City council clash coming to Melbourne

MelbourneCityCouncil

by Lachlan Marr

The ostentatious and extravagant US election cycle is currently dominating the global media landscape. Meanwhile, at a national level, the formative issues of the Australian federal election are beginning to take shape.

Yet with all the glitz and glamour of the American elections and the spectre of the Australian federal election looming it’s easy to forget the impending Melbourne City Council election, which will take place on Saturday 22 October.

While the local city council might not boast the same cavalcade of celebrity politicos as some foreign elections, our council does feature its own cast of colourful characters.

In the top job, there is Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, who comes from a pioneering political family, his great-great-grandfather having served as mayor of Melbourne way back in 1861.

Doyle proved to be somewhat of a pioneer himself in state politics where he was unfortunate enough to set the record for the Liberal Party’s worst-ever defeat in a Victorian state election.

Since absconding from the state parliament Doyle has found surprising popularity as the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, having won the title in a tightly contested election in 2008.

Since then he has courted controversy by proposing that Melbourne’s buskers should have to audition, advocating the building of a CBD theme park, and suggesting Swanston Street be reopened to private vehicles.

Yet he has also spearheaded a number of successful projects, such as the popular White Night, and he has made a concerted effort to make the city more family-friendly and inviting.

Now Doyle is seeking to set a new record and perhaps to set the record straight on his political acumen by running for an unprecedented third term as lord mayor. If Doyle wins he will be the first lord mayor of Melbourne to serve three consecutive terms.

Doyle’s term as lord mayor has been the subject of some scrutiny and not just because of his tense relationship with street performers.

Lord Mayor Doyle has had to stand aside from council deliberations on several occasions due to conflicts caused by his vast pool of election contributors, with several developers, lobby groups and city businesses shown to have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Team Doyle during the last election.

One factor that could drastically affect Doyle’s election success is a recent proposal to change the current voting structure in the Melbourne City Council elections.

As it stands, businesses in the City of Melbourne are required to vote, with corporations operating in Melbourne allocated two votes. Owners of rateable properties are also required to vote, whether or not they live locally.

A recent report on democracy recommended changing this so that only residents could vote. Another recommendation was to allow voting rights for people who work 40 hours or more in the city, which would add over 439,000 voters to the electoral roll.

Such changes would likely see a complete overhaul of the council’s make-up, with business-friendly candidates such as Robert Doyle and his team of five councillors incurring the wrath of residents, who tend to be more left-leaning.

Excluding businesses or including workers in the upcoming election would greatly increase the vote share for the Greens party, which dominates most inner-city councils.

Currently the Melbourne City Council includes two Greens representatives. Dr Cathy Oke also comes from a local pioneering family, her mother having helped start North Melbourne’s own Spring Fling Festival.

Rohan Leppert, elected in 2012, is a composer, musician and teacher who was instrumental in Adam Bandt’s successful campaign to be elected to the House of Representatives.

Another interesting character on this council is Stephen Mayne, co-founder of political e-zine Crikey.com. Mayne came to the council with a colourful background and a broad range of experience.

The business journalist was formerly Jeff Kennett’s press secretary before starting an anti-Kennett website in the midst of the 1999 state election. The fiercely independent shareholder activist continues to write for Crikey.com and advocates good governance in his role on the council.

Councillors Ken Ong and Kevin Louey are the last remnants of John So’s once-popular council, while community activist Dr Jackie Watts was the only one on the powerhouse Gary Morgan/John Elliott ticket to see success at the last election.

Compared to the overarching narratives and ideological battles on display at national and international levels, it might seem that the issues discussed at Australia’s third level of government are of little significance.

However, the local council is realistically the most likely way that the majority of Australians will interact with their government. Despite all the supposedly high-minded arguments waged at a national level, the practicalities of day-to-day governance remain the biggest hot-button issues for many people.

Roads, traffic, infrastructure, transport, parking, zoning and planning might not resonate as the most exciting political issues, yet in a lot of cases these are the issues that will have the most direct impact on people’s lives.

The good thing is this is also the level of government where people can actually have the most impact themselves. Council meetings are held regularly and community involvement is encouraged. For more information head to http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/.

Be sure to keep yourself informed as the election approaches and you get to have your say in October.

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