Democracy is in the air!

It’s not only spring in the air in the Central West this year, those of us with all of our olfactory senses can also get a strong whiff of democracy on the breeze.

Local Government elections are to be held both for Orange City Council and Cabonne Council on 9 September 2017.

There are at present an astounding 87 confirmed candidates in Orange for a total of 11 positions on the Council.  One of the councillor spots will be taken by the Mayor, who will be elected directly by voters, leaving 10 spots for the remaining 86 candidates.

Moving out of town, we go from feast to famine.  In Cabonne there are only 14 candidates for a total of 12 spots on the Council.  You have to like those odds.

In Cabonne it is the Councillors to vote to elect the Mayor, rather than voters directly.  Voters will also be asked to vote in a referendum to reduce the number of councillors from the current 12 down to 9.

Local government has had a somewhat unusual period in the spotlight over the last couple of years with the NSW Government’s push to forcibly amalgamate councils that weren’t “fit for the future”.  Other than that brief flare up, the only other time we tend to see local councils in the news is when Mr Mehajer does something else colourful in Auburn.

Along the lines of Auburn’s travails, there’s been some talk in the news about banning developers and/or real estate agents from being councillors.  At present people disqualified from election include those who aren’t eligible to vote, a member of the state parliament, judges of a state or commonwealth court, anyone serving a sentence, and those who have been convicted of an offence punishable with imprisonment for five years within the last 7 seven years before nomination, amongst other things.

It would certainly be possible to amend the legislation to exclude different classes of people.  It should be noted however that the legislation is NSW State Government legislation, meaning that the change would need to be made by the State parliament.  Certainly those in local government can make their views known, but they cannot effect the change themselves.

The above is important, like so much of local government, but it shares with the normal local government topics the characteristic that it’s hardly the kind of thing that sees people out marching in the streets.  So, who cares about the elections?

Well, Australia is one of the very few democracies in which voting is compulsory.  The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 makes voting in federal elections mandatory (and indeed section 245 describes it as a “duty”).

At a state level, section 120C of the Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Act 1912 provides that the NSW Electoral Commission must serve a penalty notice on those who were entitled to vote but did not, and a similar provision is found in section 314 of the Local Government Act 1993 in respect of local government elections.

Each of these Act provides exceptions for things like if you were dead (very considerate of them, and one would think the least of your worries), absent from the jurisdiction or had a genuine religious belief.

So, the short answer is then, you may not care about the result, but it’s much easier to go down and cast your vote than going through the penalty notice/appeal rigmarole.  The fines aren’t big, but it’s a pain in the you know what.  Anyway, you never know, you might just get a sneaky sausage sizzle in on the way as well!