Wollongong councillor David Brown's speech on business votes plan

Wollongong councillor David Brown
Wollongong councillor David Brown

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.

For the past two years we’ve been going through a local government review process.

This council has moved about four motions saying what parts we thought were good, what parts we thought were bad.

We’ve talked about amalgamations, and county councils and joint organisations, whether the mayor should have executive powers. We’ve talked about a whole range of things, but at no point have we talked about this.

That’s probably the key reason why this is such a bad idea, it’s not been a part in this ongoing journey we’ve been having in local government land with the state government. 

This is a policy idea that’s come from nowhere.

There are some particularly bad points to this legislation and one that needs rebuttal straightaway is that, within the legislation, it says ‘by regulation’ - which is to say the minister without reference to parliament - ‘can make these laws apply to any and all local government areas in the state’. It’s quite clear.

So, at one minute to midnight, whenever is the latest date you can prepare the rolls, the minister can say to councils x, y and z ‘‘you now have this voting system’’, with reference to nobody but himself.

The idea of having a silent roll, which is within the legislation that now is, is an abuse. 

It’s a bedrock of democracy that you, as a citizen, know who your fellow electors are. 

To somehow have a silent roll so you don’t know who the people or electors are is, in my view, an abuse.

I actually think this package could fail a high court challenge.

The way I would run the argument would be something like this: If you are giving two votes to legal persons other than natural ones it dilutes my right, as a citizen, to political expression. I see that this is a major dilution of voting rights.

And there are other organisations in this city besides businesses that pay taxes. Every sporting group, every church, every cultural group pays a GST of which we get some back through this council. 

Would we extend the franchise to those people? Maybe we should.

Another point is, what do government corporations do, if they’re government owned? Will they be directed by the minister to vote in a particular way?

On the weekend, I learnt a new word: timocracy - which means ruled by and for those people with property. The great philosopher Plato described it as one of the five unjust laws of government and the ancient Athenians did away with it in the [third century BC] and we had it in colonial times – now long since gone.

I’ve got to say, one of the funniest things in this debate is that in introducing this legislation, the Shooters bloke thanked Alan Jones for his support. That’s just fascinating, that The Parrot can pull the strings in the state upper house like that. It’s just bizarre.

And I have to say, the shooters have missed their chance here.

They really should have tried for their own functional gerrymander, and instituted the clause that said ‘‘registered shooters can be out there and cast a vote in the electorate which has the national park of their choice, which they go shooting in’’.

Or that fishermen should have a vote on their favourite fishing spot.

Now, if my side of politics tried a similar rort, we’d just say something along the lines that every member of a registered trade union who works outside the electorate they live can have a vote.

If you were a Green, you could have everyone who has been a member of a CSG picket line who can get a vote.

If you’re a motoring enthusiast and you’ve ever turned up at Bathurst you can get a vote.

If you’re Fred Nile and you’ve turned up at a church of his denomination you can get a vote.

We should take a strong stance on this.

Local government is not a thing to be kicked around by the state government, it’s not a debating club for the rich and famous.

It’s the local government, that is closest to the people, and we represent those citizens in Wollongong who live here and work here every day of the week.


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