Labor Seeks Real-Estate Council Ban

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Controversial Byron shire councillor and property-agency owner Rose Wanchap would be banned from being a councillor under a Labor plan ruling out developers and real-estate agents from being local councillors.

NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley has also called on the NSW government to scrap a decision introduced by former Ballina MP Don Page as local government minister, to let councillors vote on planning changes from which they could benefit.

Mr Foley also says political donations and spending should be capped in council elections.

The state Labor leader, who is the member for Auburn, made the comments amid the controversy surrounding Auburn City Council deputy mayor Salim Mehajer’s extravagant wedding earlier this month which closed off a local street.

Cr Wanchap defected from the Greens not long into her four-year term and now votes consistently with the pro-development faction of Byron Shire Council dominated by National Party members.

Cr Wanchap has upset residents by voting for a major subdivision development at West Byron, as well as backing a plan using over $1 million in ratepayer money to build a contentious rock wall at Belongil beach to protect houses along what is known as a ‘millionaire’s row’.

Auburn deputy Cr Mehajer is a property developer and, because of changes to councillors’ voting rights introduced three years ago by then local government minister
Don Page, is able to vote on matters which could potentially benefit him.

Critics of Byron’s Cr Wanchap say the same thing about her, as her agency Red Rose Realty could potentially benefit from new housing development in town.

Mr Foley told Fairfax Media the controversy surrounding Cr Mehajer’s lavish wedding had highlighted the role of property developers on councils.

Mr Foley said developers should not ‘sit in judgement on their own developments at a local government level’.

‘When one’s running a property development business or real estate business, the conflicts of interest are too great to overcome,’ he told Fairfax Media.

In 2012 the Local Government Act was changed to allow councillors with a pecuniary interest to vote on planning controls that affected all or a substantial part of a local government area, as long as they declared the interest.

Mr Foley said this change should be reversed, and a new law banning property developers and real estate agents from holding office in local government should be introduced before the 2016 local government elections.

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