The NSW Business Chamber joins the state’s peak body representing local government (LGNSW) in being left in the dark by the NSW Shooters & Fishers Party and the coalition over Sydney’s CBD voting reforms.
The City of Sydney Amendment (Elections) Bill 2014 has been widely criticised for advocating that businesses receive two votes, giving them a greater say in local elections. Typically such a move is considered to be a gerrymander.
‘Giving business a voice’ is the catchphrase, and supporters such as local MP Don Page (Nationals) say that it would remove ‘significant bureaucratic barriers’ and allow businesses to remain enrolled.
The legislation includes provisions for the scheme to be rolled out state-wide, and has the full support of the NSW Business Chamber.
But the Chamber’s policy manager Luke Aitken confirmed with The Echo that the legislation came as a surprise to his organisation. He backed calls by executive director of the Sydney Business Chamber, Patricia Forsythe, saying the government needs to justify the ‘two vote’ proposal.
‘The Local Government Act has always provided a mechanism for non-residents to vote in council elections,’ he said. ‘The principle behind this, however, is one person one vote. If you live in the city of Sydney and also have a business in the city, you can only vote as a resident.
‘If your business is in the city of Sydney and you live in Bondi (ie Waverley LGA), you can vote in the city of Sydney as a non-resident business owner and in Waverley as a resident.’ When asked how such a program would work across regional areas, he said that it’s a ‘little too soon to say exactly how things would roll out across the state, but simplifying the enrolment process for non-residents (who are currently required to re-enrol at each local government election) by implementing a permanent roll (so they enrol once and stay on the roll like other electors) would need to be a feature.’
But the Bill is also mired in politically motivated; ICAC recently heard disgraced Liberal MP Chris Hartcher explain that his former staffer Tim Koelma was preparing ‘a local government strategy in relationship to the City of Sydney.’
Meanwhile, Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardon will seek councillor support at Thursday’s meeting to oppose the bill. He is calling for Council to ‘commit to the basic democratic principle of “one-person one-vote” in local government elections,’ and if supported, he will express Council’s concerns to government heads and parliamentary representatives.
Of course Wayne thinks there is no ‘budget emergency’.
A real budget emergency was during the 2008 global economic collapse, when he was federal treasurer.
It’s Sunday and there’s a small crowd gathered in the Community Centre to hear Labor stalwart Wayne Swan talk – it was also the launch of his new book, The Good Fight, a memoir of his six years in perhaps the second most important job in Australia.
As expected, there was much ridicule of the current Abbott government.
‘It’s absurd that this government is out there with this language of “lifters and leaners,”’ he told the audience.
‘It’s straight out of an Ayn Rand novel! They are lunatics.’
Wayne’s main narrative of course centres around the measures implemented to stave off the 2008 global crash: guaranteed bank deposits and the stimulus packages to name a few.
Whatever was done, it worked because we were virtually unscathed while other western countries dipped into recession. Was Wayne just really, really lucky? While the mining boom could have been mentioned, Wyane reckons it was the first stimulus package that did it.
He briefly touches on his unwavering belief in Keynesian economic theory. ‘We went into deficit not because of the stimulus spending, but because of revenue write downs,’ he said. ‘You go into deficit; you spend and you restore confidence. Jobs come back, the economy starts to stabilise and then grow again.’
Of all the developed countries in the last 100 years, he said, ‘we have done a better job of matching economic growth with social equity.’
‘The attack that came upon us [in government from Murdoch and big business] is about dismantling that.
‘It’s about shifting the tax burden from the big corporates onto the average people. And in the middle of all that there’s not enough room to spend money on quality education and healthcare.
‘It’s incredible that we have a government that says it looks to America for its policy inspiration. The Americans are looking at Australia!’
Eating its own
‘There is a big battle going on,’ he says. ‘It’s for the soul of the country, and it’s also a battle internationally.
‘Lady Rothschild recently convened an “Inclusive Prosperity Conference” in London and the governor of the Bank of England said that capitalism is currently going through a period where it’s “eating its own”.
‘And the chairman of the IMF says policies for redistribution of wealth are absolutely imperative if capitalism is to be sustainable. And here? the government says “none of that, we need survival of the fittest”. The US model has hollowed out their middle class and produced the most amazing concentration of wealth, which in itself is a drag on their economic future.’
Proposed legislation aimed at ‘giving business a voice in local elections’ by the NSW Shooters and Fishers party and supported by coalition government, has been widely condemned by the entire opposing political spectrum, including the peak body representing NSW councils.
It complements yet another dreadful week for the NSW Liberal-National parties, which have seen more of their MPs resign over ICAC corruption investigations.
While the City of Sydney Amendment (Elections) Bill 2014 applies only to Sydney, critics say there are plans for it to be applied across the state. Similar laws exist in Melbourne, and this proposal would give non-resident owners of rateable land two votes in local government elections.
In introducing the bill to Parliament on Thursday, Shooters and Fishers party MP Robert Borsak thanked broadcaster Alan Jones and the Daily Telegraph for their support.
