MidCoast Council’s First Election

 

by Kathryn Bell

I love an election. It brings out the best and worst in people, for me it’s a period for concentrated contemplation. The politics, people, antics, different opinion and positions; requires thinking, reflection and action. It’s competitive and I joke: ‘vote early and often”, but the best bit about election time is hearing people’s ideas and mixing with our community both near home and up to 100km away.

The first MidCoast Council will be decided at the first MidCoast Local Government election on September 9. Local residents will go to the polls to cast their vote in what I believe is a hugely important decision. The votes will determine the inaugural Council. This first Council will set the scene for our collective future in relation to all things council.

There will be many differences in this election compared with previous for all three constituent areas.

We will elect 11 councillors, there was previously 25 over the former three areas. (Former)  Greater Taree City Council (GTCC) had nine councillors equating to 1:5,438 residents, Great Lakes Council (GLC) also had nine councillors or 1:4,055 residents while Gloucester Shire Council (GSC) had seven councillors or 1:723 residents. The merged council will elect 11 for a ratio of 1:8181 residents. It seems a large number for representation at a local level which is what our region had come to expect. Given however, that Port Macquarie-Hastings has nine councillors and a population of 78,000, their ratio is 1:8600 and Tweed with about 1:12,800. It’s all relative.

The function of Council acting as a ‘board of directors’, in a similar way to a corporate board, may be appropriate providing there is a robust and vigorous strategy for community engagement and consultation. Councillors will need to be connected to the community and dedicated.

The Council will elect their Mayor. GSC and GLC were familiar with this scenario while GTCC had a popularly elected Mayor. There are valid arguments for and against this set-up but hopefully it means our Council will choose a leader they can work with.

We are all familiar with having no wards and they would be an ineffectual arrangement for our situation due to population centres and the rules that apply. Former GSC area may struggle to secure local representation however research suggests a trend whereby larger centre voters provide an empathy vote that gets the smaller community candidate over the line. It seems parochial but the same scenario existed in all three former areas on a different scale. For success, we must see and treat the council area as one and acknowledge the vast and varied needs and wants.

Hopeful candidates will need about double the previous GTCC quota, almost triple the GLC number and 14 times the GSC votes. With this in mind, I have heard much talk about tickets or groups. The Electoral Commission rules require that for this election, 6 candidates are needed to form a group, for the group to be above the line. As most Australians vote above the line, it’s understandable that there will be a number of groups. I’m estimating somewhere between 8 and 12. That’s some 49 – 72 candidates above the line, 38 – 61 who clearly won’t make it. I expect some groups will get 1 or 2 onto Council and some none. There will also be ungrouped individuals below the line, though I’ve not heard of any, yet.

A lot of time, effort and money can go into a campaign that is determined by the residents. Going to the polls is a contest which by its nature creates winners and losers. Your vote is important because the new Council will oversee decisions affecting some 90,000 people over 10,000km², 700 staff, $3.5B in assets, $250M annual operating & capital budget ($1B over 4 years) and with the likely Mid Coast Water inclusion, even more.

To me, an ideal outcome would be a mix of old and new, a mix of age, gender, varied skill and life experience. Intelligent, emotionally mature individuals, independent thinkers, people who research, ask good questions and make reasoned, informed decisions. The quality and calibre of Councillors will affect our collective future and my greatest hope is that the community is the ultimate winner.

It wouldn’t be fair to vote early and often, we can however, think twice, vote once and make our say count.

Kathryn Bell JP

 

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