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Minister's hasty backflip on new rules that 'could have seen mayors nobbled'


Fears that a new rule could put election-winning mayors at risk of being “nobbled” has pushed Labor to promise to scrap changes barely a week after they took effect.

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The new rule gave runners-up in local government elections the green light to automatically slip into a role vacated by an elected mayor or councillor within their first 12 months of being elected.

Instead, Labor will commit to overturning the rule that has only been in effect since 12 October, and force any mayoral or councillor vacancy to a by-election.

In further efforts to clean up local government elections after moves such as banning developer donations, Labor will also commit to imposing spending caps for all mayoral and council candidates to undercut the electoral spending “arms race.”

But Labor wants spending caps in place for all by-elections as well as general local government elections. With changes making by-election necessary for any council vacancy, including within 12 months of an election, it means the introduction of spending caps would need to be one of the first moves for the government if they were returned at the October 31 state election.

Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said mayors across the state expressed fears that the decision allowing a runner-up to fill a vacancy within the first 12 months posed a risk.

Hinchliffe will tell the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) Annual Conference at the Gold Coast on Wednesday that a returned Labor government would ditch the change.

“There was one element that was not raised at all during consultation and that was individuals saying that there could be a risk that someone could do physical harm to someone in order to advantage someone else,” Hinchliffe said.

“That’s what some mayors were raising … that was not an issue that had been raised before, but I respect that if that’s a genuine fear that people have raised, then that’s an issue.

“We remain committed to being responsive and agile.”

LGAQ president Mark Jamieson said the runner-up rule was unfair.

“Our real concern is that it really undermines democracy,” Jamieson said.

“Why is democracy at a local level less important than at a state or federal?

“There’s some mayors that are elected with outstanding margins and if one of them was to be forced to retire due to ill-health or something, the notion of just passing on to the next person is a definite abuse of our democracy and we are going to fight hard to save that.”

An analysis of by-election results by the Electoral Commission of Queensland, released by LGAQ, shows that of 15 by-elections held in undivided councils since council elections were held around the state in 2016, the runner-up was subsequently elected at a by-election on just three occasions.

On most occasions, the runners-up either did not recontest or failed to win when running again at the by-election.

Labor’s backflip on its runner-up rule for council vacancies and commitment to imposing spending caps for mayoral and council candidates in local government elections is expected to win support across the state’s councils.

The amount of the spending cap under the shakeup, however, has not been set with proposed restrictions ranging from an amount per voter to bands depending on the size of the council.

The bands would mean candidates in large councils such as Brisbane and the Gold Coast would be able to spend considerably more on their campaign than candidates in smaller regional councils.

“The whole point of these discussions is reducing the arms race and, as a consequence, reducing the need for candidates for local government to fundraise in ways that may give rise to concerns or challenges around the source of that fundraising,” Hinchliffe said.

“It’s also about putting people on a level playing field in terms of people having that capacity to campaign.”

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