LOCAL GOVERNMENT AMENDMENT (ELECTIONS) BILL 2013
Mrs ARMITAGE ( Launceston ) - Mr President, I have a similar stance as the member for Mersey. As I could be perceived to have a pecuniary interest in this bill I will not be voting on the second reading and will also refrain from voting on certain clauses. However, I believe it is incumbent upon me to relay the positions, as I understand them, of the two councils within my electorate on these issues.
On 12 November 2012, the Launceston City Council voted on the discussion paper regarding proposed changes to local government electoral arrangements. While the Launceston City Council did not support the introduction of council opt-in compulsory voting they did support a uniform approach to voting in local government elections. On the second issue, the Launceston City Council did not support a move to prevent people in the future from serving on council and state parliament at the same time and they did not support a move to all-in all-out elections with four-year terms for councillors, mayors and deputy mayors.
Regarding the Meander Valley Council, I have been advised that at a recent council workshop they have not made a formal decision but they have had a workshop meeting and there were a lot of mixed views on compulsory voting. I am further advised that the Meander Valley Council supported a move to prevent people in future from serving on council and state parliament at the same time. While they had mixed views for the all-in all-out four-year term there were no great objections.
We heard this morning that the Hobart City Council is in full support of this bill and they see these reforms as pivotal for the future of good governance. It was also mentioned that with the four-year term for councillors whereby, for example, their administration does not change for four years, it provides some certainty for investment, particularly from overseas.
Voting at Tasmanian council elections has been slowly declining in recent years, according to the Tasmanian Electoral Commission figures. In 2005 there were 58.52 per cent of eligible voters. It was 57.3 per cent in 2007, 55.54 per cent in 2009, and down to 54.28 per cent in 2011.
Over the years people have died for the freedom and the right to vote. In fact in some countries people are still dying for the right to vote. Voting is a privilege. Why complain about the representation received if you do not bother voting? We are born with a democratic right to have a voice and we should use it. Perhaps education is the key. Currently more people vote if there is an issue and they are unhappy, otherwise many simply do not vote.
Of course there is a large percentage who regularly vote and take it very seriously, but how many times have we been asked at council election time, 'Do I have to vote? Will I get fined?'. I am quite sure many members have heard the same question. When you tell people, 'No, you don't have to vote and you won't get fined', you know full well that they are not going to send that ballot paper back. Democracy only works when you work it. All forms of government are put there by the people and they should be working for the people.
Traditionally the youth vote is often overlooked and it is a sad reality that the youth vote is small compared with other demographics. More young people need to realise that they can make a difference. I believe that compulsory voting could make them more aware of local government.
Many think that theirs is just one vote and it will not make any difference but every vote counts. From personal experience I know what one vote means. Out of 23 840 votes, I lost the mayoral election by a mere three votes, after six recounts. Individually, one vote may seem irrelevant but collectively they are a force.
Hobart City Council mentioned a preference for a ballot box election in line with state and federal governments, but the cost of this could see a huge impost on local councils and thus onto their already overburdened ratepayers. With postal votes, a candidate statement is of great use to many and it assists people who may not have the benefit of newspapers or media to see who is standing for election in their community. While a four-year term will mean substantial savings for local councils and fewer elections, realistically it will simply balance out the extra cost of compulsory voting.
One problem that could occur is that new councillors will still have to serve one year in local government before being able to stand as mayor or deputy mayor, thus precluding most for a four year period, irrespective of their experience or capabilities.
Concern has also been raised regarding the possibility of party politics entering the local government arena with four-year terms. We only have to look to some mainland states to see that.
However, on a positive side, lower quotas could be seen as desirable to enable minority groups to be elected, including more women and young people having a voice in their local council area. All in all, I believe this bill should be dealt with swiftly - either passed or defeated -and I see no benefit at all in sending it to a committee.