NSW Electoral Commission puts word on councils over DIY polls

By Paul Hemsley

The New South Wales Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) has issued all councils across the state with the set of formalised words that are now required to be used when contracting-in the NSW Electoral Commission (NSWEC) to run their elections, referenda or polls.

The circular from the chief executive of the Division of Local Government, Ross Woodward, instructs local governments that if they want the NSWEC to conduct elections for them, they must adhere to “model resolutions” to get the process up and running.

The DPC Circular follows an election promise from Premier Barry O’Farrell in 2011 that the Coalition government would give councils more time to decide if they wanted to conduct elections themselves as a way to cuts for cost ratepayers   rather than paying the NSW Electoral Commission to do so.

According to the state government, 14 councils collectively saved about $1 million in the 2012 council elections including Botany Bay, Cessnock, Coffs Harbour, Fairfield, Gunnedah, Kempsey, Lake Macquarie, Lane Cove, Maitland, Newcastle, Penrith, Port Stephens, Shoalhaven and Sutherland.

Minister for Local Government Don Page said the government’s commitment that has saved NSW Councils “real money” at a time when many are “strapped for cash and struggling to deliver services while rebuilding infrastructure”.

The mechanics of the government’s promise comes is an amendment to Section 296 of the Local Government Act 1993 in June 2013, which gave NSW councils a deadline of 18 months before a poll or election to decide if they would want to operate it themselves.

Although technical, the legislative tweak is important to the local government sector because previous provisions forced councils decide who would conduct of their elections as far as three years before the poll date   which meant councils would have been forced to decide by September 2013 for the 2016 local government elections.

The state government has now halved that time to 18 months, with the new deadline for councils to decide will conduct of their elections set for March 2015.

Both the NSWEC and Local Government NSW had previously raised concerns with the state government that three year period between deciding to enter into binding arrangements and the 2016 election itself was just too long, leaving councils without adequate information on costs or alternative options.

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