CCC investigating 2016 local government elections

THE head of the Queensland Electoral Commission had "significant" concerns about last year's local council elections, a Crime and Corruption Commission hearing has been told.

Electoral Commissioner of Queensland Walter van der Merwe told the hearing in Brisbane this morning that last year's council polls attracted a large volume of complaints that 'warranted further investigation'.

"Some of these concerns were reasonably significant," he said.

The hearings are part of an extensive CCC investigation, codenamed Operation Belcarra, which is examining last year's local government elections for Gold Coast, Ipswich and Moreton Bay councils.

Allegations have been raised of deceitful conduct by candidates who failed to declare links to political parties or unregistered groups.

Counsel assisting the CCC, Glen Rice QC, said Queenslanders were entitled to have faith in the electoral process.

"Transparency and openness is paramount to the political process," he said.

The hearings, which will also feature evidence from a number of candidates and councillors including Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale and Gold Coast Deputy Mayor Donna Gates, has been set down for five days.

ECQ boss Walter van der Merwe said there was no excuse for any candidates caught breaking the law.

Pointing to information in an official candidates guidebook, he said candidates were also advised to study the relevant legislation.

"If you follow my guidelines you can't make a mistake," he said.

"I will provide you with all the information to keep you honest and keep you transparent.

"I don't know what else I can do to be honest."

However, he said since the ECQ lacked the resources for designated investigators, a degree of "good faith" was placed in candidates to do the right thing.

The Crime and Corruption Commission has summoned 19 people to testify as part of an investigation into the conduct of candidates who contested the Gold Coast, Moreton Bay and Ipswich elections.

Former Turnbull government minister Stuart Robert, former Tony Abbott adviser Simone Holzapfel and Gold Coast City councillor Kristyn Boulton are scheduled to give evidence on the opening day of the hearing in Brisbane on Tuesday.

Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate, Moreton Bay mayor Allan Sutherland, Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale and other councillors will also give evidence on one of the four other days scheduled between April 19 and 26.

The CCC launched Operation Belcarra in 2016 after the Electoral Commission of Queensland received complaints about improper financial dealings during the local council campaigns.

It included concerns over donations from Mr Robert's Liberal National Party branch's fundraising arm to former staffers who ran as independents. Candidates who run as independents are not allowed to work or fundraise together during an election campaign and risk heavy fines if they don't declare their party or independence.

The CCC hearing, headed by chairperson Alan MacSporran QC, is aiming to uncover if candidates running in each of the three local government areas advertised or fundraised as an "undeclared group of candidates".

It will also gather information about possible criminal offences as part of Operation Belcarra.

News Corp Australia


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