Local government Archive

Victorian local government election review – the rest of the story

Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post about the Independent Local Government Electoral Review Panel in Victoria, chaired by former federal Liberal MP Petro Georgiou. In particular I focused on recommendations to modify the local government franchise, by extending the right to vote to all permanent residents (ie. non-citizens) living in the local government area, removing the second vote for businesses in the City of Melbourne, and generally simplifying and clarifying the process for non-residents to gain the right to vote in all council elections.

The review’s reports, however, covered much more than the franchise, so I thought I would return to the topic and summarise some of the most interesting recommendations, below the fold.

There are two reports – stage 1 and stage 2. I have listed the recommendation number for those recommendations I have discussed.

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City of Melbourne to end double votes for business?

While the NSW Governments and the Shooters and Fishers push ahead with legislation to institute the “Melbourne model” of two votes for each business and corporation paying rates and owning property in the city, an independent review of Victorian local government has recommended an end to the very same practice.

The independent Local Government Electoral Review Panel, chaired by former federal MP Petro Georgiou, has released two lengthy reports after a year of consultations and discussion papers. The panel’s two reports cover a wide variety of issues, and I will return at a later date to consider the report in full, but the report is particularly interesting in recommending significant changes to voting rights for local council elections.

The report is recommending that all permanent residents be given the right to vote in the local council where they live, even if they are not a citizen, and is recommending a significant simplification of the process by which non-residents gain the right to vote.

The report points out that the current process of enrolment fails tests for equity and transparency, for example:

The right to vote can be transferred from one party to another. Under section 15 of the Local Government Act 1989, other than those commercial tenants who are on the council’s rate records, if a commercial tenant wants to apply to vote as a ratepayer, they need the landlord’s consent. The
landlord can then choose whether or not to transfer their vote to a tenant. This is inequitable and anachronistic.

The potential for chaos has also been exposed under the proposed bill for the City of Sydney, as revealed by Sean Nicholls in the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday:

The information provided was it would mean any landholder who pays rates in the City of Sydney will get a maximum of two votes, regardless of the number of businesses operating in the building they own.

Those businesses would not be entitled to vote unless the ratepayer nominates them as one of the two eligible voters.

Currently all business owners who pay more than $5,000 a year in rent have the right to vote but are not automatically enrolled.

As a result, thousands of business owners who meet the rent threshold and are eligible to vote would lose the right under Mr Borsak’s bill.

Giving certain individuals or corporations the power to choose which of their tenants is given the right to vote opens the process up for further abuse.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Currently the City of Melbourne is the only council in Victoria where businesses are given two votes, but the process is needlessly complicated across the state, as seen in this diagram produced by the Review’s secretariat (right).

The Review’s report has significant implications for the political debate in New South Wales around voting rights for the City of Sydney.

The fact that a committee led by a former Liberal MP, and appointed by a Liberal state government, is so sceptical of double voting for businesses should demonstrate the folly of extending the experiment to NSW.

If these reforms are implemented, the business vote will be significantly reduced in City of Melbourne elections. At the moment, non-resident voters make up almost 60% of the electoral roll for the City of Melbourne.

In addition, the enfranchisement of permanent residents in council elections would be a significant step forward, and I think a positive step towards voting rights being extended to all those who a permanent members of a community, not just those who have achieved citizenship.

City of Sydney business voting – bill revealed

Following on from the announcement earlier this week that the NSW state government will support a bill from the Shooters and Fishers that will radically expand business voting for the City of Sydney, today the bill was introduced in the Legislative Council, after previously not being advertised or being presented for any consultation.

The legislation confirms that property owners, ratepaying lessees or occupiers are entitled to vote: corporations are entitled to two votes, and otherwise the number of property owners, ratepaying lessees, and occupiers who get to vote are capped at two.

The other key part of the law will automatically enrol voters for all those who are eligible to vote. This creates the effect of massively expanding the number of non-resident voters in the City of Sydney, possibly threatening Clover Moore’s hold on the position.

The bill does not limit voting rights to non-residents who actually pay rates, regardless of the absurd ‘taxation without representation’ argument from supporters of business voting. The proposal isn’t about giving voting rights to ratepayers, but giving voting rights to one particular sector that has a history of having a large amount of influence over most councils.

Outrageously, the law gives the government the power to expand these new rules to any other local council in New South Wales, seemingly on an arbitrary basis. The NSW government has refused to say which other councils could also see massive expansions in business voting, but there have been suggestions that Parramatta, Newcastle and Wollongong could see a similar imposition.

Some might say that the latest news at ICAC regarding the Lord Mayor of Newcastle suggests that business interests don’t need any more influence over councils, but it hasn’t stopped the NSW government.

If you can’t win, change the voters?

Since the expanded City of Sydney was created in 1948, every single state government has tinkered with the City of Sydney’s structure and boundaries to advantage their allies in local council elections.

