Wollongong councillors fight business votes plan

All but two of Wollongong's councillors have pledged to fight the NSW government's plan to force businesses to vote in council elections all the way to the high court.

In a lengthy and passionate debate about the nature of Australian democracy at Monday night's meeting, the compulsory business voting scheme was labelled smelly, regressive, wrong-headed and sleazy.

The new laws being considered by the NSW upper house would be 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 under the scheme.

While they are so far planned to affect only the City of Sydney, Local Government Minister Paul Toole has said they could be introduced in Parramatta, Newcastle and Wollongong.

Urging the council to write to Premier Mike Baird seeking better consultation on the changes, Vicki Curran claimed they were the government's "new method of keeping themselves in control and keeping themselves in power" in the wake of Independent Commission Against Corruption revelations.

"This bill is madness and it appeared under the disguise that it was only going to affect the City of Sydney, that it was to give business a say in local government," she said.

"But in reality this bill is about gerrymandering, about manipulating democracy and about snatching the government away from the people and small business owners of Wollongong."

Later a fired-up Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery flagged an alternative motion, saying the council should encourage Local Government NSW to take the matter as far as the high court as it was "a violation of the notion of universal suffrage as a basic tenet of the democratic principles governing Australia".

"It's important for us to realise that we're talking about local government, not the local public corporation," Cr Bradbery said.

"We are a tier of government, and any section of government in this country that is shaped by the fact that there are individuals who have greater voting rights over others is a violation of the basic tenets of our understanding of democracy."

Following a debate which traversed democratic history and lasted more than an hour, Cr Bradbery's motion was passed in an 11-2 vote.

Only Liberal councillors Bede Crasnich and John Dorahy did not support the motion, with Cr Crasnich saying he would like the compulsory corporate voting scheme to be introduced in the Illawarra to give businesses better representation.

Cr Dorahy said he valued the "opportunity for democracy" but said there was always room for change.

He also said he did not agree with all the proposed changes in the bill but believed it was up to the NSW government to decide what was right.

"In my opinion a non-residential landowner or business owner deserves the right to vote," he said.

"I don't agree with the right to two votes, and in my opinion they should have the right to vote either for their business electorate or their residential electorate."

This is an edited excerpt from the address given by Labor councillor David Brown at Monday night’s Wollongong City Council meeting ...

Why we would possibly put up our hands to say that local government is somehow different from those other levels of government, I don’t know.

These proposals are a wrong headed and sleazy rigging of the democratic structures.

If you support them, how do you face your fellow citizens and explain that they don’t have a vote, they will now have half a vote?

These proposals are so wretched, we could probably spend hours detailing their failures. It smacks of something cooked up by a Third World junta, not one of the world’s oldest democracies, which the NSW Parliament is.

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