Smackdowns and silly ideas: Fewer local pollies please
This Punch post isn’t about WWE wrestling. Nothing to do with star John Cena delivering an elevated chokeslam to Kane.
But it’s about something that shares a lot of amateur theatrics and even biffs: local politics in this country.
A hilarious story did the rounds yesterday about Holroyd City Council, near Blacktown in Sydney’s west. Restauranteurs at the La Vita restaurant in Merrylands on Tuesday found themselves witness to one of the council area’s great all-time political battles.
Two ex-Liberal candidates got their biff on in a shameful fight over developer donations. There were shouts of” trespassing” and making “citizen’s arrests” when someone fell down the stairs, landing with a painful thud.
It’s just an example of how ridiculous local politics often is. It’s the arena where elected officials often find themselves obsessed with fringe issues, wasting their time in office banning Tim-Tams from council chambers, boycotting products in foreign countries and raising local newspaper hell about grafittied election signs.
The state of our councils is something worth debating. We’re governed by more than 500 councils according to figures from the Local Government Association. And New South Wales, which has 150 councils, is headed to the local government polls at the weekend.
Most voters don’t care about local government. Not unless there’s a big issue that directly affects them (or a family member in power). As The Sunday Telegraph wrote at the weekend, few of the 5 million New South Welshmen who will cast their ballots on Saturday have much of an idea what they’re voting for.
If they weren’t required to turn up, there’d be far fewer voters. Turnout at council polls is much lower in SA and WA, two states where the title of councillor is granted to those who can get the most neighbours, siblings, cousins, great aunties and second cousins to the polls. And those in power subsequently don’t have a strong mandate from the community - meaning a higher likelihood for fringe policies.
That’s a little sad. With big community investment and decent candidates, local councils can be incredibly effective in fixing community problems, from pot holes to keeping the local pool open.
I was genuinely impressed earlier this week by a flyer a local candidate had stuffed under my windscreen. The candidate brought me up to scratch with a local issue (parking at the train station) and laid out what he’d stand for. That was all I needed. He spared us the theatrics.
Maybe amongst the occasional talk about abolishing the states, it’s time we started contemplating merging more councils together, as happened with Brisbane City Council.
To set up “super councils”, at least across the suburbs of the big cities, with fewer positions for wannabe pollie types to abuse. The positions remaining would be consequential - and subsequently attract the attention of more voters as a consequence. Local politics doesn’t have to be the amateur league.
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