Why pol­i­tics on

Sunday Territorian - - NEWS - ASH­LEY MANI­CAROS

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”

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