Key business figures and councillors are calling for changes to the electoral roll, to ensure a greater voice for business in local government elections.
In a situation unique to the Sydney LGA, businesses are allowed to vote in local government elections under the City of Sydney Act 1988 – however, the roll is wiped at the conclusion of each election, and businesses wishing to stay on the roll must reapply ahead of each election.
At a parliamentary inquiry on Monday, business proponents argued that the non-residential roll should become permanent and the business vote accorded more respect.
The Electoral Matters Committee, chaired by Kiama State MP Gareth Ward, heard that over 20,000 businesses in the City of Sydney Council area contribute more than 70 per cent of the City’s ratepayer income.
Liberal Councillor Edward Mandla told the hearing “every obstacle has been placed before business to silence their voice”.
Mr Mandla said that in addition to wiping the electoral roll after each election, there was “a small window of between two and three months before the Council election in which to enrol”.
“You cannot enrol prior to this period and if you aren’t enrolled more that two weeks out of the election you will miss out.”
Mr Mandla called for a simplified, permanent non-residential roll system.
His Liberal colleague Councillor Christine Forster also called for reform, stating that the number of non-residential voters had plunged “to levels at which the sector is virtually disenfranchised”.
Of the City’s 20,000-plus potential business voters, just 1,702 non-residential voters registered and approximately 1,200 voted in last year’s local government elections.
Ms Forster said the situation reflected the fact that “many business owners and ratepayers, even in the so-called big end of town, are unaware that they have the right to vote”.
Living Sydney Councillor Angela Vithoulkas, who owns a CBD business – Vivo Café on George St – took issue with Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who argued in favour of maintaining the status quo.Patricia
“It was interesting that the Lord Mayor justified not having a business roll by quoting from the City’s General Manager in 1998. Surely things have changed since last century,” said Ms Vithoulkas.
The Lord Mayor did not respond to requests for comment.
Patricia Forsythe, Executive Director of the Sydney Business Chamber, said: “This issue really goes to the ratepayer base, which the City of Sydney is dependent on.
“Because of the significance of business as a rate contributor and the importance of Sydney as a global city, we would like to see a permanent roll.”