Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Read before voting 'independent' in Rucker

In Rucker Ward in the 2008 Darebin Council elections, there are four candidates who are not declared members of political parties and are claiming the status of independent - including me. Two candidates are of particular interest, and I invite voters to consider the following in assessing their claims.

First, let's consider Miranda Honey. According to her candidate statement, Miranda wants to take the politics out of local government, and claims she is 100% independent. She alone among Rucker candidates provided no contact details to the Victorian Electoral Commission for voters to get in touch with her. After naturally giving herself first preference, she preferences Daniel Govan (another claimed independent), and then current Darebin Councillor and Labor Unity candidate for Rucker, Diana Asmar.

Second, let's consider Daniel Govan. After giving himself first preference, he returns her favour by preferencing Miranda Honey, and then Diana Asmar. To his credit, he has provided contact details, so you could try getting in touch with him and asking a few questions.

Now consider how this pattern of preferences could well play a vital role in the election result, for the following reasons.

First, if these candidates are not independent - something you must consider and decide for yourself - they may pull votes away from genuine independents.

Second - and this is perhaps the most interesting point - if Diana Asmar is close but fails to get a quota on first preferences and is vying for the third spot in Rucker Ward, candidates with the lowest number of votes will begin to be eliminated in the count and their preferences will be delivered up the line. It's at this point voters should note that, whichever of Govan or Honey is eliminated first, both their preferences will eventually flow to Diana Asmar.

Of course, it is unlikely there'll be an upset from Govan and Honey second-preferencing each other before Asmar, as the current Councillor and former mayor of Darebin is a clear ALP heavy-hitter and will easily out-poll them. She'll benefit from their preferences knowing they stand no chance of even getting close.

To all this it could well be said that everyone has to preference in some sort of order, and there are indeed legitimate reasons for mutual support based on similarity of policies and views among candidates. I am clearly open to the observation that my own preferences favour the Greens.

While I have explained my preference decisions elsewhere - basically, I'm a progressive and the Greens are progressive - the crucial difference is this. I am contactable, have clear policies that are available online, have a track record of campaigning on local issues, and have even made my views known beyond specifically Council issues. I am not and never have been a member of a political party (ask the others about that).

Google me and you'll find that I have openly commented on the Greens, Labor, and even the poor Democrats, though I have naturally reserved my fiercest attacks for the Coalition (see, for example, my letter on Mark Vaile before the 2007 federal election).

I am also engaging in the debate in these elections, and have devoted much energy to campaigning, including delivering leaflets around the electorate. I am running to win a spot on Council to represent you as an independent, and if I can't do that then I prefer the Greens as the next best option, followed by Asmar, then Tsitas etc.

Having considered that, think now about what you know of the other independents. Do you in fact know anything beyond the brief claims in their candidate statements, and the fact that their preferences (in Honey's and Govan's cases) clearly favour an existing Labor Unity Councillor?

Have you been able to contact them, or have you seen any electoral material from them in your letterbox? If not, you may be justified in asking whether they are only in this election as running mates for another candidate, Diana Asmar, and not in the hope of representing you as an independent on Council.

As for John Karantzis, his preferences favour the Greens and not the ALP, but, once again, what do you know of his policies and broader views, or his track record on community issues? He may well be a genuine independent, but that's something you will need to decide based on what I've said here and, of course, on your own considerations. He has provided contact details, and so you could ask him a few questions as well.

Finally, let us not forget Steven Tsitas, the current Councillor for Rucker Ward and, like Asmar, also a member of the right-wing Labor Unity faction (alas, there are no Labor Lefties running in this ward). When you get your ballot paper this week, note that, although Tsitas enjoys second preference from only two candidates, one of them is Asmar. He has, of course, returned the favour - if either gets a surplus, it will go to elect the other. Both the Labor heavy-hitters are therefore preferencing for the status quo on Council - they want to serve you up with more of the same.

In the end, preferences can only flow the way you fill them in. They're not predetermined by what the candidates can in the end only suggest. You can easily decide on your own order independently, so to speak. All I can say is vote and preference carefully, and if you're inclined to vote independent, think about what that means to you.

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