Sunday, September 21, 2014

Is local government nothing more than a political stepping stone?

By sifting through the Local Government Census results we can work out that the norm for the elected local government person is someone older than 45 and unlikely to be an endorsed party member.  Yet it will be no accident that when the nominations for local government close for this political duck season that a number of younger candidates, especially in urban areas, will be endorsed Greens.

It’s the party that attracts young people disaffected by the Lib/Lab politics that dominates Tasmania’s political landscape.  The appeal of a party that doesn’t caucus votes, isn’t dominated by economics to the right of Genghis Khan and allows elected members to vote in ways that doesn’t toe the party line is drawing young people whose loyalties are to values, not history. 

But will they succeed in attracting the support of the predominantly older voters? 

It’s a bit of political realism that sitting Hobart Green Aldermen, all well known and this time running for Lord Mayor or Deputy as well as Alderman, will all likely be re-elected as Aldermen although reliant on just enough preferences of three other largely unknown, and young, Green candidates.  So for the remaining three, the chances of election are highly optimistic. 

What then the future for non-sitting young Green candidates waiting their next opportunity in four year’s time? 

There is a strong temptation to think that that local government elections are likely to end up as a useful training ground for the party cadres, as a means of raising profile.  One certainly gets the sense of this, given Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson’s comment to the media outside the 2014 Party Conference, that local government is “a critical stepping stone to State and Federal politics”. 

It raises the question – just how serious then is any party member of any political persuasion in participating for the long term in local government?

It’s not as if local government hasn’t been used by other people of various political hues as a stepping stone – the history of Tasmania’s Parliament is littered with ex-local government people, and until a recent legislative change, could serve at local and other tiers simultaneously. 

And has party politics a place in local government?  Local government is about the best interests of all in our community.  Once elected, an Alderman serves the whole community, with the myriad of beliefs and values present, not just a narrow segment.  There is no Treasury or Opposition benches, no portfolios, no parliamentary privilege, no party rooms, no party vote.

And here’s the nub of it.  Recent legislative changes mean that a person can only serve in one tier of government at any time.  Elections will now only occur with all in-all out four year terms.  And anyone can now run for Mayor or Deputy, without any experience in local government.

So if a young person really wants to be a municipal leader, they will have to make a significant commitment of time, money and effort to running, especially if they are not successful first time around and still want to contribute as an elected person to their local community.

But what if their ambitions lie elsewhere?  And in order to get sufficient media to build a profile for a State or Federal election, they nominate for Mayor or Deputy as well as for Councillor/Alderman?

If young people are encouraged via any party machine to use local government only as a means of getting elected to State and Federal politics, will this cause ratepayers to lose confidence in voting for other young people?

More so, as anyone now can run for Deputy or Mayor, if any political party uses local government to simply up the profile of its members for single terms, is local government eventually the loser in attracting a diverse set of committed community-based candidates?


Authorised by Eva Ruzicka, 10 Congress Street, South Hobart.

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