THE PARTY’S OVER . . . now the battle begins . . .

So we have the first Midcoast Council and, while the angst and dust of the election settles, battle lines are being drawn, as our new representatives jockey for power and position.

The old hands know that they are up against a formidable General Manager, who has a powerful grip on the reins, while the newbies on Council may be seduced by his silver tongue and clever tactics and find themselves outfoxed. Or else they will side with the boss, hoping to further their position in Council, ignoring the needs and wants of those who elected them.

The Election Process

The election process is deemed by many as contentious. Those who lost, point fingers, those who won, think all went well.   A great chunk of the electorate is none the wiser as to why their favoured candidate lost, or how they’ve ended up with a Mayor elected on the fourth count of preferences, with three candidates having to be progressively excluded from the election by a draw from a hat. Another candidate, who barely achieved half the quota of first preference votes to get on to Council, was elected Deputy Mayor for one year, on the third count of preferences.

Voter Confusion

Of the 72,723 people on the electoral roll, only 83% actually showed up to vote. This is the equivalent of 12,000 votes that weren’t cast, or three councillor positions. The informal vote was also very high at 7.75%, equivalent to 4,689 votes, or one full quota position.

Many people complained at the pre-polls, and on election day, that they didn’t know anything about the election nor, more importantly, anything about the candidates that were standing.

Some people had showed up at the Pre-Polls looking to vote on the marriage equality question.

Above Or Below The Line.

Many people clearly didn’t understand the electoral process, particularly in relation to the above- and below- the-line system. The concept of voting for three people in one group, and then three others across the ballot paper of 66 other candidates, was not only confusing but led to a number of informal votes.

What was even more confusing, was how the allocation of votes for candidates in groups actually played out. This needs some serious review. As an example, a number of people voted for a candidate who was ranked three, four and five below the line, without realising that their selected candidate had little or no hope of achieving the quota of 4649 votes and getting elected.

As a further example, 150 first preference votes were cast for former Greater Taree Mayor, Eddie Loftus, who was ranked number five in Group H. Mr Loftus realised that he had no prospect of being elected, and was happily away on holiday in Hawaii, during most of the pre-poll period and on election day.

A number of candidates, who were ranked in the last three of a group, were spruiking for votes for themselves, without identifying that they had no prospect of gaining election to the Council.

Political Influence

This election heralded the appearance of political parties on our local landscape. The Labor and Liberal Parties openly fielded candidates.  The National Party formally refused to endorse a particular candidate, due to fears of a repercussion from the voters for the Nationals’ support of the amalgamation.

The electoral system needs to address this question of political party affiliation. If a candidate is, or was, a member of a political party 12 months prior to the election, he/she should have to declare that membership, and that information should be published on the Electoral Commission’s website.

Some members of a political party have been known to resign, or not renew their party membership prior to an election, and then re-join once elected. This affiliation should be made public.

Nationals’ Support

There was some heat from several candidates when it was discovered that Len Roberts used the National Party’s data base and membership address book, giving the impression that he was the Nationals’ endorsed candidate. He then sent a letter to all National Party members, stating that he was “the Nationals’ Lyne Federal Electorate Chairman, and a candidate for Midcoast Council elections,  . . .and was supported by Stephen Bromhead.”

This letter outraged other candidates, who considered that it gave Roberts an unfair advantage, as he used the National Party’s database to garner support from members, not just for votes, but to recruit a workforce to man all 50 polling booths, four pre-poll sites, and get high profile Nationals to work for him, and possibly donate money to his campaign.

Several candidates lodged formal complaints about this issue.

The National Party feared the embarrassment of a public backlash in this electorate, if they formally ran a National candidate, as they, the  Nationals, supported the amalgamation .

There was also some “dirty tricks” and aggressive tactics by the more experienced supporters handing out How To Vote cards.

Change Needed

It is clear that the MidCoast Council and particularly the Administrator, the NSW Electoral Commission, and the NSW Government, all failed to anticipate the lack of awareness about the election, and to effectively inform and prepare our community.

Most candidates did not lay out detailed plans or realistic policies. This was perhaps the single most significant failure of the campaign, there was no contest of ideas.  With one clear exception, there were a lot of slogans with no substance, and a lot of self-promotion and hype.

But here it is, our first Midcoast Council, and we cannot be complacent that it’s ‘all over Red Rover’, there is nothing that we can do until the next election, and so we have no choice but to let them get on with it.

But we, the community, do have a role.

We need to be vigilant, and support our Councillors to be strong and independent, and ensure that they are not cowed, bullied or manipulated. They must remember that they are there to fight for every member of our community.  To not be swayed by the siren song of influence, and remember that they are  servants of the people.

The community is watching.

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