Deniliquin Pastoral Times

Council election delay explained

- By LAURA GREEN

The NSW Government decision to postpone local government elections came as a shock to Edward River Council on Saturday, but the council will continue with business as usual until the new election date.

The decision will push the preelectio­n caretaker period back from August 6 to November 5, giving councils an additional three months to adopt policy.

Mayor Norm Brennan said many decisions which would have been made during the new council term were able to be brought forward — including next steps on the Deniliquin saleyards and the Seniors Living Precinct.

“All the dates have changed and we’re going into caretaker (mode) in November,’’ Cr Brennan said.

The local government elections, which were to be held on September 4, were pushed back three months to December 4 due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney, according to the Office of Local Government (OLG).

“Global experience has demonstrat­ed that previously effective mitigation strategies for the COVID-19 virus are no longer effective in containing the spread of the Delta variant.

“Only the strictest controls will contain the current outbreak,” a statement from the OLG said.

Proposals by some mayors to hold a postal or online vote to keep the September election date were knocked back because it would be “too late” to amend the Local Government Act to make that possible.

“Even if the necessary amendments could be passed, the NSW Electoral Commission has advised that it will not be logistical­ly possible to distribute, receive and process postal votes for every elector in NSW in the time between now and (4th of) September,” the OLG statement said.

Cr Brennan said the state government did not consult with councils before making the decision, adding he would like to see regional areas which had not been affected by outbreaks to continue with elections in September.

“I could understand why they wouldn’t want to have elections on the eastern seaboard.’’

But he said that independen­tly operating councils should be able to hold their own elections on time.

Cr Brennan said Edward River Council should be able to carry on with elections because the area has never reported a confirmed COVID-19 case.

But the OLG points to stay-athome restrictio­ns imposed on the local government areas of Orange, Blayney and Cabonne and “cases and transmissi­on hotspots identified in other regional areas” as part of its reason to delay all 128 council elections.

“Conducting council elections in regional areas will also require the movement of personnel and equipment from greater Sydney to those areas creating the risk that holding elections in regional areas may cause the virus to be seeded in those areas,” the OLG statement said.

But Cr Brennan said the NSW government has had ‘‘enough time to prepare for alternativ­e voting methods’’ should outbreaks occur.

Concerns were raised by Local Government NSW — an independen­t organisati­on which supports and promotes NSW councils — about the effect the delay would have on democratic freedoms and candidate engagement; candidate nomination­s have also been pushed back to October 25.

Newly-formed councils will be declared on December 17, after which time councillor­s have three weeks to elect a mayor. They must then be sworn in.

LGNSW also called on the NSW Government to release the health advice it was acting upon to suspend regional elections alongside metropolit­an counterpar­ts.

The pandemic delayed elections for an initial 12 months last year, while Victoria held its elections in stage five restrictio­ns following a months-long lockdown, but the state government said this could backfire in low voter turnout to the non-compulsory elections.

“The government is also concerned that the current outbreak and restrictio­ns may see a low voter turnout at council elections that could jeopardise the legitimacy of election outcomes and public confidence in them,” the OLG statement said.

Cr Brennan said regional communitie­s, which were largely unaffected by COVID-19, could deliver elections safely.

‘‘If you’ve got to do it, you’ve got to do it,’’ he said.

NSW council representa­tives attended a webinar with the Office of Local Government yesterday to learn more about next steps for council elections.

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