Presumption of innocence, not blanket bans, the correct approach to suspected wrong-doers

Summary

The presumption of innocence is on display in the arrest and pending trial of Logan City Mayor Luke Smith on charges of corruption. This is the correct approach to dealing with corruption of elected officials. It contrasts with the presumption of guilt approach adopted by the CCC in its Belcarra recommendations, and then extended by the state government which bans property donors from full participation in the political process because there is a “public perception” developers are corrupt. If the police and CCC are operating effectively any corruption will be subject to the proper legal process while innocent people will not be tainted by the suspected guilt of others just because they are in the same industry.

Facts

  • Operation Belcarra found no instances of property developers giving donations in return for favours. Its only recommendation for prosecution was against the CFMEU candidate for Gold Coast Mayor, Penny Toland, for failure to disclose donations from the union.
  • Since Operation Belcarra reported, continuing¬† investigations have led to charges being laid against two mayors – Cr Paul Pisasale from Ipswich and now Cr Luke Smith from Logan. Both men claim to be innocent.
  • It is not clear to what extent the charges involve donors to either mayor, and how many of the co-accused may be property developers.
  • The Australian Institute for Progress supports the identification and prosecution of people involved in corruption and appropriate punishment if they are convicted.
  • Over the course of the last parliament complaints were made against a number of councillors, including in documents tabled in parliament by the former Independent member for Cairns, Rob Pyne. None of the complaints was upheld by the Crime and Corruption Commission.
  • Prosecution of these two mayors, which occurs under the current regime where property developers can donate, indicates that wrongdoing can be brought to account, without compromising the political rights of third parties.
  • The charges, and the results, will shed light on how corruption occurs in local government, and should be used to inform any changes to donation laws.

Comment

“When corrupt conduct is identified, it should be prosecuted with the full force of the law. That is justice.

“It shouldn’t matter what industry corrupt actors come from, and other parties in the industry should not be punished merely for being in the same industry. That is injustice.

“The CCC action shows that the proposed property developer donation ban is unnecessary. The cases will demonstrate how a proper political system, subject to the rule of law, should operate in these situations.”

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