By Col Hesse
SYDNEY — Openness, public participation and environmental protection are among the key issues being pushed by a range of progressive candidates in the local council elections to be held across NSW on September 14.
These issues have had an increasing impact on local government in recent years. Ted Mack and North Sydney are, perhaps, the best known in their efforts to fight developers and get residents involved in local government through precinct committees.
While such moves represent a threat to the big-business interests that both ALP and Liberal local councillors are notorious for defending, the Liberal Party is most concerned with this trend. It is commonly in traditional Liberal voting areas where progressive independents are blowing the whistle on the usual mix of real estate agents and developers who make up the majority of councillors.
In a move that is clearly designed to block progressive independents gaining control of local councils, the state Liberal-National government has announced that it will act to change future local government elections to a first-past-the-post system. This system naturally favours the major parties.
In order to implement this change, the Greiner government need only have the approval of the minister for local government. Neither the state parliament nor local councils themselves, let alone the community, will have any say in the matter.
The new electoral system is being given a trial run in Sutherland Shire, despite opposition from the local council and a petition of 4000 residents calling for a referendum on the issue.
"The changes to the voting system and the creation of seven two-member wards could well lead to the Liberal Party having all 14 council positions after the elections, which would leave the majority of the people unrepresented", said local anti-freeway activist and independent candidate Michelle Zeibots.
In Marrickville, a municipality notorious in the recent past for the machinations of the ALP, the Greens are also taking up the need for greater community consultation in local government decisions.
Bruce Welch, who heads up the Greens ticket for Henson ward, explained, "In spite of the recent efforts by ALP Mayor Barry Jones to go green on recycling, issues such as the Brady crushing site, in which asbestos was found, demonstrate the lack of
community consultation which blights Marrickville".
The crushing site was approved by the council despite a report from its own planning department. It was subsequently closed by court order after local protests.
"The community must have full input into all decisions of council", said Welch.
The Greens will be working with the Community Independents/New Left Party, who are running in the adjacent Newington ward. Their ticket is headed by union official Sonia Laverty.
The New Left Party is also running in South Sydney Council. Its candidates, Peter Murphy and John Wakefield, are highlighting the lack of community involvement in major development decisions by focussing on the council's approval of the construction of a 43-storey residential building in Darlinghurst, despite strong opposition from local residents.
Community tickets are running across NSW, including Queanbeyan where Harry Hesse and John McGlyn head complementary teams running on anti-development, peace and social welfare issues.