Pre-polling is now open for the NSW local council elections, as the NSW Electoral Commission raised concerns people may not realise they must vote.
Seventy-eight councils will go to the polls next weekend (Saturday, September 10) but 48 councils have had their elections deferred, including many metropolitan Sydney councils.
Elections have been postponed until September 2017 for the 19 new councils created in May, as well as for councils who are in limbo because they are challenging their mergers in court and councils under administration. A handful of elections in rural areas are uncontested for either the whole council or one or more ward.
The split means that the Commission is anticipating some confusion among voters about whether they need to vote or not, particularly where voters live in areas whose bordering councils are doing the opposite.
Some may not vote and be fined, others may turn up to vote and discover there is no election. Pre-polling closes at 6pm on Friday, September 9.
NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole said people should check whether they needed to vote or not.
“I would urge anyone who is uncertain about whether they are required to vote on September 10 to visit www.votensw.info where they can check their enrolment details and look up their enrolled street address to find out whether they will need to vote,” Mr Toole said.
“This resource is provided by the NSW Electoral Commission, which has responsibility for making people aware of local government elections, and it is reminding the community that voting is compulsory.”
Meanwhile, tales of developers, breakaway candidates and smear campaigns have brought a soap opera quality to this year’s local government elections.
City of Sydney remains the glittering prize with the major parties desperate to pry power away from Independent Mayor Clover Moore and unseat her from the Town Hall, scuppering her twelve-year reign.
For the first time, businesses in the City of Sydney area are mandated to vote and they get two votes when they do, a change pushed for by City of Sydney councillor Ed Mandla and supported by NSW Premier Mike Baird.
The impact of an extra 23,000 (business) voters – around one-quarter of the total vote – on the council election remains to be seen but it is likely to make a dent in incumbent Mayor Clover Moore’s chances, though not enough to topple her.
Although Moore is a good bet to retain the mayoralty she is likely to finish up with fewer councillors on her ticket which would tip the balance of power at Town Hall. There are ten spots all up, including the Mayor. In 2012, Moore scooped more than 50 per cent first preference votes and five of her team secured places on the council.
Moore’s ticket includes influential candidates Dr Kerryn Phelps, former President of the Australian Medical Association and a public health and gay rights activist, and prominent Sydney architect Phillip Thalis, a sign that the Mayor may be coaching her successor.
Moore faces off against ex-Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, representing the Liberals; Independent Angela Vithoulkas, who Mandla defected to (after directing a few choice barbs at his Liberal colleagues about lobbyists and factions) and Labor’s Linda Scott, who has rugby league star Ian Roberts on her ticket.
Out west, candidates are limbering up for a fight but this time without Liverpool Mayor Ned Mannoun.
The Liberal mayor recently announced that he will not stand for council this time around, claiming he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Mannoun’s decision follows a raft of accusations aired against him and his family by Shooters and Fishers MP Robert Borsak, who attacked Mannoun under parliamentary privilege in September last year. Mannoun has denounced Borsak for running a smear campaign. The mayor’s home and offices were raided by ICAC in August, apparently at the Mayor’s request.
Instead, it has been left to Liberal Tony Hadchiti to take a run at the mayor’s job, with Mannoun’s backing.
Another focal point of these elections will be around developers and real estate agents, particularly following events at the previous Auburn Council and the highly publicised excesses of former Deputy Mayor and property developer Salim Mehajer.
Although the new Cumberland Council, formed by merging parts of Auburn, Parramatta and Holroyd Councils, will not be holding an election until September next year observers are sure to be watching to see if councillors in other areas declare any property interests.
The Baird government brought in new rules in June requiring a cap on political donations and ruling that property developers and real estate agents must reveal their profession when running for election. They are not allowed to vote on issues where they have a pecuniary interest but the government stopped short of banning them from sitting on councils.
NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley has banned Labour candidates from being real estate agents or property developers, a ban backed also by the Greens. NSW Labor banned property developers from becoming candidates at a local, state and federal level in 2013.
Fairfield Council’s elections have already attracted their share of controversy ahead of the voting.
Fairfield Labor Mayor Frank Carbone was disendorsed by his party in the run-up to the local council elections, allegedly because some State Labor MPs got jumpy about his property interests. While Carbone has protested that he is not a developer his brother Pat (Pasquale) is a well-known developer.
Events took a bizarre turn when Frank Carbone decided to run against Labor-endorsed candidate Del Bennett on an independent ticket with suspended Liberal councillor Dai Le.
Dai Le was handed a ten-year suspension from the party after running against an endorsed Liberal councillor.
Carbone was expelled from NSW ALP this week for opposing Bennett, the endorsed Labour candidate.
The 2016 local government elections are also liable to generate a chorus of complaints from residents whose councils are headed by administrators until September 2017.
One thing is for sure, they won’t be dull.
Comment below to have your say on this story.
If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sign up to the Government News newsletter