Saturday, September 13, 2014

And the winner is............

Saturday, 13 September, 2014 marks the official opening of the political duck season for local government, and continues until the last vote is counted and the election declared – probably the 31st of October or 1st of November 2014, certainly before the last nag crosses the line in the Melbourne Cup.

For the first time in a long time in Tasmanian local government history, all the sitting Aldermen will be sent to the people for approbation and either replaced or returned, rather than the old half in, half out.  New candidates will have the opportunity to run for Mayor or Deputy, a recent move that removes any on the job training.  History will certainly say something on this innovation, I couldn’t possibly comment at this time.

Yet how many will take the opportunity?  At a recent “meet the new candidates” forum at the Dr Syntax Hotel in Sandy Bay, only one of the local government nine aspirants present expressed any confidence in the idea a person new to local government would have the capacity for the style of leadership, knowledge and chairmanship skills local government requires.  The general consensus was that some experience in local government was ideal before taking on the top role. 

Ironically, as these opinions were being expressed by prospective candidates, the Upper House was in the process of passing the legislation to allow the change.

The form of local government we practice in Tasmania was derived from England.  Given the two tier Westminster system, local government is used extensively as a training ground before trying your luck for Parliament. 

Here in Australia and Tasmania it is used in a similar way.  Some folks have stayed in local government whilst also occupying a seat in the State or Federal Parliament, arguing the usefulness of influence at higher tiers for the folks back home in the local Council.  That ends at this election as a recent legislative change has now forbidden people to occupy more than one tier of government, so we farewell Mayors Gaffney (Latrobe) and Armstrong (Huon Valley) from local government as they have ascended to the heights of Tasmania’s Legislative Council to become MLCs.

Now while commentators have made some pretty snide comments about the Legislative Council being a retirement home for ex-Mayors, it appears that local government may also now be exposed to such remarks, but in the reverse.  My friends who Twitter tell me that an ex-longstanding member for Lyons in the Federal Parliament who lost his seat last election and an ex-member for Lyons in the State Parliament who was the Speaker, may both be standing for Northern Midlands Council.  Mind you, they might be useful given all the contacts they have made over the years.  I can’t name candidates unless I have their permission, so forgive the cryptic references, and you'll all know soon enough via the press.

The timetable for the election is as follows:

13 September, 2014 – polls announced.  Expect a slow build-up of media and posters appearing on the landscape.  Frantic calls will be made to get people registered to vote.

18 September, 2014 – Rolls close.

12 noon, 29 September, 2014 – nominations close and are announced the next day in the order on which they appear on the ballot paper.  Hopefully all candidates will have read the new Candidate Handbook by this point and got the correct form lodged in time.

14 October, 2014 – postal ballot papers will appear in your letterboxes and you’ll have until 10am on Tuesday 28 October to get them back for counting by the Tasmanian Electoral Office.  Salmat deliveries in urban areas will be going into overdrive and anyone who has a dog and likes to walk them extensively around the neighbourhood may be targeted by candidates needing letterboxers.  Check all envelopes and advertising mail carefully.  Candidates put a lot of work into their brochures, and it is fun to line them up on the dining table and compare notes as you work out how to fill out a correct ballot paper.

By Melbourne Cup Day, it will likely all be over with all the polls declared and the new Aldermen and Councillors sworn in at their respective Councils or about to be.

Of course, during this long election period, Councils are still sitting and making decisions up to the very end.  And that is the difference between local government and Parliaments.  Even a sitting Aldermen can still have one last kick before being declared out. 

Parliaments, on the other hand, have to go into caretaker mode and woe betide the Minister who makes a decision, especially involving money.  No such restrictions on local government however.

If we were going to truly reform local government and allow anyone to run for any position, why are we not given a single day on which to hold the election?  At least the local community groups and churches and charities would have the chance for a cake stall and sausage sizzle.  I know for some groups, State and Federal elections are not only excellent fundraisers at polling booths, they also become quite festive occasions to meet the neighbours, let alone an opportunity to raise sufficient dosh to pay the rates bill on the local community hall.  And if local government is about the local community, why are we not given that same opportunity?  Why is it assumed that ratepayers need two weeks to make up their mind, yet when they have to vote at the other two tiers of government, around 5 minutes in the polling booth is considered sufficient?

And while I’m on the soapbox, why not compulsory voting as well?  Only about half of Hobart bothers to return the postal ballots, despite the fact that all of you are on the Rolls.  Given the multi-dollar decisions Aldermen get to make that affect your very home and community, either the ratepayers of Hobart are not interested in who is spending the money, or completely trusting the Aldermen will get it right.

Now seriously folks, democracy is very hard fought for the everyday person.  Once was, property ownership was the qualification to vote, with some folks having upwards of 7 votes.  Now you all get to go on the Roll.  Voting is a right and much as some of you libertarians might resent it, it is also a responsibility that’s part of the wonder of living in our western liberal democracy.  What’s not to like, eh?

Exercise your vote.  If you’ve read this far, you’re taking an interest, and well done you!  Now don’t forget to return the postal ballot in time, and choose wisely between the chicken and the fish.

For more information on voting and candidate matters, go to the Tasmanian Electoral Office:

For more information on local government generally, go to these sites:

Local Government Association of Tasmania

Local Government Division, DPAC

Authorised by Eva Ruzicka, 10 Congress Street, South Hobart

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