The failed Port Phillip Council elections

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By The Hon Michael Danby MP

The recent Port Phillip Council elections were a failure. There is no other way to look at it.

While some may be celebrating their success there is absolutely no doubt that a resident participation rate of approximately 50% is a failure in anybody’s language. Right next door in Glen Eira where every resident received a postal ballot (as did most municipalities) and double the number of people participated.

This paltry participation level is not necessarily a sign of voter apathy as some may suggest. People lead busier and busier lives, travel more, and work weekends. It is unrealistic of elected officials to expect constituents with busy lives to interrupt their weekend, or in many cases these days, their working day to vote for candidates in a council election.

Attendance voting may suit some political parties that have little local involvement, but just run on a brand, however those locals who have a family or have a business to operate are at a disadvantage.

As a result we have seen three Greens candidates elected to council by a minority of constituents. Some have no previous record of local residence, let alone involvement.

Port Phillip has rightly been criticised as the worst example of failed democracy based on turnouts in other municipalities. In fact as the Herald Sun reported, Port Phillip saw the worst participation result of any city in the whole of Victoria. Not a record to be proud of, particularly given the same low turnout happened at the last Port Phillip municipal vote.

If one seeks confirmation of Port Phillip Councils election failure one only needs to look as far as our neighbouring council Glen Eira, which had a participation rate of over 90%. With an extra 40% of the electorate casting a vote it is impossible to argue that Glen Eiras result was not a more democratic process and a greater representation of community expectations.

The Glen Eira election like 90% of other municipalities in Victoria, utilised postal voting which gave the constituents the opportunity to have their say at a time that was convenient for them rather than compulsory attendance imposed on them by Councillors with a greater interest in self-preservation than improving the level of community involvement.

Former Mayor Amanda Stevens

Former Mayor Amanda Stevens

There was some good news however.

Even before the voting began locals were celebrating the end of disastrous recent terms of the current council. Some have argued to me the Mayor Amanda Stevens didn’t stand for re-election as she knows her legacy to the community is the destruction of the Fitzroy Street precinct. Just a few years ago Fitzroy St was a nightlife spot that was one of Australia’s premier tourist attractions. Now it is desolate.

The Labor Party should resume endorsing of candidates. If we stick with the new proportional representative election system of three councillors for three wards we will inevitably discard local concerns as the party machine Green Party hacks have shown.

It would appear given the results that many constituents were unaware of which Party the candidates represented. The Greens were the only party branding their candidates, results have shown that they were able to grab three positions in a situation, where most council candidates are unknown and when the major parties don’t endorse their candidates. I feel it is time to stop giving the Greens a free kick.

Despite this there are some great community advocates amongst those elected and it is great to see the welcome return of Dick Gross after some time away from council. I don’t think he will be a rubber stamp to council officers as previous councillors have.

All of my pessimism and cynicism aside I wish all new and returned councillors the best and hope see some beneficial outcomes from the new council for the people of Port Phillip.

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