Tuesday, June 14, 2022
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Council for whom?

This conundrum goes back to the very early days when councils were being formed in NSW.

It was the subject of much debate in the lead-up to the first City of Sydney Council elections of 1842. The subject came up again in 1998 when it was the subject of a parliamentary inquiry that examined the voting franchise and the historical development of that franchise.

The residents, by their nature, live in the area and seek services that enhance the quality of their lifestyle. Businesses need both a workforce and consumers of their products. Having their commercial activities close to sources of workers and consumers enhances the profitability of the individual business and the returns to their shareholders. Those shareholders are not necessarily residents of the area the business operates in.

There are many inherent areas of conflict between the interests of residents and businesses. The list is not restricted to noise, traffic, parking, pollution, access to services, food prices, commodity costs, parks, public spaces, recreational facilities, and property price issues.

Today the conundrum has re-emerged with legislation – City of Sydney Amendment (Elections) Bill 2014 – currently before the NSW parliament to change the business sector’s eligibility to vote. The legislation will arbitrarily allocate each business registered within the City of Sydney local government area two votes in the City of Sydney Council elections. At present all businesses registered within the City of Sydney local government area have the right to cast a vote in Sydney Council elections if they so choose. Putting all businesses on the electoral roll will render them liable to be fined if they do not vote in the Council elections.

The question of the outcome of imposing compulsory voting on all businesses registered in the City of Sydney area arises. Will it give benefits to the small businesses operating outside of the inner-city area? Is it intended to benefit the big businesses who can afford the expense of premises in the central business area?

Will these proposed benefits to businesses be delivered at the expense of the residents? Only time will tell the outcome of this current foray into the age-old conundrum of whose interests the Council is meant to advance.

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