One-ward system backfired: councillor
Augusta-based councillor Mike Smart says the recent move to a one-ward system “backfired” on its supporters during last month’s local government election.
Celebrating a win for the candidates he endorsed, Cr Smart — who was a vocal critic of the decision to ditch the old wards system — told the Times candidates such as ex-deputy Shire president Kylie Kennaugh fell foul of the one-ward system she and other members supported.
The move to a single ward also claimed Cr Smart’s colleague Kim Hastie but saw Julia Meldrum and Naomi Godden elected, giving enough votes to secure Pam Townshend as Shire president last fortnight.
“Apart from the loss of Kim Hastie, who was a hardworking and very conscientious councillor, I’m delighted with the election results and subsequent leadership structure,” Cr Smart said.
The new system also introduced campaigning to the Augusta-Margaret River Shire, Cr Smart said, leading to disgruntlement from losing candidates aired on social media after the election.
“From my point of view, I was quite happy to openly campaign for candidates that I felt would give equitable representation right across the Shire,” Cr Smart said.
“To suggest that this is wrong is rather silly. It’s standard practice in State and Federal politics.”
New Shire president Pam Townshend voiced her worries about party politics infecting local elections when the one-ward system was voted in, with the change requiring serious campaigning across a bigger electorate.
“To chase 1700 votes is more difficult to 400 votes and would need a concerted, large campaign, which is also an opportunity to meet constituents and talk to them face to face,” she said. “The community showed their support by voting for the candidates they did.”
Mrs Kennaugh rejected Cr Smart’s analysis.
“I do not blame the ‘no wards’ for the outcome of the election,” she said. “I believe (it) had more to do with complacency from those that were happy with the way the Shire was running. Overall, we had a good track record.”
The wards system needed reform because candidates often did not live in their ward anyway and electors should engage with all councillors, Ms Kennaugh said.
Shire chief executive Gary Evershed said the healthy voter turnout, strong campaigning and a diverse outcome for the new council showed the reform had merit.
“The no-wards move was a resounding success because it was based on (a) sound rationale and a fairer one-vote, one-value principle,” he said. “A terrific outcome. I look forward to working with all of the new councillors in a very healthy productive partnership.”
Mr Hastie told the Times the one-ward system made it “a big ask” for candidates from smaller population centres like Augusta to compete.
I do not blame the ‘no wards’ for the outcome of the election.
Councillor Mike Smart.