Lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions close in

Pilbara News - - Front Page - Ben Leahy

Many Aus­tralians con­sider lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions the poor brother of the more hyped, more de­bated State and Fed­eral elec­tions.

While vot­ing is com­pul­sory at Fed­eral and State lev­els, res­i­dents have the choice to vote or not in lo­cal elec­tions — and they of­ten choose not to.

About 30 per cent of Pil­bara res­i­dents and prop­erty own­ers ex­er­cised their right to vote in the last elec­tion in 2013.

How­ever, with six City of Kar­ratha coun­cil­lor po­si­tions and six Shire of Ash­bur­ton spots up for grabs in the up­com­ing Oc­to­ber 17 elec­tions, a po­lit­i­cal ex­pert has urged more peo­ple to have their say.

Curtin Univer­sity In­sti­tute of Public Pol­icy emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor David Black said lo­cal gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions about build­ing ap­provals, waste dis­posal and com­mu­nity li­braries and sports cen­tres, of­ten di­rectly af­fected peo­ple’s day-to-day lives.

“You are more likely, as an in­di­vid­ual citizen, to be asked to go to a meet­ing about some­thing, which is to do with lo­cal af­fairs, than if it is State or Fed­eral,” he said.

“Lo­cal gov­ern­ment, although in some ways it seems less im­por­tant, is nearer to the in­di­vid­ual peo­ple in terms of the ser­vices it pro­vides … it has im­me­di­ate im­pact on peo­ple’s lives.

“Hence, if you re­ally are con­cerned at what lo­cal coun­cil is do­ing, you ought to be hav­ing your say.”

Pro­fes­sor Black’s en­cour­age­ment comes as can­di­dates face a last-minute rush to en­sure their de­tails are up to date.

Can­di­dates wish­ing to stand for po­si­tions on a coun­cil need to sub­mit their nom­i­na­tions by Septem­ber 10.

Vot­ers must be must be over 18 and a res­i­dent of their lo­cal gov­ern­ment dis­trict.

Aus­tralian per­ma­nent res­i­dents can also vote, as can Pil­bara prop­erty and busi­ness own­ers who do not live in the re­gion, by ap­ply­ing to their lo­cal gov­ern­ment’s owner-oc­cu­piers roll.

Coun­cil can­di­dates must also be over 18, res­i­dents of the lo­cal gov­ern­ment dis­trict and have com­mit­ted no se­ri­ous crim­i­nal of­fences.

Vot­ers can ex­pect their bal­lot pa­pers to show up in their mail-

boxes, mailed to them by the Western Aus­tralian Elec­toral Com­mis­sion.

The City of Kar­ratha and Shire of Ash­bur­ton are among 88 coun­cils across the State, rep­re­sent­ing 97 per cent of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers, who have asked the com­mis­sion to run their elec­tions.

Held ev­ery two years, roughly half of each coun­cil goes up for elec­tion on each oc­ca­sion.

In the Shire of Ash­bur­ton, once the new coun­cil­lors are elected, they then vote among them­selves to elect the Shire pres­i­dent.

For the City it is the same, ex­cept in­stead of a pres­i­dent, there is a mayor.

While the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment han­dles ar­guably more im­por­tant roles in de­fence and for­eign re­la­tions and the State man­ages the po­lice and ed­u­ca­tion, coun­cil­lors also play in­te­gral roles in Aus­tralian democ­racy.

When lo­cal gov­ern­ment staff wish to in­sti­tute im­por­tant poli­cies or in­vest­ments, they bring them be­fore the elected coun­cil­lors to ap­prove, re­ject or mod­ify.

Coun­cil­lors are ex­pected to study re­ports, busi­ness stud­ies and lo­cal laws, de­bate is­sues, speak at events and rep­re­sent the com­mu­nity’s in­ter­ests.

Their hours are of­ten long, but their de­ci­sions can have last­ing im­pacts.

Shire of Ash­bur­ton pres­i­dent Kerry White said be­ing a coun­cil­lor brought with it a great sense of sat­is­fac­tion.

“It is an hon­our to rep­re­sent your com­mu­nity and have the op­por­tu­nity to de­liver pos­i­tive out­comes that en­hance the lifestyle and the long term vi­a­bil­ity of our towns,” she said.

De­spite their im­por­tant role, in 2013, only 34.61 per cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers took part in the Shire’s elec­tions, while 26.6 per cent took part in the City poll.

Pro­fes­sor Black said part of the prob­lem was that vot­ers did not find it easy to know who to vote for.

He said vot­ers in Fed­eral and State elec­tions of­ten used the well-known po­lit­i­cal par­ties to help them make up their minds.

“But once you get into lo­cal coun­cil … you haven’t got the easy la­bels of party poli­cies,” he said.

“You can find out about them (can­di­dates), but you have to go to an ef­fort to do it.”

Pic­ture: Peter de Krui­jff

City of Kar­ratha coun­cil­lor Garry Bai­ley with Mayor Peter Long.

Pic­ture: Julie Glover

Shire of Ash­bur­ton’s chief ex­ec­u­tive Neil Hart­ley, pres­i­dent Kerry White and the Min­is­ter for Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Tony Simp­son.

Pic­ture: Peter de Krui­jff

Bal­lot boxes used in the 2013 elec­tion.

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