Should the business vote be reformed in the City of Sydney?
A debate and public discussion with:
On Wednesday, September 10, City Hub will host an open debate debate on the Shooters and Fishers proposed reforms to the City of Sydney Act. Residents and business owners will be able to ask questions following statements by debate participants in order to promote better understanding of the issues surrounding the proposed reform.
Beauchamp Hotel, 265-267 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst (Cnr South Dowling St)
Wednesday 10th September, 6.45pm
Independent Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich on the Shooters and Fishers Party’s proposed reforms to business voting in the City of Sydney
Businesses make an important contribution to the City of Sydney which is why they are already eligible to vote in local elections. However, improvements in awareness and the registration processes are needed to increase participation rates.
Rather than seeking to improve the process for business voting, the Shooters and Fishers party – with the backing of the Government – have sought to misrepresent the concerns of small businesses to justify their proposed gerrymander that could see vested interest manipulate inner city democracy.
Businesses should be able to exercise their right to vote effortlessly in local elections. I have a proposed business voting bill that would make it easier for eligible businesses to get on the electoral roll by creating permanent registers of non-resident owners, occupiers and rate paying lessees.
The current situation is excessively bureaucratic. Non-residential electoral rolls are abolished after each local government election, requiring businesses and owners to re-enrol each term.
My proposal for a permanent register allows non-residential owners and businesses to apply to be on the electoral rolls once and only once, removing the burden of having to enrol for each election. The process of confirmation by the Electoral Commissioner will ensure the integrity and accuracy of the roll and reduce the opportunity for fraud.
What the Shooters and Baird Government want is for Sydney to adopt the Melbourne model. Melbourne has a different rating system which does not allow direct adoption of non-residential voting. Melbourne prepares a new roll for every City of Melbourne election, with the roll based on a much broader method of charging rates. The council manages the non-residential roll rather than the independent Electoral Commissioner, which is the equivalent of the Department of Premier and Cabinet running a State Election. Melbourne allows up to two votes to each business occupying land, which many say drowns out the voice and vote of residents.
In introducing the bill, Robert Borsak of the Shooters and Fishers Party made no attempt to disguise his aims: to change voting rules in order to change the makeup of the council. His speech raves about his dislike of the Lord Mayor and the council’s work on clean energy and bicycle paths. He thanked Alan Jones and the Daily Telegraph for their support.
A key principle of democracy is that all members of the community have equal access to the political process, regardless of how much money each earns; one vote, one value. No matter how much tax each person pays, their say on polling day should be equal. Giving businesses two votes when residents only have one subverts this principle and extends representation based on wealth.
The Shooters Bill also forces businesses to vote up to two times and fines businesses that fail to provide relevant information for the register $2,200 and businesses who don’t vote $55. This is despite the fact that many businesses and organisations have constitutions that require them to remain politically neutral and therefore not vote.
The government continues to trumpet that the inquiry findings that lead to the Shooters Bill were bipartisan, however the Labor members on the committee opposed giving business two votes. In fact, Labor MLC Amanda Fazio has publicly stated that the committee gave undue weight to evidence of the two first-term Liberal City of Sydney councillors.
The Government’s support of a manipulation of democracy is an extraordinary move at a time when the Liberal Party is caught up in a series of shocking investigations at the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) relating to dodgy donations. If the Premier is serious about restoring confidence in his government he should abandon plans to support the Shooter’s attack on our democracy.