Sunday, March 25, 2007

How do you want to be represented on council?

Residents of the City of Darebin and anyone interested in local democracy have been asked to make submissions on the future shape of the Darebin council. A representation review for the municipality is currently being carried out by the Victorian Electoral Commission, which will report on preliminary submissions on 3 April.

It's important to keep track of the review because there will be an opportunity to make further submissions on this report that will potentially shape your local council and influence just how well it represents your interests and those of the broader community.

Currently there are nine single-councillor wards in Darebin, each held by a member of the ALP's Labor Unity faction.

While the City of Darebin has understandably argued to keep this unrepresentative status quo, many of the preliminary submissions have instead argued for multi-councillor wards to more broadly represent the interests of Darebin residents.

If this were achieved, the result would be a council that included a range of views with strong support in the community. A popular suggested model has been to move to three wards each represented by three councillors. Councillors would be elected by proportional representation, which would mean election would come not via a majority, but through substantial support indicated by a minimum quota of votes.

Rucker ward's Councillor Steven Tsitas has voiced his opposition to this proposal, stating that proportional representation allows a role for 'marginal players in democracy'. This neglects the fact that some councillors, himself included, were elected not through an outright majority, but with the support of preferences from minor candidates. This has sometimes meant that candidates with the highest level of support from first-preference votes actually fail to get elected.

An additional problem with the current system is that, all too often, ALP candidates are supported by a string of factionally aligned candidates whose only role is to direct their preferences, not to be elected in their own right. In Darebin, there have been as many as 18 candidates contesting a single ward.

Further updates on the progress of the review will be published here, and I encourage you to participate in shaping local democracy.

Comments and questions are welcome here, or send me an email. If you are interested, you can also read my review submission.

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