Moves to force businesses in the City of Sydney to vote in council elections could lead to the ousting of incumbent Lord Mayor Clover Moore, a vocal sustainability champion whose initiatives have seen Sydney win numerous accolades. While property sector bodies are in support, the council and some members of the NSW Parliament see it as a distortion of democracy designed to overthrow the Lord Mayor’s long reign.
Changes to the City of Sydney Act in the NSW Parliament, which has been put forward by the Shooters and Fishers Party today (Tuesday) and will be backed by the government, would make it mandatory for up to 80,000 businesses in the City of Sydney to vote in the upcoming election, with up to two votes allowed per business, according to reports.
Property bodies in favour
The property sector applauded the move, with the Property Council of Australia and the Urban Taskforce releasing statements of support, saying it was a win for democracy.
“The right of commercial property owners and business to vote already exists but needs to be respected with a standing electoral roll,” PCA NSW executive director Glenn Byres said.
“Commercial property owners simply want the same basic right as residential owners – that is, a permanent roll.
“The current process of cleansing the roll after each council election is irrational and forces re-registration through a process that is narrow, complex and discourages participation.
“Commercial property owners are long-haul investors in our CBDs and have a strategic interest in seeing them thrive.”
Mr Byrnes said that it wasn’t a debate about personalities or party politics, but a basic democratic principle.
An Urban Taskforce release, however, said the effect would be to “change the composition of elected councillors” to include more pro-growth business people.
“This will lead to a more balanced approach to council decision making that will support urban activity,” Urban Taskforce chief executive Chris Johnson said.
Is it a win for democracy?
Ms Moore in a press conference lashed out of the move, saying it was indeed about party politics, and was also a manipulation of democracy.
“They had to change the law to get rid of me in state parliament and now they want to do it again,” Ms Moore said. “I’m confident the community will see this for what it is – an attempt to manipulate democracy and take control of the City.
“It’s not fair or democratic to give businesses two votes and residents just one.”
She also said the move had been done to distract from serious revelations coming out of the Independent Commission Against Corruption regarding corruption within the Liberal Party.
“The Premier won’t stand down a Liberal MP who has confessed to taking bribes from developers, but instead is rushing a bill to reduce the say of local residents,” Ms Moore said.
She said while she supported making it easier for businesses to vote, the model proposed exposed Sydney to “serious corruption”.
NSW Greens Senator David Shoebridge backed up Ms Moore’s concerns.
“This is a direct step back to Victorian England where voting rights were based on wealth,” Mr Shoebridge said.
“The idea of enfranchising money is seriously retrograde and anti-democratic.
“The proposed system will result in an effective gerrymander for those political parties that place corporate interests over communities, and the residents of the City of Sydney will lose out.”
He said the NSW Coalition had consistently shown they believed developers and businesses should control the political process.
“The idea that corporate interests are currently alienated from decision making in NSW is frankly laughable,” Mr Shoebridge said.
“The government getting back in bed with the Shooters Party can only be bad for NSW, and questions need to be asked about what deals have been done to get this legislation through.”
Move could backfire
The “Get Clover” legislation the NSW government passed in 2012, which made it unlawful to hold both a NSW parliament seat and a council position, forced Ms Moore to give up her state seat, which she described as grossly undemocratic at the time.
However, the move was seen as backfiring after Ms Moore was instrumental in independent MP Alex Greenwich winning her old seat of Sydney.
If the new legislation has been made as another “Get Clover” law, it could also potentially backfire, with Ms Moore saying moves to boost business votes would not necessarily mean a fall in votes to her.
“The Liberal Party might like to think that manipulating how people can vote will threaten my support as Lord Mayor but I have every confidence in my relationship with City businesses and the work we’ve done to support them in the last ten years,” she said.
In the last election, Ms Moore received 51.1 per cent of first party preferences from the 68,343 formal votes.