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Suffer the Sydney City pensioner, for local votes still matter

By Jane Salmon

Any gerrymander where the rich get double the votes of ordinary residents is a complete attack on democracy.

The battle for universal male suffrage in the UK in the 1800s was a protracted saga (through which many history students have indeed suffered). It was rich versus poor. The structure of parliaments throughout the Commonwealth still reflect tension between “Lords” and “Commons” (or commoners).

One vote per adult citizen and everyone having an equal say is meant to be the cornerstone of a representative system. New council voting rules in NSW are an attack on the agreed fundamentals of our nation.

In Sydney, your basic “one person – one vote” principle has been undermined by new rules for City Council elections. These rules brought down by the Baird state government, double the vote for businesses and landlords.

Baird has given virtually granted the rights of “personhood” to companies. (They’ll be wanting to marry next). Unions who own city property, however, get no say. Local residents with citizenship also get only one vote. Rigged or what??

A liveable city is a healthy, safe, tourist-friendly and a workable commuter destination. It is used by many visitors who do not get to vote at all.

The older major parties for all their strengths, barely attempt to conceal their tight and often corrupt relationships with big business, banks and developers.

Decisions made often affect residents adversely. Polluting stack or waste incinerator location, footbridge plans, Westconnex plans, casino plans, binge-drinking, lack of late night public transport, ad hoc planning created (sacred state development) sites like Barangaroo, public housing sell-offs with their brutal “decantings”, relocations, excessive foreign ownership plus an over-supply of cheap and ordinary units are all cases in point.

Sydney’s Liberal Mayors frequently overlooked locals in the past. Now their preference for CBD corporations even gives them advantages at the ballot.

Some Liberals ignore the fact that a friendly, affordable city works for all, not just companies: service workers, tourists, commuters, recreational visitors, sports fans, revellers and residents of every stripe including the mobility impaired.

Incumbent Lord Mayor Clover Moore brings both continuity and change, introducing a lively young team of prospective councillors.

Strata properties in the CBD and their residents face unique challenges. They are represented on Clover’s fresh team by strata expert Catherine Keenan and architect Philip Thalos.

Clover herself mixes with all sorts yet intimately understands the needs of local pensioners, having advocated for them across more than 30 years as a councillor, state MP and now as Mayor.

There are several reasons why inner city residents should not be “over Clover” despite the urgings of slippery shock jocks and politically-aligned media.

Liberal fixations with parking and late night drinking miss much of what is truly at stake.

Social housing residents are more or less a residential United Nations of vulnerability.

Residents cannot afford to buy or bribe their way out of situations. Many aspects of their lives and needs are managed tokenistic-ly or through bulk processing.

Social housing residents often feel powerless, frustrated, overlooked, disengaged and ranty. They are not always fun to deal with. And yet Clover Moore persists in visiting and engaging with pensioners, where most other candidates do not.

Low income residents of social housing are forced to get along. There are no large borders between them. We must salute the people who manage, given mixed levels of trauma, addiction, education and opportunity concentrated into a tower precinct with urine pooling in stairwells.

Government levels (federal, state, local) almost intentionally obfuscate the path of accountability and redress. Pensioner concerns or complaints must often be redirected to the relevant political entity.

Pollution, bad diet and health care cuts are genocidal to the poor.

(Who can put solar panels on tower blocks to run power, heating or air-conditioners? Who moved the bus stop and why?)

Long and patient discussions are needed to explain how cycleways reduce air toxicity near towers. (Bikes in laundries and stairwells suggest that many social housing residents do in fact value the Council’s bike network).

Petty rules indexing rent to income levels create tensions among residents while reinforcing, demanding and rewarding ongoing poverty.

Few people in social housing can afford to escape their urban nightmare for weekends in the mountains or at the beach, even if they have the mobility; so flower beds and window boxes are appreciated and cherished. Sydney City Council under Lord Mayor Clover Moore excels st these.

Residents still have several ways of achieving individual expression and significance.

One key way is that precious vote. It gives each individual relevance for as long as they feel functional enough to respond. Right wingers are actually attacking that significance not just by austerity cuts to health and education but by this dangerous gerrymander.

Door-knocking to inform social housing residents of the opportunity to participate in and of issues pertinent to this particular election is important. People who have never been approached face to face with an election flyer in their own first language feel validated by the effort to recognise their struggle to become bi- or tri-lingual. When we write, print, carry and offer that information we show them respect and acknowledge their own efforts to help themselves and one another.

Until now, poorer Australians could still express themselves and have some significance through their community and their vote. Each vote has had almost equal value (dodgy donation rules aside) regardless of income.

Representatives who recognise that the poor matter and are doing their best are very, very important to the fabric of the city.

They provide dignity, shelter from the storms that accompanies a concentration of disadvantage.

A gentle retiree invited me into his tower block unit yesterday. He offered tea. He was proud of the order he had created in his clean unit. He shared his great joy in the lorrikeets bickering in the huge fig on the corner of Phillip and Pitt Street outside his window, commenting that they were dressed like lairs from Miami Vice. (We joked about their loud Hawaiian shirts). Such connection is good for us all.

And the City needs to value and preserve those glorious sprawling fig trees.

I see much evidence that Clover Moore is a representative who will keep these residents in mind and who will dare to bring about changes that make for better inner city living for all visitors and locals. The Liberal attack on her is an attack on all of us.

The shift to mixed housing dilutes dysfunction. It is not a plot to up the rates or fill developer pockets.

If you have time in Sydney City this week, please share information about the Council election on the 10th September with everyone you meet. Every person and every vote still counts.


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  1. michael lacey

    Neoconservatives try this trick everywhere if you at the United States by awarding companies personhood they have effectively rigged the whole system!

  2. jim

    How to win an election, simply, rig the votes the LNP way.

  3. Adrianne Haddow

    ‘Squeaky clean’, personable, casino Mike has done more damage to our democracy than could ever be imagined, with his forced council amalgamations and his gerrymander rigging of the electorate. Developers and their mates have found a true friend in sell-it-off Mike. The insult is added to injury when those pesky councils who dared to resist were given over to administration by the very developers and their support group in government.

    As for Sydney, if Mike wants to live in Singapore, he should move there rather than turning a once vibrant, gracious city into its likeness.

  4. Anomander

    This is the thin end of the wedge that levers aside the remaining semblance of our democracy. It starts with handing votes to businesses in one local council election.

    We’ve already seen forced amalgamations of councils by Baird, with unelected administrators appointed.

    Next follows the total dissolution of local councils.

    Then comes votes for developers. miners and bankers in state elections.

    And finally the complete corporatisation of our country.

  5. paulwalter

    Watching The Business last night a segment was devoted to what appears to be a large and possibly persistent housing bubble mainly in Sydney but also Melbourne. This country is going to pay for lazy laissez faire one day.

  6. Alan Baird

    And the winner is… Clover. Damn! Dagnabbit! Even after the conservatives gave themselves multiple electoral free kicks and Gerry Mander stalked the city streets. Result? 60% for Clover. 15% for Christine. Oh dear, how sad, never mind. But suck it up Mike!

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