Today’s announcement by the state Liberal government that they plan to radically expand business voting in the City of Sydney is in the same vein, but is a more extreme step away from local democracy in the City of Sydney, and a step back to an era where voting rights were contingent on property ownership.

It’s hard to say for sure what is being proposed, as I have not been able to find an actual bill anywhere, but the legislation appears to apply only to the City of Sydney (although it is suggested that it may be expanded to cover other councils), will give “up to two” votes to each business in the City of Sydney, and will create a permanent electoral roll for non-residential electors, so that all businesses are automatically enrolled and don’t have to ‘re-enrol’ for each election.

Owners and occupiers currently have the right to vote in NSW council elections in the council where they own property or operate a business, but most are not enrolled and do not vote. The City of Sydney is the only council where non-resident voters (such as businesses) are required to vote at the moment, but because most businesses are not enrolled to vote, and because you have to re-enrol for every election, it is effectively not compulsory to vote if you are a business.

While there are philosophical arguments about giving the right to vote to business owners who don’t live in the council area, this proposal is a naked power grab from conservative state politicians who have been unhappy with the progressive agenda that has been supported by voters in the City of Sydney, and want to remove the most prominent and successful mayor in New South Wales.

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Queensland council de-amalgamations go ahead

As I reported earlier this year, Queensland is progressing with a plan to de-amalgamate four former local council areas from the super-councils created in 2007-8.

Voters in these four areas voted in favour of de-amalgamating in March 2013.

All four of these council areas elected new mayors and councils on Saturday November 9th, and you can see the results on the Electoral Commission of Queensland website.

The four councils are:

  • Douglas Shire – merged with Cairns.
  • Livingston Shire – merged with the City of Rockhampton and the Shires of Fitzroy and Mount Morgan to form Rockhampton Region.
  • Mareeba Shire – merged with Atherton, Eacham and Herberton to form Tablelands Region.
  • Noosa Shire – merged with Caloundra and Maroochy to form Sunshine Coast Region.

While the merger of Cairns and Douglas will be entirely reversed, the merged entities in the other three areas will remain, as at least two former councils remain part of the larger councils.

The four councils will be restored on 1 January 2014.

You can download a Google Earth file with boundaries for the four new councils, and the new boundaries for the councils that have lost territory. You can also download an updated map of all of Queensland’s council areas, showing the new boundaries from 2014.

All four councils elected their councillors at-large, so no ward maps need to be updated.

WA government releases new council map for Perth

The Western Australian government has recently unveiled its latest plans to drastically reduce the number of councils covering the Perth area.

The latest model reduces the number of councils in Perth from 30 to 15, with only three councils left without boundary changes. One council outside Perth (Murray Shire) expanded to cover parts of a neighbouring council that had been abolished.

The changes varied from the original plan, in particular with a Fremantle council remaining separate from Melville.

I have produced a Google Earth map covering the proposed Perth boundaries, which you can view and toggle between the current boundaries and the proposed boundaries. Download it here.

Below the fold you can also see the inner-Perth boundaries, before and after the proposed changes.

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NZ councils up for election

nzcouncils

Territorial authorities of New Zealand

As part of my project to cover the 2014 New Zealand general election in more depth, I’ve just completed a Google Earth map of New Zealand’s Territorial Authorities, or local councils.

New Zealand’s local council elections are currently being held by postal ballot, and will conclude tomorrow, on Saturday 12 October. The election will cover elections for New Zealand local territorial authorities, as well as the regions and district health boards across the country.

New Zealand’s north and south islands are covered by 66 territorial authorities: 43 on the north island and 23 on the south island. New Zealand is also covered by 16 regional councils: five of which are the same as the territorial authorities.

I haven’t been able to complete the map of the 16 regions, but will do so in coming days.

Download the Google Earth map of New Zealand local councils here.

The most interesting election taking place in New Zealand is the election for Auckland Council. In the lead-up to the last election in 2010, all of the local councils in the Auckland region were merged together to form a ‘super-city’.

In Auckland (and, it seems, most of the country), national political parties do not contest local elections, but alliances are formed that roughly align with right and left. In Auckland, incumbent centre-left mayor Len Brown is again leading the CityVision ticket, which seems to have the support of Labour and Green Party activists.

Interestingly, while New Zealand general elections are held using proportional representation, most local councils still use ‘first past the post’ to elect their council. Councils can choose between FPP and Single Transferable Vote (STV), which is similar to Australia system of proportional representation using preferences. STV is the only form of PR that works without political parties, and is gradually gaining popularity amongst NZ councils.

In Christchurch, Lianne Dalziel, Labour MP for Christchurch East, has resigned her seat to run for the Christchurch mayoralty. The seat has traditionally been safe for Labour, but the Nationals topped the party vote in the seat in 2011. Christchurch East has experienced a massive population drop since the last census, largely due to the Christchurch earthquakes.

Christchurch East will vote in a by-election on November 30 to fill the seat, and I plan on doing a profile of this seat. We will also be seeing a draft redistribution of New Zealand’s electoral boundaries in November, which I plan on covering as well.

