Council election results a big blow to Baird

September 17, 2016
Clover Moore (centre) received more than 60% of the vote to keep her position as Lord Mayor of Sydney.

The massive win by independent City of Sydney Council Lord Mayor Clover Moore and the big swing to Labor in outer suburban councils are big blows to Premier Mike Baird and the state government. This comes on top of a growing slide in the government's popularity as a result of a series of policies that have caused widespread public backlash in the state.

In the City of Sydney, incumbent mayor Clover Moore received more than 60% of the vote, an increase of almost 10% on the 51% she received in 2012. The Liberals' Christine Forster, the sister of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, gained a mere 15%, with Labor’s Linda Scott on 11% and the Greens' Lindsay Johnston on about 7%.

Moore is also likely to have at least six of her team elected to the council, giving her a clear majority in the 10-member chamber.

On achieving a record fourth term as Sydney mayor, Moore said: "I think [this] was a tremendous result against that gerrymander. It was so unjust, so unfair, so undemocratic to give two votes to businesses and one vote to residents. We have had an unprecedented win for democracy in the city."

Moore described her win as a "people's victory" against the policies of the Baird government. The state government's controversial 2014 law covering only the City of Sydney, made it compulsory for all businesses to enrol and vote and gave each business two votes. It was widely viewed as the latest attempt to get Moore out of office.

Despite valid criticisms of some of Moore's policies on urban development, she has now survived several moves by both Liberal and Labor state governments to get rid of her.

The residents of inner Sydney have again clearly rejected the "rotten borough" business vote legislation, cooked up between Baird and the Shooters and Fishers Party, to reverse the principle of one person, one value, one vote, which was fought for by workers and citizens for more than 150 years.

The undemocratic system of business votes has cost at least $12 million to implement so far. The City of Sydney Council has been forced to waste funds on the system — money that could have been spent productively on parks or cycleways, for example.

Moore and her team, the Greens and Labor have all spoken out strongly against the compulsory two votes for business law. Now is the time for the three parties and other supporters of democratic rights in Sydney to mount a major public campaign to repeal the law.

Among the independent councillors elected as part of Moore's team is Dr Kerryn Phelps, former president of the Australian Medical Association and prominent campaigner for LGBTI rights. She is being tipped as a likely successor to Clover Moore as Lord Mayor.

The Liberals were also smashed by Labor in a number of western Sydney councils. Labor picked up seats in Blacktown, Campbelltown, Camden and Penrith, going from seven to 10 councillors in Blacktown on the back of an 11% swing.

Meanwhile, almost 50 local councils across the state have had their elections delayed until September next year because of the forced amalgamation of councils imposed by the government last year. With this year's council elections described as a "referendum" on Baird, it is widely expected that the local elections next year will be a total wipe-out for the Liberals.

State opposition leader Luke Foley has predicted that voters in the areas subject to forced mergers of councils are "waiting with a baseball bat" for Baird in next year's local elections. If so, the push for holding referendums for the right to de-amalgamate will be overwhelming.

The NSW Greens, while appearing to be squeezed out of a seat in Sydney by the "Clover-slide," have experienced strong results in local council elections around the state. The Greens are leading the primary vote in Kiama, are strong challengers for the mayoralties of Shoalhaven and Bellingen and have won the mayoralty in Byron Shire Council.

The Greens have also broken through on councils from Albury to Kyogle, and have had good results in western Sydney in Campbelltown, Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains. 

Greens MP and local government spokesperson David Shoebridge said on September 10: "Across the state, we have been standing up for local government in the face of the Baird government's attacks, and local residents respect the Greens' consistent voice for grassroots democracy."

The widespread swing against the Liberals in these council elections is a further sign of the growing crisis of the Baird government. Baird, the previously popular "smiling assassin" of the neoliberal offensive in Australia's biggest state, is now sorely wounded.

A united front campaign against Baird's autocratic policies of undemocratic voting laws, forced council mergers, insane tollways such as WestConnex and privatisation of everything that moves (or doesn't) in NSW, is timely and essential if this government's regressive policies are to be defeated. The forces are now being assembled that can make such a popular movement a reality — we need to organise to make sure a united community counter-offensive can reach take-off point.

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