kwinana Industries Council since 2007. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

One of the state’s leading industry councils is lobbying the state government to ban political donations from property developers, mirroring similar regulations implemented in Queensland and NSW.

Kwinana Industries Council director Chris Oughton has put together a seven-point list of requests for whichever major party is elected at the upcoming state election.

Among those items are a reduction in influence from residential property developers on decision makers and real-time disclosure of political donations, alongside a suite of measures to protect Kwinana’s industrial buffer zone.

The most attention-grabbing item, however, is a request to ban political donations from property developers to major political parties.

That would closely follow reforms that came into law in Queensland this past June, which significantly reduced spending caps for political donors, restricted spending from industry bodies and unions, and increased public funding for candidates.

The reforms followed the 2017 resignation of Ipswich’s mayor, Paul Pisasale, who was handed a seven-and-a-half-year jail sentence in September after having been found guilty of corruption and fraud.

The presiding judge noted at Mr Pisasale’s sentencing in September that the former mayor had deliberately engaged in attempts to assist property developers for the express purpose of profiting from those developments.

Property developers are now banned from donating to political candidates in that state.

Election reform was a major campaign issue in the 2017 state election, when WA Labor pledged to implement a slew of changes, including lowering the declaration threshold for individual donations to $1,000 and requiring more frequent disclosures.

Those reforms have yet to be passed, though, with most recent financial disclosures for both major parties showing more than three-quarters of contributions to them originated from undeclared doners.

Mr Oughton told Business News the Kwinana Industries Council's position arose because it had been lobbying for the protection of Kwinana's industrial buffer zone from nearby residential developments.

In recent years, though, he said he had been confused as to why a residential subdivision had been approved by Planning Minister Rita Saffioti in nearby Wattleup.

That suburb partially overlaps with the city's industrial buffer zone.

Mr Oughton said he had not been given a reason by the minister as to why the decision was made, given the Western Australian Planning Commission rejected the developer's proposal and several appeals were lost in the State Administrative Tribunal and Supreme Court.

Mr Oughton said there was a lack of clarity in how decisions were being made in regards to statutory land use in the planning process.

"Industry has concluded that we have a perception of bias," he said.

"What's the point in having a statutory planning process that goes through the whole process and rejects subdivisions, and the minister can just come along at any point in time ... and approve it?"

Ms Saffioti disputed Mr Oughton's claim he was not aware of the process, citing the council's two submissions to the process in March and June as evidence.

She also pointed to former planning minister John Day, who called in the two applications in 2014, and said nobody should be surprised with what had transpired.

"For a number of years surrounding residents had no certainty over the future of their land; the decision provided a compromise and a way forward," Ms Saffioti said.

"This included a number of landowners who were able to move on with their lives.

"The decision factored in the future operations of nearby industry, along with the state’s need for future housing.

"Political donations never influence decisions.

"Any suggestion otherwise is an offensive and desperate smear on the eve of the state election."

Mr Oughton did not suggest improprietry on the part of the state government or any specific property developer.

He did say, however, that the lack of clarity around where political donations are coming from could foment a perception of bias among some in the local industry.

"I'm not throwing insults," he said.

"If it [political donations] is illegal in Queensland and it's illegal in NSW, and it's legal here, then who's right and who's wrong?"

"We think the eastern states have got it right, and so we're asking for the same legislation to be enacted here."


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