The NSW Electoral Commission has recently commenced publishing information regarding the Local Government Elections scheduled for 4 September 2021, and a key feature is that there will be no popularly elected Mayor at MidCoast Council.
The proclamation which created the amalgamated MidCoast Council stipulated that for the “first election” the Mayor would be elected by the Councillors.
So now to change this, and to have a popularly elected Mayor voted in by the community, a ‘constitutional’ referendum of voters in the Council area must first be held to determine whether the community wants the right to elect the Mayor directly or if they are happy to allow (or abrogate that to) the elected councillors to make that choice.
In 2017, we had the ludicrous situation that the election of the MidCoast Council Mayor was determined by drawing candidates’ names out of a hat and progressively eliminating them one by one until only one name was left in the hat.
Following this, readers may recall there were several attempts at getting Council to agree to a ‘constitutional’ referendum on the issue, which in order to save costs, could simply be held in conjunction with the next Council elections.
At the 14 August 2019 Council Meeting, a motion moved by Cr Kathryn Bell and seconded by Cr Peter Epov was defeated by 7 votes to 3. Councillors voting against having a “constitutional” referendum were Cr D West, Cr K Smith, Cr L Roberts, Cr D Keegan, Cr C Pontin, Cr T Fowler, Cr K Hutchinson.
Cr Bell tried again, a year later (on 9 September 2020) with a similar Notice of Motion calling for Council to support a ‘constitutional’ referendum so the community can determine how the Mayor should be elected.
We understand that Cr Troy Fowler (Liberal) who had previously voted against the popular election of the Mayor, contacted Cr Bell and urged her to put up the motion. At the Council meeting Cr Fowler seconded her motion, but then when it came down to the business end, he voted against the motion, which he had only minutes earlier seconded.
The Vote was again 7 to 3 against, with the same Councillors: Cr D West, Cr K Smith, Cr L Roberts, Cr D Keegan, Cr C Pontin, Cr T Fowler, Cr K Hutchinson voting against having a ‘constitutional’ referendum.
So it seems very clear a majority of our MidCoast Councillors don’t want to give the voters that right or perhaps they don’t trust the voters to determine whether the Mayor should be elected by a popular vote.
What makes it more intriguing is that MidCoast Council is a member of the Hunter Joint Organisation of Councils which includes eight other neighbouring councils, six of which all have popularly elected Mayors: Cessnock City Council, Dungog Shire Council, Lake Macquarie City Council, Maitland City Council, Newcastle City Council, Port Stephens Council, Singleton Council.
Other Mid North Coast Councils that also have direct Mayoral elections include: Bellingen Shire Council, Coffs Harbour City Council, Kempsey Shire Council, Lismore City Council, Port Macquarie-Hastings Council.
So why are we so different here in MidCoast? Why can’t the public be allowed, or trusted to determine, the method of electing the Mayor?
Also, why have the two Labor Party Councillors voted on both occasions against giving the public the right through a ‘constitution’ referendum to determine whether they want a popularly elected mayor, particularly as it is the official NSW Labor Party Policy to have popularly elected mayors.
It’s all very incongruous and makes you seriously question the value in voting for candidates that stand for political parties at council elections. Do they actually understand and will they honour their party’s published principles and policies or are they using that brand name to be elected?
So in September, when you go to vote and you are wondering why you don’t get to vote for the Mayor, think carefully about whom you should vote for, and Choose Wisely!