Queensland councils set to de-amalgamate

On Saturday, while most attention was focused on Western Australia, voters in four regional Queensland areas voted to overturn controversial council amalgamations forced through by the Beattie Labor government in 2007.

The amalgamations caused an uproar in large parts of regional Queensland, and the Liberal National Party promised to move towards reversing some of the amalgamations.

The City of Brisbane covers most of the Brisbane urban area, and has done so since the 1930s. Because of this previous merger, the amalgamations focused on regional areas.

The former local government areas of Mareeba, Livingstone, Douglas and Noosa were merged respectively into the super-councils of Tablelands, Rockhampton, Cairns and Sunshine Coast.

All four votes passed. In three of the areas, the plebiscite passed with 56-58% voting ‘yes’. The vote in Noosa was overwhelming, with over 81% voting ‘yes’.

The restored councils will be required to pay for the estimated cost of restoring an extra local council – with the cost estimated by the Queensland Treasury Corporation to be as high as $13.65 million in the case of Noosa.

The state government refused a request from the former Isis Shire Council to break away from Bundaberg Regional Council on the grounds that the restored council would not be able to bear the costs of separation.

It’s unclear how long it will be before new councils are elected in the de-amalgamated areas, and whether the remainder of the super-councils which will be broken up will also have to face new elections. It’s also unclear if any more former councils will be offered the opportunity to de-amalgamate.

These decisions buck what has been an inexorable trend for the last eighty years. Most local councils were created across Australia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and by the 1930s and 1940s, efforts began to be made to reduce the number of councils.

In that time, councils have been amalgamated all over Australia, with very few examples of councils being broken up into smaller units.

Exploring the history of local government

Last weekend I was at the Marrickville Festival and ended up chatting with one of the members of the local heritage society. For a while I’ve been fascinated by all of the old local councils that used to exist in Sydney prior to the Labor government’s massive round of amalgamations in 1948/9.

The Marrickville council area used to be covered by Marrickville, St Peters and Petersham councils, and part of the modern LGA was also covered by Newtown municipality.

Similar stories have taken place in other areas. The City of Sydney absorbed at least eight other local councils in 1948/9, in addition to Camperdown municipality forty years earlier.

The local heritage society gave me a name for an old company of mapmakers who made maps of local government boundaries (including ward boundaries) in the 1880s.

The City of Sydney archives has a copy of most of the Higinbotham and Robinson maps available online.

They are quite fascinating for anyone interested in local government and the political and demographic evolution of Sydney over the last 150 years.

Some of these councils largely reflect modern boundaries – Kogarah, Waverley and Randwick appear to have not changed at all, and North Sydney and Mosman were created in their modern form around 1890 out of the former St Leonards council.

At some point in the future I am interested in making maps of Sydney showing the evolution of Sydney’s local government boundaries over the past 120 years. I wouldn’t try and do this for all of NSW, but it is probably achievable to do this for the Sydney area.

In the meantime, go and have a look at these maps – they are fascinating for anyone interested in the history of Sydney or political geography more generally.

Wrapping up the NSW council elections

NSW voters elected their local councillors six weeks ago, on September 8. At the time I was working on the election campaign and thus didn’t have the time to give the proper treatment to the election on this blog. Now that the Tally Room is coming out of hibernation, I wanted to sum up what happened at the election.

Most councils in NSW are still dominated by candidates running without endorsement by political parties. However the role of political parties are growing, particularly in urban councils in Sydney, the Hunter and the Illawarra. About half of the councils in NSW didn’t have any political party run for the election in 2012, but only two of those councils are in Sydney.

Because of this, it is more useful to zoom in on the Sydney region when you are trying to get an overall picture of how parties perform. Most of the voters live in a small number of councils along the coast, in Sydney and in the regions. This means there are hundreds of councillors elected in Western NSW with a tiny number of votes.

Overall, this election was a good one for the Liberals and a bad one for Labor and the Greens. The Liberal vote has been bolstered by a decision to run for the councils of Camden, Hornsby and Sutherland. These councils are in very conservative areas and solidly vote Liberal in parliamentary elections, but until 2012 had never had official Liberal candidates stand. In all three cases the Liberal Party polled well over 40% of the primary vote and won a majority on the council.

The Liberals, however, also decided to not run officially in Penrith and Fairfield, where liberal independents stood instead. In Penrith the Liberal-aligned independents effectively won control of the council off the ALP.

Result of NSW Local Government Elections 2012 in Greater Sydney region

Party Seats +/- Votes % Swing
Liberal 151 +34 675,963 30.35 +7.19
Labor 122 -1 534,733 24.01 -4.51
The Greens 22 -26 159,707 7.17 -1.50
Unity 2 -3 15,088 0.68 -0.56
CDP 0 0 14,787 0.66 +0.47
Liberal Democrats 2 +2 11,962 0.54 +0.54
Australia First 1 +1 6,455 0.29 +0.17
Independents/Others 172 -3 808,824 36.31 -1.80

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