As chief executive officer of the LGAQ for nearly 27 years and a keen student of local government history way back to the 1930s, I’ve learned to expect that Labor governments, at fairly regular intervals, will try to redesign the system of governance and electoral frameworks affecting local councils. They will do this to fashion a system that better reflects their political and philosophical views. In fairness, most of the reforms they have introduced over the years were justified and in the community’s long term interest. It is also a fact that Labor administrations have tended to be far better funders of councils than conservative governments (with the one exception of the Borbidge Sheldon government of the 1990s).
While it has been keen to introduce change, it has also been standard practice by Labor in government to run very large consultative processes regarding council major reforms (the 2008 amalgamations aside). Think Tom Burns’s Green and White Papers that preceded the revolutionary 1993 Local Government Act and Greg Hoffman as Commissioner of Local Government in the mid-1990s with his boundary change process.
This time, however, it is different. Very different. The Palaszczuk Government’s proposed electoral system changes are being forced down the throats of the community and councils in a very rushed and unseemly manner. There is no external independent report, cogent argument, or even community desire to support these changes. They are being driven by crude political self-interest.
Optional preferential voting, introduced by the Goss government with great fanfare following the seminal report by the Fitzgerald-inspired Electoral and Administrative Review Commission, has been the system in large divided councils since 1994, and in all mayoral elections since 2016. Of the 31 reform recommendations put forward by the Crime and Corruption Commission following its Belcarra inquiry, none came close to urging the ditching of optional preferential voting in favour of a compulsory preferential voting. Another recent major review, the Soorley report into the conduct of the 2016 council elections, even recommended against introducing CPV until at least 2024.
The LGAQ continues to support all the Belcarra reforms the Government wants to introduce. Those reforms had the benefit of sober and extensive assessment. In contrast, the push to introduce CPV and proportional representation into council elections has been sprung on an unsuspecting electorate, 72 percent of whom are happy with the current system.
The Government’s self-interest is laid bare.
This is why we launched a vigorous social media campaign against the changes, a campaign aimed at informing the community of what was at stake.
The latest figures show we have reached more than five million people on Facebook and Instagram, two million on twitter and nearly 145,000 views of our video material.
Mark my words these electoral changes (don’t call them reforms) will fail to stand the test of time and will be largely repealed within a decade. They will cause great damage in the meantime, as is the case with most failed experiments.