Meanwhile, local NSW MP Don Page (Nationals) supports the idea – which Local Government NSW (LGNSW) says came without warning – and told The Echo the reforms will fix changes introduced in 1998 that created barriers to prevent non-residential voters from ‘exercising their democratic right’.
‘To be clear, businesses have always had the right to vote,’ he said.
‘Unfortunately, to do so they have to navigate through significant bureaucratic barriers within a three- month period. If they find a way through the red tape, they have to do it all again at the next election because the non-residential roll is deleted. No other Australian city deletes the non-residential roll after each election.’
Mr Page took aim at the lack of engagement on the bill, saying that, ‘Some who claim there was no consultation did not even bother to make a submission. Others that did are simply scaremongering.’
Mr Page also recited some of the Shooters and Fishers’ MP Borsak’s speech in parliament.
‘A person can only be enrolled once, meaning they only get one vote. A person who owns 20 properties in Sydney will only be enrolled once, not 20 times.
‘The reforms address an injustice that prevented those who contribute 78.5 per cent of the City of Sydney’s revenue ($188 million a year) exercising just 2.13 per cent of votes at the last election.’
Voting rights based on wealth: Greens
But such voting rights could mean a return to the ‘nineteenth century voting rights based on wealth’ says NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge.
‘The NSW coalition has consistently shown that they follow the money wherever it takes them and that they believe developers and businesses should control the political process. With this Bill, the coalition is directly handing political control to corporate interests.’
NSW Labor’s Sophie Cotsis said, ‘Given everything that is being revealed at ICAC, it is unthinkable that the Liberals and Nationals are proposing these changes.’
Meanwhile, the peak body representing Local Government NSW (LGNSW), says it 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.
President of LGNSW, the peak body representing local governments in NSW, Cr Keith Rhoades AFSM, said he is outraged at the NSW Government’s support of this Bill.
‘How can a government justify ramming through changes in Parliament without any consultation whatsoever with the industry set to be significantly impacted?’
SCU law lecturer Aidan Ricketts told The Echo the idea looks ‘terrible, problematic and horrendous.’
Butler Street residents in Byron Bay say they are gearing up to save their street from becoming a bypass after a majority of councillors voted against a proposal to pursue the unused rail corridor.
A motion at last Thursday’s meeting by Cr Duncan Dey requested written confirmation from the state government to ‘make land permanently available within the multi-modal rail corridor’.
But it gained only the support of Dey and the mayor; Crs Ibrahim, Cubis, Woods, Cameron, Wanchap, Spooner and Hunter instead voted against.
And while proceeding the current course reflects advice from the general manager Ken Gainger and staff, the Butler Street Community Network’s Paul Jones says that Council’s failure to ‘fully explore bypass route alternatives’ is a fundamental requirement of their application to state planning for the project approval.
‘We feel Council is its own worst enemy as they are so afraid of appearing to be indecisive and delaying the process that they vote to proceed into a legal and procedural quagmire,’ says Mr Jones.
‘As a result this will certainly have the effect of delaying the outcome and wasting precious financial resources’.
But the town’s chamber of commerce, Byron United, remains hopeful of a rail corridor outcome.
Vice-president Adrian Nelson said in a newsletter to members, ‘What was an encouraging outcome is that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) study for the bypass will need to consider possible alternative options. This may provide for the state-owned and unused land adjacent to the rail line to be considered for multi-modal use.’
During Thursday’s debate, Cr Sol Ibrahim turned directly to the Butler Street residents in the gallery and said, ‘I’m sorry, but it’s too late.’
He said that Council had already allocated and spent much of the $250,000 on exploring the current route.
‘Will the current government say yes? Most likely they will, but we would go back to square one.
‘We don’t have the money for a new EIS. At the start of this council’s term, the bypass was on everyone’s lips. The previous council debated it for four years. All Butler Street residents have known for the last four years if not longer that this was likely.’
It was around that time that Council pest Fast Buck$ interjected from the gallery and demanded to know if a cost analysis of the proposal had been undertaken.
After repeated bellowing by Buck$, the general manager eventually said that the state government asked Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) for one but Council have yet to see it.
Cr Basil Cameron received applause from the gallery when he said that ‘it doesn’t stack up to spend a lot more when we are not going to address the traffic problems in the long term. We are geographically constrained, so it doesn’t matter how many bypasses are built.’
Meanwhile Mr Jones says that he and fellow residents will now ‘object in every possible way to prevent approval of the project EIS submission as Council has left them no alternative.’
He says Council also failed to acknowledge the work done by the GTR proponents in clarifying so many misconceptions and in tabling an innovative proposal that addresses most if not all community, business and environmental concerns.
‘GTR has provided a superior bypass plan that avoids the Shirley Street roundabout bottleneck and enables extension through to Cemetery Road addressing the increasing traffic congestion approaching from the south of town and helping to retune Bangalow Road to far better residential amenity.
‘Butler Street Community Network will continue its work to protect our town’s cultural and built heritage.
‘We love this place in which we live and we will strive to ensure a workable, inspiring bypass solution that will enhance and support our town’s unique people-friendly character.’
n See letters page 11