Will Fremantle City Council shift left?


The October 17 Fremantle local government elections will take place in the wake of the May by-election that resulted in the historic victory of Greens candidate Adele Carles.

Carles is the only Green, and only left-of-Labor MP, in the state lower house.

Many Labor supporters voted for Carles rather than the conservative Fremantle mayor turned ALP candidate Peter Tagliaferri. ALP strategists are furious about the Greens' victory and are striving to stop Carles from winning again.

The make-up of the Fremantle City Council will impact on the local political environment in which this broader contest will play out.

Western Australia's local government elections will be held under a new and undemocratic "first past the post" voting system brought in by the state Liberal government.

Under this system, the candidate with the largest vote wins even if a majority of electors are opposed to that candidate.

The consequences of this are shown by the six-way battle for Fremantle mayor, which includes three candidates who are members of the Greens.

Typically, WA local government candidates, while frequently members of one party or another, are not formally endorsed by political parties. This is true of the Greens, which does not generally exercise party discipline over members in local government elections.

The September 5 Fremantle Herald ran the front-page headline, "Greens split on mayor". The article said it is "mathematically possible for the [three Greens] to get 74% of the vote between them and all lose, and for a single conservative to win with just 26%".

Other candidates have suggested that Greens councillor and mayoral candidate Brad Pettitt is courting support from Tagliaferri's conservative voter base.

The September 5 Herald said another Greens mayoral candidate, Jon Strachan, "said Pettitt's Greens credentials were battered when he cosied up with Labor's Peter Tagliaferri after a meet and greet during the by-election".

The Herald also said (prior to close of nominations) that "assuming [Tagliaferri] doesn't run [himself], he is considered to be strongly backing Pettitt".

The other Green candidates is Michael Martin. Martin played a key role in the successful campaign to stop the previous Labor government's plans to develop South and Bather beaches. He has pitched his campaign as an alternative to the "presidential" style of the current mayor Tagliaferri.

In the race for council positions, Andrew Sullivan, a Greens member and well-known campaigner against developer-driven attempts to privatise the coastline, was elected unopposed in South Ward.

At least three ALP candidates — some closely connected with the party machine — are running in Hilton, Beaconsfield and East wards.

Socialist campaign

Another feature of the Fremantle council campaign is the energetic campaign by socialist wharfie Sam Wainwright in the Hilton ward. Wainwright polled 2.4% as a Socialist Alliance candidate in the May by-election, coming fifth out of 11 candidates.

Wainwright is campaigning on a range of issues including: improving council democracy, making Fremantle a "climate-action council" and for workers' rights in Fremantle. Other issues include campaigning for better public transport, promoting community gardens and reconnecting the suburb of Samson with the rest of Fremantle.

Another highlight of the campaign was the release of an action plan to improve access for people with disabilities, which was profiled in the Herald and the Fremantle Gazette.

In addition to strong media coverage, Wainwright and his supporters have twice letterboxed the ward. Wainwright has knocked on half the doors in Hilton ward and aims to have the whole ward covered before ballot papers are mailed out at the end of September.

[More information about Wainwright's campaign can be found at SamForHilton.blogspot.com along with his full election flyer.]