The paper-thin layer of goodwill between New South Wales state government and its councils has been torn asunder after legislation targeted at removing the independent Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, triggered a fierce backlash from local governments.
Councils are livid at the prospect commercial interests will be given twice the voting power of residents in municipal elections.
After a horror week that culminated in the forced resignation of two state Coalition MPs over admissions to the state’s corruption watchdog related to bribery and illegal political donations, the Mike Baird government is now facing a grass roots revolt over its bid to push through legislation that would result in a compulsory increase to the value of business votes over everyday ratepayers.
Moved by the Shooters and Fishers Party, the latest tranche of so-called ‘Get Clover’ legislation seeks to “make it easier for those businesses who contribute the majority of the Council revenue to have their say on the future direction of our largest city” according to the minority party.
But it’s an electoral stretch for CBD residents, given escalating incidents of gun crime and the fact recreational shooting is not allowed within the City of Sydney.
Although recreational fishing is permitted, the state government advises that fish caught in Sydney Harbour and Botany Bay should not be eaten due to toxicity levels.
The idea that gun owners need more rights is also also on the nose with police, who have intensively lobbied for tighter liquor regulation to stem the rate of violent assaults.
Representative semantics aside, any pretence to avoid what appeared to be a naked political vendetta against the independent Lord Mayor, who has confounded both major sides of politics, were dispensed with after reports Shooters and Fisher’s MP Robert Borsak thanked firebrand talkback radio host Alan Jones and the Daily Telegraph for helping to influence the Baird government on the bill.
The key bone of contention is that businesses in the City of Sydney would get two votes in Council elections, while residents get one. At the same time, businesses that now have to voluntarily enrol to vote would be compelled to cast a ballot.
Historical voluntary business voter turnout in Sydney is low, highlighting the issue of why, if there are material issues, so few commercial entities have bothered to participate in polls considering many routinely deal with shareholders on a regular basis.
A property industry source suggested on Thursday evening a number of councils across the state were considering a push to rein in the legislation through pressure on News Local, which is freely distributed door to door and primarily makes its money from a combination of real estate, business classifieds and display and adult services advertising in local government areas.
The source suggested that patience was “bloody thin” with tactics aimed at just one council that could “take out” the whole state.
“There’s nothing local in it,” the source said.
Councils are not mincing their words either.
The Local Government Association of NSW said that “not a single NSW council has been consulted on the ‘secretive’ Shooters and Fishers Party Bill … making business voting compulsory in Local Government elections.”
“While the current Bill is solely aimed at the City of Sydney, [LGNSW] is deeply concerned about the lack of transparency and non-existent consultation on the proposed legislation, and the potential for these new voting rules to be rolled-out to all NSW councils.”
The president of LGNSW, Keith Rhoades, said he was “outraged” at the NSW Government’s support of this Bill, which had “not been made public to the 152 NSW councils it may impact.”
“Thanks to the [NSW State] Government’s chosen method of informing councils via the media on the new voting rules, we now have a situation where the entire Local Government sector in NSW is in the dark about the changes slated to go before Parliament.
“How can a government justify ramming through changes in Parliament without any consultation whatsoever with the industry set to be significantly impacted?” Mr Rhoades said.
Mr Rhoades added “while the word ‘democracy’ has been bandied around in support of making business voting compulsory at Local Government elections, it appears a key component of democracy – transparency – is missing in this politically-motivated move by those parties involved.”
He questioned why, if the reforms in the bill were “fair and reasonable” local governments had been excluded from the legislative process “and why all the secrecy and haste in getting the Bill passed.”
“These new rules have the potential to affect processes, procedures and results in some council areas across the state and yet the only detail we have been provided is what was announced in the media,” Mr Rhoades said.
“In the spirit of democracy, I call on all parties involved in developing and supporting this Bill – Shooters and Fishers Party and the Liberal/National coalition – to make the proposed legislation public and open for comment.”
LGNSW wants NSW councils to contact their local State MP and the Minister for Local Government, the Hon Paul Toole MP, to seek the public release of the Bill and express their concerns about the non-existent consultation with NSW Local Government.
Ms Moore has branded the new legislation as undemocratic.
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