Wedding furore prompts NSW policy U-turn

NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole has promised to rewrite controversial local government voting laws as the fallout continues over a flashy western Sydney councillor’s show-stopping wedding.

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The policy U-turn was announced late on Monday, after days of pressure on the government to examine the voting rights and record of Auburn deputy mayor Salim Mehajer, a property developer who made headlines last weekend when he blocked a local street for a lavish wedding that included a jet fly-over, $50 million worth of luxury cars and a red carpet lined with drummers.

The attention threw a spotlight on concerns about an existing section of legislation, ushered through parliament in 2012, that allows councillors to vote on local planning changes in which they may have a stake, provided they declare their interest.

“We said if there is an issue, we will fix it – and that’s what’s going to happen,” Mr Toole said on Monday.

“Let me make this clear: the government will amend the relevant section of the Local Government Act to ensure councillors will not be able to vote on any matters in which they have a pecuniary interest.”

He said other issues relating to councillors’ pecuniary interests and misconduct will be considered as part of broader review of the act.

Labor leader Luke Foley welcomed the promise, which came after he called for developers and real estate agents to be banned from holding office at a local government level.

“It is the first step towards restoring integrity and transparency at the local government level,” he said on Monday evening.

Mr Foley also called for a cap on political donations and campaign spending during council elections and popularly elected mayors with four-year terms.

Although the government is still considering wider reforms of the Local Government Act, it’s understood legislation to address section 451 is likely to come before parliament within weeks.