Until Saturday, for the past five or so weeks, I spent most late afternoons and early evenings after work walking my local streets letterboxing a small summary of my basic policies along with instructions on how to vote in the 2013 local government election.
I ran for a Council seat in West Ward in the City of Bayswater. I ran on three simple issues – lower rates, tangible policies to address the crime wave impacting on my local area (I am a recent victim of a home burglary) and streamlining local council planning approvals processes.
Polling Day was Saturday and there is no denying this fact – I got flogged. I polled a whopping 380 votes out of 5,455 valid votes.
However, I take three positive outcomes from this campaign: It gave me a better understanding of my local area; it taught me a lot more about the people who helped me and also about those involved in grassroots politics; and more people voted for me than they did for Darren Brown.
Today, after hearing and reading about how it's very distressing to some journalists in WA that the voter turnout was historically low and that the answer must be to force people to vote, I got to thinking about this issue of local council voter disengagement.
It didn't take long for me to conclude that this really isn't an issue at all, and to force people to vote is a stupid idea.
The more important issue we ought to be discussing at great length (and at much higher levels of government), and even though this never seems to be on the agenda, is how to address the drastic overreach by local governments.
Don't get me wrong, this average punter firmly believes state and federal governments in Australia have all drastically overstepped their boundaries. Let's just focus on Local Government for now.
Did any journalist who contributed to the various columns conveying the collective dismay at the 20-30% turnout stop to consider that the reason that a vast majority of eligible people don't vote in these elections may be because most common-sense people probably expect that the only matters their local council should be in charge of are lawns, roads and rubbish?
Most people in my neighbourhood wouldn't know that the 2013/2014 City of Bayswater Budget totalled spending of around $70million, and consisted of a taxation of local ratepayers of some $34million. This was through a rate increase of almost double that of inflation. During the Budget process, the City issued a press release stating this increase as 'prudent'. It certainly was interesting rhetoric.
What's my point? A good question!
When did local governments get the power to turn a small operation charged with the responsibility of fixing our roads, taking care of our local parks and gardens and collecting our garbage into a multi-million dollar 'tax and spend' machine, splurging ratepayers funds on hiring sustainability consultants and 'buzz-word' doctors, creating make-work programmes in the form of diversity and cultural projects and awarding often ridiculously generous grants for 'art' projects? Oh, and please don't forget the annual contributions local governments pay to groups like WALGA and ALGA. These two lobby groups spent millions of dollars of ratepayers' funds on a political advertising campaign for something which never occurred, but still won't give the funds back to ratepayers. Hashtag integrity.
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