The fundamentals of the democratic process have been thrown out the door by the NSW Liberals and the Shooters Party who are colluding to change the way elections are held in the City of Sydney. Under the Shooters amendment to the City of Sydney Act businesses will be grated twice as many votes as residents in Council elections. This slap in the face for City residents exposes the Baird Government’s willingness to deal with a reckless, single issue, micro party to serve its own political interests.
In the City of Sydney businesses are already allowed one vote per business on a voluntary basis. These changes have nothing to do with empowering local business and everything to do with kicking out a popularly elected Lord Mayor that the Liberals and Shooters find politically inconvenient.
This blatant gerrymandering of local government means that any business who owns or leases a building in the local government area will be given two votes. The effect of this is that any commercial premises may flood the electoral roll with hundreds of votes – two for every organisation that owns an office, leases an office or sublets an office. Businesses operating in the City will not need to pay Council rates to qualify for a vote, nor will they need to be a NSW or Australian citizen. Disturbingly the legislation will enable property developers, who have been banned from donating to MPs in NSW, votes come the September 2016 election.
I have spoken with my colleagues at the City of Melbourne where this system of giving businesses a double vote is already in place. They have serious concerns around the effect that this system has on Council engagement with local community groups. Less than 40% of individuals on the electoral role in Melbourne are residents, leaving the power in the hands of the business vote.
Sadly, this game of political football is not new to the City of Sydney. There is a long history of various State Governments making changes to the City of Sydney to suit their political purposes including the introduction and later abolition of wards and previous changes to the business voting system. Similarly, the 1982 abolition of South Sydney Council, it’s recreation in 1989 and its merger with the City of Sydney in 2003-04 is also seen by many as cynical moves by the state government of the day to manipulate the outcome of Council elections.
While the City of Sydney has always been looked upon as the Government’s plaything, this current set of changes opens up new threat to democracy. The Shooters’ Amendment Bill allows for the government of the day to apply this system of double voting for businesses to any Council in NSW at their discretion. In future we could see residents of other major centres such as Newcastle and Wollongong have their right to elect their Councillors taken away via regulation, without the approval of Parliament or the Council itself.
I encourage you to get involved in the campaign against this appalling legislation by signing the petition and handing out the flyer produced by Greens MP David Shoebridge: http://davidshoebridge.org.au/2014/08/13/votes-are-for-people-not-corporations/
The Greens have committed to bringing a bill to repeal these changes after the next State Election.