City of Sydney Councillor Angela Vithoulkas on the Shooters and Fishers Party’s proposed reforms to business voting in the City of Sydney
The Shooters and Fishers’ business voting bill that is currently before Parliament is not the right fit for Sydney. While I agree that the introduction of legislation that will help business owners through the current voting maze is welcome, I don’t believe that replicating the ‘Melbourne model’ is the right way to go.
A large part of my decision to run as an independent candidate in the last City of Sydney elections was because of my frustration as a small business owner wanting to vote. In fact, even though I had operated a business in the city for the past 27 years, I was totally unaware that my business had the right to enrol to vote until a few years ago. I was also unaware that the register of enrolled business voters was wiped after every election.
So, my business enrolled to vote in 2012 and yes, I can confirm, the process was confusing, time consuming and frustrating. After I was elected as a councillor I also made a submission and appeared before a committee inquiry into the 2012 Local Government Elections to explain my experience about trying to enrol as a business and vote in the last council elections.
In fact, when I gave evidence I even took along the sea of paperwork that eventually led me to the ballot box. My business was one of the determined 1,700 businesses out of a possible 40,000 odd that did not end up giving up half way through the enrolment process.
While I support the move to formalise the process and make it easier for business owners to vote, I also believe that the new laws that have been proposed by the Shooters and Fishers Party are not the right ones for the City of Sydney.
I understand that the electoral inquiry committee recommended a copy of the City of Melbourne model but I don’t agree. I don’t agree because the current draft bill does still not accommodate the small business voting experience.
Melbourne’s Lord Mayor, Robert Doyle, has given evidence that the City of Melbourne business voting bill was in some way shaped by the bipartisan commissioned study titled ‘A Way Forward’. Yet, no such study has been commissioned for the City of Sydney. The result is an ambiguous bill that is drafted in a way that appears to add layers of complexity as well as proposed new fines.
I also don’t believe that the Shooters and Fishers Party can explain away the two votes per business in a couple of sentences while introducing the bill to parliament. Their link between two votes per business and the number of people that vote per household is tenuous at best. While there are plenty of households that contain a number of residents, statistics show that in 2011 the dominant household type in the City of Sydney was lone person households and by 2021 the number of lone person households is predicted to increase.
Along with the residents and visitors to Sydney the small businesses that operate in the CBD and surrounds are an integral part of what makes this city great. There needs to be further discussion about the implications of the proposed laws in their current form and the discussion should not be framed as a residents versus business battle.
The City of Sydney bill needs to be about what is fair and reasonable, not about political rhetoric.
We need laws that will put in place a viable solution that accommodates business owners in the voting process in a way that’s realistic and hassle free. Business owners do engage with the local community, provide jobs and contribute to the local economy. They are not big business but they are big part of the city.