Local government elections close in
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.”
City of Karratha councillor Garry Bailey with Mayor Peter Long.
Shire of Ashburton’s chief executive Neil Hartley, president Kerry White and the Minister for Local Government Tony Simpson.
Ballot boxes used in the 2013 election.