A Shooters and Fishers Party bill to give businesses two votes in City of Sydney elections is due to be debated in parliament on Wednesday, however, an independent review into the Victorian system on which the bill is based has raised serious concerns.
The bill, which gives businesses two votes and makes voting compulsory for businesses, has been described by Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore and opposition parties as undemocratic, and an attempt to finally oust the long-serving and popular mayor, with a strong track record in sustainability.
- See our article Changes to council voting rules could oust Sydney’s Clover Moore
A recently released independent report into the Victorian local government election process has recommended major changes to business voting in the state, including that corporations should have one vote, not two; that the electoral commission be responsible for preparing the voting register rather than council; and that automatic enrolement of business voters should cease.
“The argument used by the Shooters, the Liberal Party and their few supporters has constantly been that ‘Melbourne does it so we should follow suit’ – today we’ve learnt that the Melbourne model of business voting could fundamentally be changed,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.
“This review has debunked the claim that the Melbourne business voting model works and sends a strong warning against adopting a system that Melbourne may soon abandon,” Ms Moore said.
“It would be unthinkable for the NSW Government to now push through these undemocratic and deeply unpopular changes.”
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said giving every corporation who owns, leases or occupies land in the City of Sydney two votes would relegate residents to having a minority voice. Other councils, he said, could also be affected by the proposed changes.
“You would almost think that ICAC isn’t happening, that a developer wasn’t already running Newcastle Council and that this government genuinely believed that corporate Australia needs an extra leg-up to have more influence in politics,” he said.
NSW Premier Mike Baird previously said allowing businesses two votes compared with residents’ one would “bring back equality”.
Local business groups not impressed
The move, though, has even put out local business groups, who have called it divisory and politically motivated, rather than made out of concern for businesses having fair representation.
“It strikes as being politically motivated and it doesn’t have anything to do with representation or democracy — it really doesn’t,” small business group Potts Point Partnership chair Tim Petersen said.
“We’re not in favour of two votes per business – I think it swings the balance too far.
“Most of us just want to be engaged in the process.”
Compulsory voting wasn’t what the business community sought either, he said, with the bill proposing fines of $2200 for businesses not registering, and $55 for not voting.
Darlinghurst Business Partnership chair Stephan Gyory said while he supported reform, a wedge had been put between businesses and the community.
Sydney State Independent MP Alex Greenwich is due to introduce an alternative reform, which permits businesses one vote and mandates that the NSW Electoral Commission run the election.
News Corp and Forster attack
Sydney’s News Corp-owned Daily Telegraph has been a key agitator in the process, with Shooters MP Robert Borsak thanking the paper for its support when tabling the bill. The paper has been waging a long-running smear campaign against Moore, which last week reached new lows as it lambasted the number of media advisers the council had – 15 – comparing it to Tony Abbott’s personal four advisers.
Quoted in the article was Liberal councillor and Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s sister Christine Forster, who sources say is gunning for the Lord Mayor position.
“Spin is the Lord Mayor’s speciality – it’s how she operates,” Ms Forster, a journalist for Asia Oil News, told the Telegraph. “And I guess that’s why she needs that many staff to do the job for her.”
Ms Moore responded that the only spin was in the Daily Telegraph’s reporting.
“It’s absolute nonsense to compare the media and communications staff that work in my office and the City of Sydney with the personal offices of the Premier and Prime Minister without taking into account the hundreds of media and communications staff that work in all of the State and Federal agencies that service the government,” Ms Moore said.
“The federal government employs more than 1600 media and communications staff (across ministerial offices and departments), according to evidence given at Senate Estimates Committee.”
The Office of the Lord Mayor had three communications staff members, she said.
A protest is planned for outside NSW parliament for Wednesday 10 September at 1pm.