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.’