With local government elections underway across Tasmania, some councils are confused about how new donation regulations apply to sitting councillors.
- New rules around gifts and donations to councillors came in in August
- Not all councils are applying the rules
- Peter Gutwein says councils will be cut some slack
Under rules introduced in August, councillors are required to declare any gift or donation they receive of a value more than $50 within 14 days to their general manager.
“With the recent change to the local government general regulations and Local Government Act in relation to gifts and donations, it did introduce a requirement to include donations in declarations — not just gifts while acting as a councillor,” Katrena Stephenson, CEO of the Local Government Association of Tasmania, said.
“My understanding is that it’s being inconsistently applied at the moment because there is confusion as to whether political donations in the election period are captured.”
The ABC understands Kingborough Council’s policy, for example, does not ask representatives up for re-election to report political donations for their campaigns.
But some do, such as the Hobart City Council.
Kingborough general manager Gary Arnold said the Council had to bring its policy in line with the new rules.
“On Monday, I’ll be contacting the director of local government to seek clarity on that matter, but I suspect that it will probably mean a report to Council to change the policy to reflect the change to legislation,” Mr Arnold said.
“The recent change to the legislation is murky at best because it can be interpreted in different ways.”
The new rules are ‘pretty clear cut’, says Hobart City Council general manager Nick Heath. (ABC News: Leon Compton)
However, Mr Arnold did clarify that, to his knowledge, no Kingborough councillor had undeclared donations.
“My expectation is that none of the current councillors will have anything to declare,” he said.
Hobart City Council general manager Nick Heath said the fact that the rules were changed so close to the election could have been a problem.
“The confusion comes from the fact that the changes were made fairly well at the 11 hour,” he said.
“The changes were made about six weeks ago, the election was formally called early September.
“It does create a little bit of confusion to have such monumental changes in place right on the eve of the election.”
Mr Heath said despite the confusion, candidates and councils should be aware of the current policy.
“I think it was pretty clear cut,” he said.
“There were information sheets that came out, there was information on their website, there was information published on the Tasmanian Electoral Commission website as well.”
Councillors encouraged to declare ASAP
Minister for Local Government Peter Gutwein said information had been offered to councils across the state.
“The local government division has provided advice and educational materials on these new provisions and will continue to work with general managers to ensure there is a consistent understanding of how the new provisions are to be applied,” he said.
Mr Gutwein says all councils have received details of the new rules. (ABC News: David Hudspeth)
“During this time, the focus will be on education to ensure councillors are aware of their obligations.
“Due to the new rules only recently being introduced, I understand the division will take a sensible but responsible approach to any action against any councillor who to date may not have fully understood their obligations.
“However, the division encourages them to declare any gift or donation they have received as soon as possible to their general manager.”
Candidates for council elections only have to declare donations if they are already on council seeking re-election.
Postal ballots for the 28 statewide local government elections were sent out earlier this month, and are due back by the 30th of October.