“I don’t think we should necessarily regard them as an enemy species because they’re property developers or real estate agents; they’re entitled to have a voice around the table,” she said.
“Maybe we could start to ban other groups of people, maybe teachers.” She later clarified the remark as “flippant”, and said, “Let’s not classify all property developers as ‘evil’.”
Labor’s local government spokesman Greg Warren is spearheading the bill, the party’s second attempt to ban property developers and real estate agents from becoming councillors after the government voted down a similar bill in the upper house in 2017.
The minister repeatedly declined to state her opinion during the hearing or speculate on what the government’s position on the bill would be.
“I cannot respond as an individual minister to a piece of legislation before the house,” she said.
Her position before the committee on Wednesday put her at odds with Environment Minister Matt Kean’s vocal stance on the issue. He has previously said, “It’s unacceptable that property developers are using the Liberal Party’s brand to line their own pockets.”
Ms Hancock told the committee there were already measures to “take the sugar off the table” for developers on councils, with the Office of Local Government head Tim Hurst saying developers had to declare their occupation to the NSW Electoral Commission when running.
But issues of transparency were raised after Mr Hurst said the agency could not comment on investigations after receiving questions about an alleged probe into a mayor accused of failing to declare property interests.
The Liberal Party’s state executive last month voted down a motion to ban developers on council, with the issue expected to be raised again at a party conference in May after debate was delayed at a meeting in the Southern Highlands on Friday night.
Ms Hancock said political parties, including her own, could take it into their own hands to disqualify certain individuals through their preselection process.
“If they have concerns about property developers or real estate agents, they can pre-empt the election of those people to local government themselves,” she said.
With Lisa Visentin
Angus Thompson is a court reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.