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ICAC recommends applicants declare political donations to minimise DA process corruption risk

Tuesday 4 September 2007

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has recommended that the Premier consider amending the State's Election Funding Act so development applicants to the Minister for Planning are required to declare any political donations they have made to the Minister or his/her party.

The ICAC's Corruption risks in NSW development approval processes position paper, released today, also recommends that councillors step aside from participating in decisions on development applications that involve donors. The paper contains 24 recommendations in all, including one that the Minister for Planning consider making it a requirement that councils give reasons for all decisions on development applications, including decisions to approve applications, and that individual councils implement systems to record how councillors vote on development matters.

It also recommends that the Minister for Planning considers extending third-party merit appeal rights to certain categories of currently non-designated development, including those relying on significant SEPP 1 objections (the state planning policy relating to flexibility in development standards), those where council is both the applicant and consent authority, and major and controversial developments such as large residential flat buildings.

The ICAC Commissioner, the Hon Jerrold Cripps QC, said the position paper is the result of a broad consultative process with the NSW planning sector, including state and local government, which was generated by a discussion paper on planning reform released by the ICAC in late 2005.

"The discussion paper raised several aspects of the NSW development approval process and questioned whether some of them might pose a corruption risk," Commissioner Cripps said.

"The ICAC received 187 submissions from a wide range of individuals, agencies and organisations, which were considered in the formulation of these recommendations. While several options for reform have been identified and recommended in the position paper, it is important to remember that the ICAC is not claiming to have identified major corruption issues throughout the NSW planning sector, but rather is keen to assist the sector about ways in which it can minimise the risk of corruption in the first place."

Other recommendations include that:

  • The Department of Local Government, in conjunction with relevant agencies and organisations, provides training for councillors on planning matters and corruption awareness

  • Councils disposing of their own land consider using a competitive process for the sale of valuable land, or in the absence of that process, consider at least two valuations based on the land's 'highest and best use'; councils should also clearly identify their reasons if they decide to dispose of land at below market price for strategic purposes

  •  Individual councils consider measures to address the risk of inappropriate relationships forming between council officers and frequent applicants, which could include allocating development assessments from frequent applicants to different staff or using a random auditing system for development matters

"Development practice can have a far-reaching affect on the whole community, and the ICAC would like to thank all the individuals and organisations who contributed submissions to the discussion paper," Commissioner Cripps said.

"Seventeen per cent of the complaints that the ICAC receives relate to planning, and 28% of all requests for corruption prevention advice concerning planning matters. The recommendations in this position paper will therefore encourage continued improvements to the management of corruption risks in the development approval process."

Corruption risks in NSW development approval processes