Coun­cil­lors vote to abol­ish wards

Augusta Margaret River Times - - Times News - Warren Hately

Shire of Au­gusta-Mar­garet River coun­cil­lors have nar­rowly voted to abol­ish the Shire’s wards sys­tem amid ac­cu­sa­tions of a rigged re­port, coun­cil­lor bias and self-in­ter­est.

The de­ci­sion means vot­ers in Oc­to­ber’s lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tion will have a di­rect say on all four can­di­dates elected to the coun­cil.

How­ever, pro-wards coun­cil­lors Mike Smart, Kim Hastie and Pam Town­shend, who lost the ar­gu­ment on Wed­nes­day night, warned the de­ci­sion would give party pol­i­tics a fur­ther leg up and make cam­paign­ing for a seat on the coun­cil far more costly and time-con­sum- ing. While ar­gu­ing for mi­nor changes to the sta­tus quo al­lo­cat­ing two coun­cil­lors to the Leeuwin ward, three to the Mar­garet River ward, and two to North, Crs Smart and Hastie said the “bi­ased” re­port was al­ways de­signed to ar­gue the case for abol­ish­ing wards.

“From the ear­li­est dis­cus­sions there has been a push by the CEO to ex­clude the op­tion of two coun­cil­lors in the Leeuwin ward,” Cr Smart said.

“It was only from coun­cil­lor in­ter­ven­tion that this op­tion is be­ing con­sid­ered.

“The whole re­port is writ­ten from an in­ten­tion of re­mov­ing wards.”

The Leeuwin ward pair also ques­tioned why the re­port ex­am­ined sev­eral no-wards lo­cal gov­ern­ments, but none with ward sys­tems in­tact.

Cr Hastie also noted that if wards con­tin­ued, North ward Shire pres­i­dent Ian Earl and his deputy Kylie Ken­naugh faced the prospect of com­pet­ing for the same seat.

Coun­cil­lors back­ing the nowards sys­tem said can­di­dates could al­ready run for of­fice in wards where they didn’t live.

Both sides of the de­bate used the same point that coun­cil­lors rep­re­sented all ratepay­ers.

“We should con­sign the wards sys­tem to the his­tory pages,” Cr Earl said. “Here is an op­por­tu­nity to al­low all of our elec­torate to vote on the one item they get to vote on: the elec­tion of coun­cil­lors.”

Rosa Brook farmer An­drea Frutiger and for­mer Shire clerk Len Cal­neg­gia also lob­bied for the nowards sys­tem at the meet­ing.

Mr Frutiger said hav­ing no wards would im­prove democ­racy for ratepay­ers, who only voted for one or two of the seven-mem­ber coun­cil each elec­tion.

Dur­ing pub­lic ques­tion time, Cr Smart asked Mr Cal­neg­gia if he had “so­licited” sub­mis­sions from within Rosa Brook.

“The CEO has hung his hat (in the re­port) on the fact 18 elec­tors in Rosa Brook don’t want a ward sys­tem,” Cr Smart said. He and Cr Hastie noted 164 sub­mis­sions from Au­gusta seek­ing to re­tain two coun­cil spots for the Leeuwin ward.

How­ever, Cr Peter Lane asked why Au­gusta should be guar­an­teed two coun­cil­lors.

Cr Ken­naugh echoed Mr Frutiger’s com­ment that res­i­dents over­looked other lo­cal­i­ties within their ward such as Rosa Brook be­cause of their sole fo­cus on Au­gusta.

Cr Town­shend de­fended wards in the name of “lo­cal­ism” to en­shrine the in­de­pen­dence of dif­fer­ent lo­cal­i­ties within the shire, head off in­creased po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence, and re­sist amal­ga­ma­tion with other no-wards lo­cal gov­ern­ments like the City of Bus­sel­ton.

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