MP opposes extra council election votes for business

Keira MP Ryan Park. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Keira MP Ryan Park. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Forcing businesses to vote in Wollongong City Council elections would be a "complete undermining of democracy", according to Keira MP Ryan Park.

The NSW government last week introduced a bill to make it compulsory for business ratepayers to vote in City of Sydney local government elections in 2016.

For now, the laws would only apply in Sydney - where powerful independent Clover Moore is Lord Mayor - but Minister for Local Government Paul Toole has confirmed they could also be applied in "economic centres" like Parramatta, Newcastle and Wollongong.

Mr Park labelled it "a sneaky attempt by the Liberals" to undermine democracy and give businesses more influence than residents.

"This legislation is opening up a huge risk of corruption, giving businesses a new means to potentially influence political decisions," Mr Park said.

"I find it incredible that after the revelations of corruption we have seen [at the Independent Commission Against Corruption] that this government would even consider introducing this legislation.

"This is all about trying to get Liberal mayors elected to councils; [it] is bad news for residents."

At present in NSW, business owners can choose to enrol as non-residential voters but are bumped off the electoral roll after each election.

The new laws are based on the City of Melbourne model, where landlords, business owners, corporations and other non-residents must vote in council elections.

A business owner is entitled to two votes and the landlord of their building also has two votes.

"What I fail to understand is why businesses are getting two votes while everyone else gets one," Mr Park said.

"Why is their opinion twice as important as that of teachers, nurses, ambulance officers, office workers and labourers?"

The compulsory business voting changes were recommended in March by a parliamentary committee headed by Kiama MP Gareth Ward, who said business owners deserved a stronger voice as they paid a large share of rates in areas like Sydney and Wollongong.

It is unclear how many Wollongong businesses would be forced to vote if the City of Sydney bill was applied here.

Wollongong City Council was unable to supply the Mercury with information on how many non-residential ratepayers the LGA had, only saying there were 3914 properties categorised as "business property".

Only 20 non-resident owners of rateable land applied for inclusion on the non-residential roll for the 2011 election, a council spokeswoman said.

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