Ward split one-sided
Cessnock Council, luckily, has three member wards, as a result there is at least a chance of having greater diversity of candidates elected. It is a great shame to a democratic society like Australia that the two major political parties (ALP and Coalition) are supporting the continuation of two member wards in NSW local government. And it is a great shame that the NSW Local Government Association backtracked from its initial support for improved democracy in local Government.
Ward split one-sided
SMH August 16, 2011
ARE two-member council wards in blue-ribbon areas in effect a gerrymander for the main parties?
Under the prevailing optional preferential voting system for councils, if one party or ticket in a two-member ward gets 50 per cent of the vote plus one vote and another candidate or ticket gets 50 per cent less one, the first ticket wins both places.
The Greens believe the system is ”deeply undemocratic” and have a bill before the Legislative Council to require at least three councillors in each ward. With three-member wards, a 51 per cent-winning ticket would get two places on the council and a 49 per cent ticket one place, still leaving the slightly higher vote with twice the voice but not ”winner takes all”.
The Local Government Association and the Shires Association have considered the Greens’ bill and decided each council should determine its own position. However, it is understood the LGA executive at first backed the bill but Labor and Liberal board members came back with instructions from their parties and had the decision reversed.
Botany Bay and Ku-ring-gai councils have two-member wards, as do some small rural councils – Cabonne, Conargo, Guyra, Tenterfield, Wakool, Walcha and Weddin. In Botany Bay, the system has given Labor a stranglehold on the council, with no opposition contesting the last elections. Labor councillors were elected unopposed.
In Ku-ring-gai, the same thing happens in the Wahroonga ward – no election is necessary. In the Gordon and Comenarra wards, the difference between tickets after distribution of preferences is less than 10 per cent but one group takes both seats.
The Coalition government has just changed the system for Wollongong and Shellharbour councils, which are going to the polls early next month. It acted on the recommendation of the Shellharbour administrators to get rid of two-member wards. These were Labor-controlled councils and the changes will loosen the party’s grip. Will the same thinking be applied to blue-ribbon Ku-ring-gai in the heart of the electorate of the Premier, Barry O’Farrell?
The ACT and the Northern Territory have a number of two-member seats but they operate under proportional representation. Under that system, a group attracting almost 50 per cent of the vote would win a seat.
”The bill, if passed, will put in place some necessary checks and balances at local councils that will prevent councils in the future from falling prey to what we have seen to be essentially corrupt conduct – corrupt behaviour that has brought down some key previous administrations,” the Greens’ spokesman on local government, David Shoebridge, told parliament. The Greens would benefit from the change.