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Tough new rules on council dealings with developers

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Tough new rules restricting how councils deal with property developers are set to be introduced in the Moreton Bay region as local government seeks to regain community trust in the wake of several corruption scandals.

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Moreton Bay Regional Council will this week debate new procedures governing how councillors are to interact with developers and lobbyists in a bid to improve “community confidence” in the work of council.

The changes will only allow councillor to deal with developers or lobbyists about a development application if the decision on the application is to be made by council itself rather than council officers.

A report explaining the changes states they “will reduce the risk of misconduct or perceived misconduct occurring and give confidence to Councillors in their interactions with lobbyists, developers and submitters”.

“Developers, lobbyists and submitters seek access to Councillors to discuss potential and existing development applications and other projects,” it says.

“The public has a clear expectation that interactions with these stakeholders is undertaken transparently and in the public interest.”

Several councils in southeast Queensland have been embroiled in alleged corruption scandals, most of them involving dealings between councillors and developers.

The scandals led to a string of Crime and Corruption Commission investigations and the jailing of several high-profile council figures including former Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale.

Ipswich City Council last year adopted tough rules governing the behaviour of councillors in relation to developers.

The Moreton Bay Regional Council rules will prevent councillors have meeting alone with developer and lobbyists and require them to state that any opinion they express is a personal one and not the formal view of the council.

They will also require councillors to keep a detailed record of any meetings they have with developers and what matters were raised at the meeting.

The policy is not aimed at preventing social meetings between councillors and developers but sets out firm rules of engagement once a development application is submitted to the council.

“Once a development application is lodged and is being assessed by council officers, councillors should not initiate or seek to be involved in internal meetings or meetings with the developer or lobbyist about the application under assessment,” it states.

However, if the application is to be decided by council rather than officers, the policy does allow some interaction with developers.

The council consulted Independent Assessor Kathleen Florian and industry groups the Property Council of Australia and the Urban Development Institute of Australia on the changes.

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