Public submissions against the introduction of a directly elected mayor in Geelong

In March 2011 the Victorian Government Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD) released a discussion paper on the form that direct mayoral elections could take in Geelong. The paper identified procedural and administrative issues that remained to be decided and asked for submissions from the public on those issues. DPCD received sixty-five written submissions in total. Below is a summary of the public submissions opposed to the introduction of a directly elected mayor in Geelong.

The discussion paper addressed two key questions:

  1. Should only the Mayor be directly elected by voters or should voters directly elect a leadership team comprising the Mayor and a Deputy Mayor?
  2. Should candidates for Mayor, or Mayor and Deputy Mayor, be allowed to also nominate for ordinary Councillor positions?

Such key questions are used to determine the relevance of submissions. Importantly, the DPCD discussion paper did not consider whether Geelong should introduce direct mayoral elections — a point noted, despite its irrelevance, in a number of the submissions.

Here is a brief survey of those submissions.

No case has been made for the direct election of either Mayor or Deputy…

 

Other than a brief mention in the introduction, the paper does not address at all the case for retaining the status quo … We are not aware of a community-wide canvassing of opinion on whether this city wants or needs a directly elected mayor.

Our researches reveal that the only group to come out strongly in favour of a directly elected mayor was the Committee for Geelong. This is not a community organisation, but an unelected elite group of business persons which has several classes of membership, only some of this have power to make decisions on policy.

 

I think in the interests of democracy that the people of Geelong should have been consulted about the proposal for direct election of the mayor rather than the government responding to requests from specific groups or individuals who are nameless

 

I do not wish to dwell on the absence of any serious attempt to seek informed consent from the members of this municipal community…

 

The status quo of councillors electing a Mayor at the first meeting after an election should be maintained … I do not believe that there has been any ground swell or cry from the people for direct election of the Mayor. Where this idea came from I am not sure.

 

Nobody should be asked to make any such decision [on whether they want a Mayor or a Mayor and Deputy] until there has been an independently conducted referendum held to determine our views … [nor] … without being provided with reasonable, sensible and factual information which the State Government is duty bound to provide.

 

Consultation: what a furphy. “whitewash”. We hear Bernadette Uzelac CEO of Chamber of Commerce & Michael Betts, Chair of Committee for Themselves, Geelong, in the media yay yaying, well why wouldn’t they their businesses are members of the C for G, now I would call that “slightly vested” … Who has the Committee for Geelong got lined up for Mayor/Deputy. Could it be Ed Coppe, Ken Jarvis or even the Lords Jim Cousins or Fidge…

 

Since the party’s formation The Greens have worked towards creating a society where equity, equality and diversity are seen as our primary goals … The introduction of a directly election of a Mayor for the City of Greater Geelong would strongly work against these principles that The Greens advocate strongly.

 

The discussion paper unnecessarily limits the debate about Geelong’s need/desire for a directly-elected mayor. There has been little discussion about the alternate models for a directly-elected mayor. There has been even less discussion about the community’s desire for this huge change to Geelong’s governance model. An informed debate, guided by evidence-based research on the success (or failure) of the various models of directly-elected mayors that have been introduced into other jurisdictions, is essential before any change is legislated. There is no need to hasten through a bad process that will deliver appalling outcomes to the detriment of good governance and community representation.

 

The Discussion Paper above states that, in response to community requests to directly elect the Mayor of Greater Geelong, the Government has agreed that Greater Geelong electors should be able to directly elect their Mayor. It does not reveal how many requests of that nature were received for Greater Geelong…

 

Notwithstanding [The Baillieu Government’s] election commitment [to introduce direct mayoral elections in Geelong], we believe there should first be an inquiry into the issues around direct election and its impact on democratic participation and governance … [T]he Victorian Local Governance Association does not support any policy or legislative change that has the effect of unreasonably limiting the democratic rights of citizens to nominate for public office. While we note the arguments in favour of limiting these rights in the Discussion Paper, we do not believe they are strong enough to substantiate any change at this time.

 

The current system should be maintained. Soon after amalgamation in 1993 … I was a member of the [omitted] and we submitted a proposal opposing this proposal [for direct mayoral election]. Another of the commissioners, Toni McCormick, then proclaimed that the idea had been abandoned for … the same reasons that I oppose it now: 1. The cost for a person to run a campaign throughout the entire City of Greater of Geelong is extremely prohibitive … 2. … the candidate would need to have considerable wealth and/or be dependent financially … The ensuing links with and dependency on sectional interests renders the whole process tainted. 3. It is feasible that many electors will be happy to vote for someone whom they recognise and like, regardless of his/her governance capabilities … 4. A directly elected mayor, not elected by her/his other councillors, could well have a very different vision for Geelong … In addition, there has been no public consultation regarding the desirability and worth of adopting the system of a directly elected mayor and/or deputy mayor … When it was advertised that there would be some consultation on 14 March 2011 in Pakington Street, Geelong West, regarding whether or not people wanted a publicly elected mayor or a publicly elected mayor and deputy mayor, I spoke to David Morris MP and his officer on this day. I stated that this consultation was based on the false premise that the people of Geelong wanted to elect its mayor and that they had had a say on the matter. When I explained my reasons for opposing this system, the officer argued against me; however I noted that neither wrote anything down. I later spoke to five other people who expressed to them similar views to myself and they, too, noted that no notes were taken. This was a very interesting form of ‘consultation’! … I therefore strongly contend that the proposal for the direct election of a mayor and/or deputy mayor must be rejected.

 

The City of Greater Geelong has been singled out to be the subject of legislative changes to introduce a directly elected Mayor however its residents have not sought or been consulted on such a change. The only other Victorian Council with a directly elected Mayor is Melbourne and from media reports it seems there is a level of community support for reconsideration of that process.

Council is firmly of the view that the process to date lacks any community consultation or input on the whether it wants a directly elected Mayor. As indicated in its resolution Council is not supporting or opposing the concept. It is asking that those more affected by the proposal – the people of Geelong, be given the opportunity to express their opinion.

 

Before you can proceed with this matter consideration should be given to reviewing the existing structure of the City of Greater Geelong Council. In my opinion at present it would not be conducive to accommodating a “popular elected Mayor”.

 

The DPCD Paper assumes that the direct election of the Mayor or Mayoral Team for the City of Greater Geelong will be introduced and consequently does not provide any substantive underlying rationale for this.

The MAV is of the view that any proposal for significant change to the electoral structure of the City of Greater Geelong needs to be accompanied with a clear and detailed discussion of the benefits and any disbenefits on democracy and governance, and the additional cost to the community and council; especially where there is no apparent need for such a change.

 

Respond, rebuke, participate: