In each edition we feature the views of a Local Government Association President. The following is from Councillor Bill Mitchell, President of the Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA).
The first Local Government elections under the proportional preferential voting (PPV) system in Western Australia are now complete, however it could be weeks before we realise the full extent of what this change will mean for the sector.
As predicted by WALGA, the change in system has helped facilitate greater manipulation of Council elections by major political parties and well financed interest groups.
The most public example of this was reported on the front page of the State’s daily metropolitan newspaper concerning four of the State’s biggest unions attempting to have their representatives elected to various Councils from which to oppose Alcoa.
Now of course the unions could have run campaigns to elect their representatives under the previous first-past-the-post system, however that process, because of its simplicity, would have been more transparent. Backroom deals, running mates and dummy candidates have little use in the first-past-the-post system but are essential to being elected by the PPV system.
Under the first-past-the-post system electors know exactly who they voted for. However under the preferential system this is not always the case and under the proportional preferential system the outcome is even more clouded.
For example, under the preferential system, many people still do not understand that a vote for an independent candidate almost always ends up going to a candidate from one of the two major political parties. Indeed in State and Federal elections people at times vote for an independent candidate because they do not want to give their vote to either of the major parties but ultimately they do. That is how the preferential system allocates votes.
However, the most concerning potential consequence of the PPV system is that Local Government could lose its connection with the community as has occurred with State and Federal Governments.
If Councils also become slaves to the two party system then the community will have lost its voice – replaced by the machinations of faceless and distant political heavyweights who decide both who will represent community interests and their agenda.
I remain optimistic that any candidates elected on a ticket contrived by a political group will choose to serve the interests of the communities they represent. At worst this is naive, at best hopeful, but the alternative is to accept that communities no longer count in our system of government.