Democracy the true winner of council elections

Democratic process: Brodie Magennis, Levi Magennis and Natalie Kirk ready to vote at Wingham Brush Public School.
Democratic process: Brodie Magennis, Levi Magennis and Natalie Kirk ready to vote at Wingham Brush Public School.

Counting is expected to continue for a number of days before the result is known from all 46 council elections held in NSW, including MidCoast Council, on Saturday September 9, the local government sector has said.

Local Government NSW (LGNSW) president Keith Rhoades said some pundits were suggesting there had been significant swings, illustrating the community's feelings about the State Government’s council amalgamation policies.

Around 2.8 million people were expected to vote in polls for 20 amalgamated councils, such as MidCoast, previously under administration, and a range of councils given a reprieve after launching court challenges.

“It’s a well-known cliché, but that doesn’t make it untrue: democracy was the winner on the day,” clr Rhoades said.

“There’s always a lot of debate and soul-searching after every election, as political parties and candidates seek to parse where they went wrong – or where they went right.

“The reality is that the voters never get it wrong.

“Australian voters are more than capable of indicating who they want to serve as their voice in government.

“The most important takeout from the results of yesterday’s elections is that local democracy matters … both for those communities whose councils were amalgamated and those granted a reprieve.”

Most NSW councils held their elections in 2016, but elections for these remaining 46 were held over until the amalgamation process was complete, or the decision made that a merger would not proceed.

The split-election delay between councils who ran elections in 2016 and the 46 holding elections yesterday, along with the introduction of wards in some LGAs, may have been a factor in lower than expected voter turnout.

Also relevant is the lack of absentee voting, except for a single multi-council polling place at Sydney’s Town Hall.

Clr Rhoades said local councils remained the sphere of government most likely directly impact the day-to-day lives of local communities.

But he stressed that the responsibilities and operations of modern councils extend far beyond the old outmoded ‘roads, rates and rubbish’ model.

“Local Government employs some 45,000 people across the state, and has an annual spend of $10 billion – as a sector we’re active almost every sphere of daily life,” he said.

“Today’s councillors come from a wide variety of backgrounds and they operate at the strategic level to deliver the services and infrastructure that communities need.

“That’s why council elections and local democracy are so important.

“It’s the best way residents and ratepayers can help shape the future of their neighbourhoods and towns.”​