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Liberal councillor urges own party to amend compulsory business voting

Christine Foster believes that the legislation as it stands needs to be amended. Souce: Supplied


Liberal councillor Christine Forster has said the NSW government should amend the act which requires compulsory business voting in City of Sydney elections.

The controversial City of Sydney Amendment Act, introduced by the Shooters and Fishers party and backed by the Baird government last year, gives two votes to companies with more than one director.

The Act puts the onus on the council to maintain an up to date register of all non-residents eligible to vote.

The City of Sydney flagged the risk of future elections being legally challenged due to the council’s inability to maintain an absolutely accurate roll, in a report outlining a $12 million plan to create the register,

Clr Forster, who is Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s sister, told City Hub she had personally spoken with the state government about amending the act.

“It’s pretty clear that with the legislation as it’s drafted, the conditions of that legislation can’t be met as it requires the register to be up to date at any point,” she said.

“I think it’s something that can be easily addressed through an amendment to the act. It won’t change the intention of the amended act, it won’t impact the rights of businesses to have their vote, but it will mean that hopefully the register is kept reasonably up to date.”

“I haven’t had any signals from the government that there would be any objection from them amending the legislation to ensure it wouldn’t be subject to legal challenge.”
But the Office of Local Government (OLG) has not yet responded to written requests from the City of Sydney in June to further amend the act.

Bret Walker SC, and Faye Ashworth provided the Council with legal advice stating that even if “an army of clipboard-wielding information collectors” was deployed, maintaining an up to date register on any given day bordered on the impossible.

“It is quite apparent that any approach to preparation of the non-residential rolls will mean that they are out of date the day after they are prepared or updated,” they wrote.

Clr Forster said, “given that the threats of legal challenge have been pretty consistent from Clover Moore councillors over the last few months, why wouldn’t we do it? Why wouldn’t the state government do it?”

Lord Mayor Clover Moore has repeatedly accused the state government of trying to influence the leadership of Town Hall by giving businesses a vote in City of Sydney elections and deliberately exposing the result to legal challenge.

“It’s about giving business two votes when residents have one,” Clr Moore said during a committee meeting on Monday afternoon.

“This is the worst piece of legislation I have ever seen.”

Clr Forster said she did not support two votes being given to some businesses.

“In Australia, there’s always been a principle of one person, one vote, and I’m much more comfortable with that than the idea of two votes for a business,” she said.

Independent councillor and cafe owner Angela Vithoulkas said that while she welcomed compulsory business voting, the provision of two votes to some businesses had pitted residents against business.

“We never asked for two votes, we asked for a fair, equal vote,” Clr Vithoulkas said.

And the creation of the register should not be the council’s responsibility, she said.

“It should have gone to the body that had the most experience, which is the electoral commission of NSW,” she said.

“It would’ve been best served with them because it would’ve been at arm’s length.”

Clr Forster said that at the end of the day, she doubted the business votes would make much difference to the electorate.

“Every vote will be cast by a person, and people in Australia tend to vote about 50 per cent to the left and 50 per cent to the right, and the fact that they are operating businesses won’t change that,” she said.

“I think that probably the result at the end of the day from the business voting will pretty much reflect how the residents vote.”

The state independent MP for Sydney Alex Greenwich has vowed to repeal the amendment act in consultation with the City of Sydney and reintroduce his own business voting bill, which failed to pass last year.

“My bill would create a permanent business and ratepayers register for businesses to add their details to at any time, details which the electoral commission would confirm prior to each election and use to create the business and ratepayers electoral roll. This simple system would ensure the integrity of the roll and be much cheaper,” Mr Greenwich said.

“A healthy democracy is built on independent elections that give all members of the community equal access and voice.”

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