As published in the Illawarra Mercury here:
The Illawarra is no stranger to the idea that developers can wholly corrupt a local council. The infamous “Table of knowledge” at a local kebab shop was the site of regular meetings of developers and Wollongong City Council officers including town planner Beth Morgan and general manager Rod Oxley. ICAC found that ten people engaged in corrupt conduct and the entire council was sacked.
Since the scandal in 2008, corruption has continued across the state. Despite law changes in 2010 that made donations from developers illegal, the fact is some developers remain as eager as ever to buy influence with politicians.
In recent months a swag of NSW Liberal politicians have resigned from office as a result of allegations and admissions of developers bankrolling their political campaigns.
The people of NSW have mounting anger at this. After years of a rotten Labor government with the likes of Eddie Obeid and Ian MacDonald in charge, people are genuinely astounded to see the new Liberal/national government brought so low after just three years in office. Most people just can’t believe it is true, with the bags of cash and outright lies are more extraordinary than the best crime fiction stories.
So what has the Baird government done in response? They have hatched a plan to work with the Shooters Party to rig the local government electoral system to give corporations a guaranteed gerrymander. Amazingly they want to give every corporation, every corporate landlord and every corporate tenant two votes in local council elections
Earlier this week, in fact on the same day that Premier Baird finally accepted the resignations of disgraced Liberal MPs Tim Owens and Andrew Cornwell, he announced his plan to ensure that developers and corporate interests increase their power over local councils. The Premier seems to be the only person in NSW unable to draw the obvious link between corporate involvement in politics and corruption.
While the headlines for the law are focused on the City of Sydney, hidden away at the back of the law is a provision that allows them to roil it out across the State. The Minister for Local Government has already made it clear that Wollongong City Council is on his hit list.
Corporations don’t get involved in politics for the sake of the community. 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.
Corporations and communities have wildly divergent interests and the contrast is especially stark in the field of property development. Corporations’ sole focus is maximising profit 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.
The Baird Government 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.
These laws will give big business the control over local government that they have been seeking for years. The losers from this will be local residents and the local environment.
People, and only people, have the right to vote. As a party that is committed to grassroots democracy, the Greens believe that the people who live in an area, not corporations, should be the ones to determine who is on their local council.
Ultimately it must be people, not money, that decides our collective futures.