Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s office has lashed out at recommendations made by a NSW parliamentary inquiry which would require all local businesses to vote in council elections.
The Electoral Matters Committee report recommends the City of Sydney adopt the electoral model used by the City of Melbourne “in all respects,” which includes compulsory voting for those on the non-residential electoral roll.
Those constituents include landlords, businesses and business owners. Under current legislation the roll lapses after each election, meaning non-residents must re-apply for the next poll. The inquiry recommends these electors are no longer required to continuously re-apply.
The City gave the NSW Electoral Commission more than $200,000 to raise awareness of voting rights among businesses ahead of the 2012 election. In total, 1709 non-residents enrolled to vote out of 80,000 who may have been eligible.
But the Lord Mayor’s office believes there are ulterior motives at play. It is speculated that these measures could result in an increased conservative vote.
“Any politically-motivated changes to the City of Sydney electoral process will be seen by voters as a cynical ploy to try and take control of the City council,” a spokesperson for the Lord Mayor told City News.
“These recommendations take us back to the bad old days of the 1990s. In 1995 concerns about the City’s electoral roll being inaccurate and out of date led to NSW Crown Solicitor warning it would be ‘unsafe to hold an election for the City of Sydney’.
“Implementing the Melbourne model will require a costly army of bureaucrats to work out who is entitled to be on the roll. The Australian Electoral Commission, which looks after resident voters, does not track information about the turnover of businesses.”
In its submission to the inquiry, the NSW Business Chamber indicated it is “very concerned that the number of businesses participating in local government elections has dropped sharply over recent years,” and believes that “this trend must be reversed as a matter of priority.” They argued the requirement to re-enrol before each election is “a source of major frustration with members of the chamber”.
Both the NSW branch of the Liberal Party and Liberal councillor Christine Forster, whose relationship with the Lord Mayor is often antagonistic, also argued the low non-residential vote is a problem in their submissions to the inquiry.
“These businesses can, and should, have a significant voice in the democratic process of determining who is elected as Lord Mayor and councilors in Australia’s biggest commercial and only truly global city,” Cr Forster wrote.
“Yet the numbers of non-residential voters have plunged over recent electoral cycles to levels at which the sector is virtually disenfranchised.”