IN THE EARLY months of 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic gathered momentum, it was a reasonable response for the NSW Electoral Commission to postpone local government elections scheduled for September. Their aim was to protect voters, Electoral Commission staff and the candidates.
As the months passed however, and we began to control and to live with the virus, it has become obvious that elections can be safely and successfully conducted. We have had a Federal by-election in Eden-Monaro and a State election in the Northern Territory, whilst the ACT and Queensland go to the polls this month.
Democracy is important, so important to Victoria that they have pressed ahead with plans for statewide local government elections by postal vote, despite being hammered by a devastating second wave of the pandemic. Presumably, the candidates there can be safely protected by campaigning mostly through the media.
Elsewhere, much business is carried out using the many means provided by the Internet. We have all learned to safely and successfully “socially distance” and a polling station is better regulated than your local supermarket.
The ACT is pioneering electronic voting for their election this year, but this does not involve the internet and voters will still need to attend a polling station.
Local councils not being held to account: petition available below
Meanwhile, several communities across NSW are in a state of disharmony and disarray because of the actions of their local council. Whether you are disillusioned with your local council or dismayed by the rancour and vitriol caused by a vocal minority, you can petition the NSW State Government to review its decision to postpone local government elections until September of next year.
This petition also requests that the Legislative Assembly “remind the elected councillors of NSW of their extraordinary positions of responsibility during any period of deferred elections by requiring that they refrain from decisions or commitments that have, or may have, significant or unmeasured community concern or opposition”.
When requested to place councils into caretaker mode during the period of suspended elections the Minister for Local Government replied: “Caretaker arrangements do not take effect until 4 weeks before an election”.
In fact, the NSW House of Assembly has considerable powers to regulate the actions of councils at any time. The carefully worded petition is a reasonable request that, in a “pub test”, could not be interpreted ambiguously.
The ePetition can be found at www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/la/pages/epetitions-list.aspx
[Look for Hold Local Government Elections Sooner]