Why corporations should never vote

As published in the Newcastle Herald here:

Another day, another corruption headline. Hunter residents are genuinely revolted by the new lows that this state’s politics has sunk to.

They are looking for political leadership to sever the link between corporate greed and politicians. With a demand for action growing, what does the Baird government do in response?

It hatches a plan to work with the Shooters Party to rig the local government electoral system to give corporations a guaranteed gerrymander with a swag of newly created voting rights. Amazingly they want to give every corporation, every corporate landlord and every corporate tenant in the city two votes in local council elections. Whatever happened to the ultimate democratic principle of one person one vote?

The City of Melbourne has this crooked system. At its last council election 60 per cent of the votes cast were from non-resident corporations and land owners. This even included foreign citizens who voted from overseas.

On the same day that Mike Baird accepted the resignations of disgraced Hunter Liberal MPs Tim Owens and Andrew Cornwell, he announced his plan to ensure that developers and corporate interests keep control of Newcastle City Hall. What does it take for the Premier to draw the link between corporate and developer involvement in politics and outright corruption?

Corporations don’t get involved in politics to help the sick, to assist the needy, to nurture the next generation or protect our environment. Corporations have a very narrow interest in politics and it is to maximise their profits. They don’t deserve a vote. Unlike citizens, they have no democratic rights.

The interests of corporations and local communities are often diametrically opposed. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of property development. Corporations’ sole focus is maximising yield with ever higher towers and relaxed development controls, while communities have an interest in a liveable city with protected heritage and green open space. Given how central planning is to the operations of local councils, enfranchising corporations is a sure fire recipe for overdevelopment.

More than 100 years ago democratic reformers finally removed the requirement of owning property as a prerequisite for voting in NSW. With this came the abolition of ‘‘plural voting’’, another rort whereby a small class of professionals had traditionally been allowed a second vote in general elections. So how on earth is it that in the 21st century we have plans to give people extra votes based solely on a property qualification?

The scheme will involve giving every corporation that runs a business, owns a property or leases a property in the city two votes; one vote to a company director and one to the company secretary. This will give a single property owned by a corporation and leased to another at least four business votes. For a single high rise property in the city with multiple leases this will deliver hundreds of business votes.

If this electoral system is entrenched for Newcastle City Council, Jeff McCloy will not go down in history as an aberrant case of a property developer lord mayor, this will become the new normal.

Let’s be clear, the Greens don’t believe that corporations have any entitlement to vote – ever. People, and only people, have the right to vote.

As a party that is committed to grassroots democracy we believe that the people who live in an area should be the ones to determine who is on their local council. We think most residents feel the same.

You can find out more about this issue and join the campaign here.

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