Sue Bolton: Vic Labor must ‘rethink’ undemocratic single member ward system

May 27, 2024
Socialist Alliance Merri-bek councillor Sue Bolton addresses a rally outside Labor Senator Jess Walsh's office. Photo Emma Hartley

One legacy of disgraced Victorian Labor MP Adem Somyurek lives on in the undemocratic local government voting system, to be used in the council elections in October.

According to Socialist Alliance Merri-bek councillor Sue Bolton, the changes to the council election system “will forever reduce democracy”.

Somyurek was sacked from Labor’s cabinet in mid 2020, after allegations of branch stacking. He resigned from the party shortly afterwards.

“As Minister for Small Business and Local Government, Somyurek forced most urban councils, and some regional city councils, to switch from proportional representation to single-member wards — a move that advantages the major parties,” Bolton told Green Left.

Getting rid of proportional representation and postal ballots advantages the major parties, Bolton said, because with loads more funds they can more easily run “dummy” candidates, whose main purpose is to direct preferences back to the majors.

“Not having booths open, with people canvassing outside them, reduces transparency; it makes it easier for the established major parties and more difficult for smaller parties and diverse candidates.”

As more people lose confidence in the major parties, moving to undemocratic mechanisms helps turn council elections into a two-party system, making it even more difficult for minor parties and independents.

Bolton is running for re-election for a third time to Merri-bek Council.

In the first election under the single member ward system, the Victorian Electoral Commission will send out a 150-word statement, with a photo of each candidate, to each resident.

“The candidate doesn’t need to run a campaign to get elected,” Bolton said. “All they need to do is nominate themselves. Obviously, this advantages parties with lots of funding and a well-known brand.”

Since postal voting was introduced in the 1990s in Victoria, Bolton said the number of dummy candidates had risen.

“Labor had political reasons for the changes: it is under pressure from Greens and socialists in the inner-city council areas.

“If Labor really respected diversity and representation, it would not allow dummy candidates to contest local government elections.”

Bolton wants Premier Jacinta Allan to examine the voting system because “it is not the best way councils can represent their communities”.

[Help Sue Bolton re-win her council position the Bababi Djinanang ward in Merri-bek and follow the campaign Facebook page. Donate to her campaign here.]


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