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Amendments to Local Government and planning legislation requiring the public disclosure of donations or gifts when lodging or commenting on development proposals commenced on 1 October 2008.
The Department of Planning has issued a circular and guidelines providing an overview of the new reporting requirements for political donations and gifts under the planning and Local Government legislation.
The amendments require the disclosure of relevant political donations or gifts when planning instrument proposals or development applications are made.
The amendments apply to council officers, elected councillors, applicants for development and development related matters which include EPIs, DCPs, concept plans and applications for declaration as State Significant Development, as well as Part 3A projects and modifications. There are also obligations for disclosure on persons who make written submissions supporting or opposing development applications or planning proposals.
These provisions do not relate to complying development certificates or applications or requests made by public authorities on their own behalf, or on behalf of applications that are excluded by the Regulations.
A disclosure must be made by any person who has a financial interest in a planning application and who has made a reportable political donation in the 2 years before the application is made or determined. The guidelines contain an example of a disclosure statement.
In addition, council’s general manager is required to keep a public register containing each planning decision made by council, and the names of the councillors who supported or opposed the decision.
The guidelines also state that a general manager must refer any matter to the Director General of the Department of Local Government where they reasonably suspect that a councillor has not complied with provisions of the council’s Code of Conduct relating to the disclosure of political donations. These provisions are currently the subject of discussion between the Department and the Associations.
Most importantly, a person will be guilty of an offence by way of Section 125 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 if the person fails to make a disclosure of a reportable political donation or gift if it is reasonable for that person to have known that such a disclosure should have been made. The maximum penalty will be $22,000 or 12 months imprisonment, or both.
The circular, guidelines and legislation are available on the Department of Planning website.