Local Government NSW (LGNSW) says last week’s confirmation that the NSW Government has ruled out imposing postal-only voting for council elections is a victory for grass roots democracy.
LGNSW President Linda Scott said councils had been passionately opposed to the idea ever since it was floated by the NSW Government earlier this year.
“Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock’s announcement this week ruling out enforced postal voting shows she listened to the united voice of the mayors and councillors, who made their feelings known loud and clear,” Cr Scott said.
“The Government floated the idea of introducing universal postal voting at the next council elections, due in September 2021, as a potential cost cutting measure and a response to COVID-19.
“But the proposal was made without consulting councils, who are passionate about ensuring their communities have every opportunity possible to take part in the democratic process. In some electorates, a postal only model would be a disadvantage to some voters.
“Local governments have always been strongly opposed to a postal-vote-only rule, and LGNSW has made its views clear with the NSW Government through a number of direct representations as they considered their options.”
Cr Scott said councils did not oppose postal voting, but they opposed a one-size-fits-all approach that stripped away other options.
“Local councils should have the right to choose which election options best serve their community to ensure maximum participation in the democratic process,” Cr Scott said.
“Despite the extraordinary circumstances of 2020, council elections can and should be conducted in accordance with COVID-safe practices that allow for attendance voting, as has been successfully managed for local and State Government elections in Queensland, Northern Territory Government elections and a Federal by-election in Eden-Monaro.
“Councils and LGNSW also welcome the NSW Government’s $57 million commitment over two years in this week’s State Budget to ensure COVID-19 safe council elections, along with the commitment not to impose postal-only voting.”
Cr Scott also welcomed the Minister announcing the intention to make iVote available as an option, alongside attendance voting.
“Councils resolved at the 2019 LGNSW Annual Conference to call on the NSW Government to trial online voting as an option for council elections and we are pleased that the Minister has heeded this call,” she said.
NSW mayors and councillors received support and advocacy of many Government, Opposition and cross bench members of the NSW Parliament, who took an interest in this issue.
“We have long called for the NSW Government to ensure council elections are held in a manner as similar as possible to State and Federal elections, to reduce voter confusion and encourage higher voter participation,” Cr Scott said.
“The support we’ve received over this issue shows how strongly our community and our elected representatives believe in a strong, accessible democratic process at all levels of government.”