Why politics on
THE time may have arrived for the loose alliances which dot our local government landscape to be formalised – not for the power hungry but the sake of the community.
On behalf of those who have been here longer than a few dry seasons, the debates, discussions, ideas and community consultation which has engulfed the City of Darwin on what our city could be have been repeated so many times I can almost mimic the expressed sentiments word for word.
It is time to start something. Anything. Cynical? No, exhausted. I went to a Property Council function two weeks ago and heard the same worthy ideas I had heard since 2001 attending a summit organised by the City of Darwin back then and embraced by the then newly-elected Martin Labor Government.
Elements of the most recent session were groundhog day. The same thing repeated over and over. I reckon I’ve heard “we should be a tropical city like Singapore” at least 15 times in the past two decades. Are we yet? Not even close. Other aspects of the session were more contemporary and interesting.
What was lacking back then, and is lacking now, is leadership, ownership and a start date.
Which brings me to my starting point of formalising alliances into coalitions going so far as being identified with leanings towards major political parties or as is the case in a lot or most of the southern local government jurisdictions, party political councils.
In some respects elements of that occur now on the Darwin council anyway. A couple of the aldermen have a Greens bent – Simon Niblock, Robin Knox and Dr Emma Young. Rebecca Want de Rowe is clearly Labor being married to ALP organiser Kent Rowe and was front and centre at the election-party celebrations of the Gunner Government.
Former alderman Kate Worden was another. She is now the ALP’s Sanderson MLA. Meanwhile Mick Palmer is a former CLP Minister and alderman Gary Lambert is a former CLP candidate in the seat of Fannie Bay.
Over the years some have either disguised their political leanings or swayed with the breeze based on what is genuinely required.
The problem of such a system is the Lord Mayor is the figurehead in name but an equal when it comes to votes. When punters go to the ballot box they vote on the figurehead who makes a series of policy commitments they can’t remotely achieve without a majority of the elected aldermen supporting them.
This is where the entire system becomes unhinged. Having won the popular vote the Lord Mayor is then effectively captive of the other 12 aldermen some of whom have such a narrow policy base they become seat warmers for a term.
What the people of Darwin have discovered is that this leads to leadership paralysis which is not necessarily a reflection of the person who is leading but the system. Obviously the Lord Mayor isn’t infallible on the leadership stakes, it just gets magnified by this system.
To quote the often chanted union slogan: “The workers united will never be defeated.” The emphasis is on ‘united’.
We’ve had some Lord Mayors, starting with the current Lord Mayor’s father Alec Fong Lim, who were able to bring the like-minded along. This skill has diminished over successive Lord Mayors as the aldermen realised where the real power sits.
The late George Brown was another because he could work the internal politics including the staff, better than others who have followed. He was also a likeable ratbag who would be stoned, in the rock sense, at the pulpit given some of the opinions he expressed. Economically he, and his “allies”, set council on a financial path it enjoys today.
In my mind local government doesn’t need to be another level of the two-party system. But it does need to be a collective of like-minded individuals with a common goal, common vision and common outcome in mind, joining forces and working towards getting there.
It can be agonising to watch a debate at council unfold. What seems a straightforward motion can go in giant circles or tangents to stop, delay or damage whoever put the idea up. I’ve watched aldermen deliberately torpedo a Lord Mayor because he was getting too much positive attention. Bizarre. It didn’t matter the issue was what the community supported.
This week’s CBD summit is a classic example of how the system is holding our city back. If we had a system where a majority of aldermen all agreed as one on a way forward we wouldn’t be constantly having talkfest after talkfest. A key outcome from the CBD summit was to form a committee to develop action plans. We can add those to the lists already formulated on the existing masterplan.
Someone has to stand up and own the way forward for the CBD. The Lord Mayor can’t because she is one person, one vote and she may well look around to discover no one is standing behind her.
As we get closer to an election and the real political motives of individuals start to surface then we may see the Lord Mayor sitting further out on a limb.
Voters will go to the polls for local government elections in August next year. It was de-
“The problem of such a system is the Lord Mayor is the figurehead in name but an equal when it comes to votes”