LGNSW: Postponed elections allow councils to focus on critical issues facing their communities

The official announcement, made by the Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock to push of NSW council elections to 4 September 2021 was made to "bring certainty for local communities" Local Government NSW (LGNSW) also believe the announcement allows councils more time to prepare while dealing with other urgent issues. LGNSW President Linda Scott welcomed the NSW Government’s announcement hoped the extended period would also allow time to address the rapidly rising cost of local elections borne by local communities. “Council elections are vital to local democracy and the State Government decision to delay them gives councils more time to prepare while dealing with the combined impacts of drought, bushfires and COVID 19,” she said. “Administratively, council elections take up to 12 months to organise and can absorb considerable administrative resources. The 2020 council elections were set to be the biggest single public event on the NSW calendar. “Now that the Government has confirmed the dates for next year, councils can work with certainty and plan effectively while dealing with the unprecedented challenges currently facing local communities.” Cr Scott said while the Government’s election announcement was welcome, councils rejected any State Government suggestions of enforcing a universal postal voting system for local government elections. “Councils support postal voting as an option, as well as optional online voting. But they do not support a universal, one-size-fits-all approach that may disadvantage some members of their communities from voting,” she said. Cr Scott said postponing elections to 2021 provided LG NSW with an opportunity to work with the State Government and the Minister for Local Government on the key issue of local elections, which had skyrocketed over the past three years. “Councils have received cost estimates from the NSW Electoral Commission (NSWEC) for local elections that have increased by as much as 100 per cent compared to just three years ago,” she said. “According to the NSWEC, these cost hikes are a result of rising staffing, venue and ballot paper printing costs. “Not only are the increases unreasonably high, they come at a time when councils can least afford them, and the people who will end up paying for it are the residents of councils that have to pull money from infrastructure and services to pay the bill. “It’s money that could be used on vital needs such as drought and bushfire recovery. “LGNSW want to work with the NSW Government to ensure election costs don’t increase by more than the rate cap limit, which is 2.6 per cent. “One way this could happen is by ensuring schools and other election venues don’t overcharge, especially since public schools enjoy subsidised use of council facilities such as sporting complexes.” Cr Scott said LGNSW had written to the Premier seeking to work with the Government to develop a sensible, long-term funding program that would put the NSWEC on a stable economic footing without councils having to carry the can. While this might be the opinion of the LGNSW there are other opinions outside of that membership. Eurobodalla Council is not a member of the LGNSW, having voted to withdraw their membership last year on the grounds that it, the LGNSW, had become "too political", especially in light of the defrocking and dismissal of one of Eurobodalla's councillors for a breach of the LGNSW Code of Practice whilst a member of the LGNSW Board.

Prior to the announcement of the Minister of an official Order and prior to comments of LGNSW Councillor Pat McGinlay had written a letter to the media saying: "Whether or not to delay council elections scheduled for September 2020 for a further full year is NOT a conundrum. It is not a complex matter. It is simple; it is not necessary to have a delay of 12 months."

The Green's Councillor said "Given we have in our locality, a federal by-election in July, there can be no official, nor administrative, nor medical , nor logistical reason, to not proceed with what was originally planned for local council elections later in September 2020 or soon thereafter.

"If a by-election can be organised for July 4 and guidelines provided etc., then surely local council elections sometime in the next six months can also be put in place.

"The bureaucratic mechanisms and logistics would have been well in place to have such local council elections in NSW, every four years as mandated, the councillor writes.

"COVID-19 for a time has impacted upon this well established plan. Now, however, given the multiplicity of NSW government approvals of permission of people-gathering and interaction, there seems no obvious obstacle to having the council elections sometime in 2020.

"There will of course be modifications to take account of social distancing etc (as there must be) and encouragement of voting mechanisms that are already in place, such as postal voting etc. to smooth the process." "So; seriously, why are not we simply getting on with our local NSW council elections this year, rather than in September 2021? Cr Pat McGinlay concludes

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