The City is set to spend up to $9.5M of ratepayers money implementing the Baird Government’s undemocratic business voting laws. Last year the NSW Coalition and the Shooters Party teamed up to pass legislation that gave City based businesses second vote in Council elections. Far from being business friendly, this legislation forces businesses to vote in Council elections or face a fine.
As I said at the time, this change to the system was a thinly veiled attempt to attack Lord Mayor, Clover Moore and a Council dominated by progressive Councillors. Under the previous system businesses were already able to vote on a voluntary basis. They will now have two votes automatically allocated to them whether they wanted it or not.
The City is now forced to deal with the consequences of this legislation’s many flaws. A critical feature of the Coalition/Shooter’s Bill is that it places the responsibility of creating and maintaining the business electoral roll with the City of Sydney’s CEO rather than the Electoral Commission. Since the passing of this Bill the City has spent considerable time and money seeking advice on how to implement its effects.
While the City keeps accurate records of business ratepayers that own land in the local government area, there is no reliable record of every business or sole trader renting space in the City. To complicate matters there is a high turnover of businesses between elections (every four years) with the creation of new small businesses and the closure of others. Without an existing and up-to-date record of all the businesses leasing commercial space the City will have to employ considerable resources to create a list of all businesses that have a rental arrangement in the local government area.
The challenge of finding every commercial tenant and sub-tenant in the City is enormous and the legislation leaves no margin for error. In cases where some business tenants are not discovered before the 1st August 2016 cut off period the results of the election may be open to a legal challenge. The City is seeking further legal advice to determine exactly how some of these challenges should be interpreted.
Greens MPs have committed to bringing forward legislation in a future parliament to abolish this undemocratic aberration in the system. I look forward to that day.