Local Government Amendment (Conduct of Elections) Bill 2013 [Motion Debate]

This speech was delivered on 19 June 2013 in the NSW Upper House. You can read the full contribution here.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT AMENDMENT (CONDUCT OF ELECTIONS) BILL 2013

Second Reading
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE [4.15 p.m.]: On behalf of The Greens, I express support for the Local Government Amendment (Conduct of Elections) Bill 2013. The bill was introduced after local councils across the State had the opportunity to review the arrangements that were put in place which allowed certain councils to choose to have elections in their local government area operated by an entity other than the Electoral Commission. Members will recall that following the 2008 council elections the Electoral Commission charged councils across New South Wales a significantly increased fee for running elections. In many cases the fee appeared to have, at best, a loose connection with the service that was provided to individual councils. Some councils were being charged hundreds of thousands of dollars more for an election than they had been charged for the previous election and this caused a great deal of anger and concern in the local government sector.Much of the criticism of those increased charges should be directed to the State Government at that time for directing the Electoral Commission to undertake full-fee recovery. Every minute of administrative time spent by the commission was apportioned to various councils, including expenses such as portions of the commission’s rates, power and water use. Ordinary daily business expenses were apportioned to local councils, and they were made to pay. It was a very flawed process that led to a significant and unsustainable inflation of fees being imposed on local councils, which then led to a significant backlash among the local government sector against the Electoral Commission.

After strong advocacy from the then Local Government and Shires Associations in New South Wales the Government moved, with unanimous support in the House, to allow local councils to opt to have private companies that had satisfied certain Electoral Commission requirements to run local council elections. The first time we saw it in operation was in 2012. Following that election, significant concerns were raised, not just by The Greens candidates and councillors but also by independents, about the way in which a number of the private companies operated. At the time of nomination of candidates, there was definitely less skill and knowledge in the private companies.

People with lesser skills were undertaking the job that traditionally had been done by a trained returning officer of the Electoral Commission. Further, concerns were raised about the opaque processes and decision-making of private companies. The use of private companies, as opposed to the Electoral Commission, is something that should be greatly restrained if not legislatively prohibited in the future. It is an experiment that has not had universal acceptance and has not particularly worked.

It is with that background that The Greens review the Local Government Amendment (Conduct of Elections) Bill 2013. The bill makes it easier for councils to decide to have the Electoral Commission run their elections. It gives them a longer period to make that determination—that election, if you like—to have the Electoral Commission run their council elections. It also allows councils to enter into an ongoing agreement with the Electoral Commission or the Electoral Commissioner without having to renew that process each council term. They can have the Electoral Commissioner run their local council elections.

The bill makes it absolutely clear that the first election of any council—whether it is a newly amalgamated council or an otherwise newly created council in New South Wales—must be held by the Electoral Commissioner. The bill takes the law in the right direction because it allows that increased opportunity for councils to opt to have the Electoral Commissioner run the elections which, provided this Government does not do what the previous Government did and gouge councils for the cost of elections, is definitely the preferable way of running local government elections. The Greens are happy to support this bill.

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