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Dramatic change afoot on voting system

Friday 1 March 2019

There is no process more fundamental to the system of democracy than the way people get to choose who represents their interests. Voting is the principal method by which citizens exercise their democratic rights. In the case of local government in Queensland, that process may be about to change dramatically.

The Palaszczuk Government has flagged major changes to the system of voting that operates in the local government sector.

These changes deserve serious, informed community debate, which was the reason LGAQ President Mayor Mark Jamieson wrote to the Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk this week asking her to release for public comment and debate the entirety of the changes her Government is proposing. He suggested to the Premier that disclosure of these plans was the right thing to do, and clearly in the public interest. These matters should not be the subject of an in-club discussion between the Government and the LGAQ.

In the spirit of the Fitzgerald Inquiry and the former Electoral and Administrative Review Commission (EARC), the community needs to be properly consulted before legislation is introduced to parliament, not after the fact when the die has been well and truly been cast. To do otherwise would be a major breach of faith with the community.

Voting systems are a matter for voters, and all current 579 elected members in our sphere of government, not solely a topic of discussion for the State Government or even the LGAQ itself.

This is especially so given the Government has failed to make a cogent or coherent case for Compulsory Preferential Voting (CPV), nor has it outlined to the community any other changes they may be contemplating.

Neither the Belcarra report nor the Soorley review of the 2016 local government elections recommended Compulsory Preferential Voting. It is the polar opposite of the Optional Preferential Voting (OPV) system, where voters are free to “Just Vote One” and not bother with numbering the other boxes, that has been the law in local government elections since 1994.

Already, media commentators are smelling a rat. The Courier-Mail’s Steven Wardill today admonished the Government for “looking to overhaul local government voting rules for no real reason”. Whatever the Government’s motivation, such changes will see the practices and norms of state and federal parliaments seep into the business of local councils. Does the community really want to see that?

A special telephone hook-up of LGAQ Policy Executive Members has been set for the afternoon of Wednesday 6 March to discuss and determine appropriate responses to the current situation.

By flying minute last night, the LGAQ Board determined to hold a General Meeting of the LGAQ on 2 April in Brisbane so all members could discuss and debate the matter. These special meetings of the association are rare and reserved for serious matters.

It will be a half day, stripped down meeting of the LGAQ membership. Its business will be to debate motions placed on the agenda by the Policy Executive. Normal voting rules apply. Each council will be entitled to two voting delegates and will exercise the same voting entitlement they had at the 2018 LGAQ Annual Conference.

The LGAQ understands that the Government’s amending electoral legislation will be entered into Parliament the same day, or later in that week.

Formal notice of the 2 April General Meeting will be given next week consistent with the Corporations Law, with the tabling of motions for the General Meeting to follow the PE meeting on 6 March.

Local Government Association of Queensland
LG House, 25 Evelyn Street, Newstead Qld 4006

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