NSW local government elections pushed back to December

Aerial view of Sydney Town Hall and Town Hall House. The City of Sydney is one of 125 NSW local councils heading to the polls in December. Photo: Paul Patterson/City of Sydney.

By PETER HACKNEY

The NSW local government elections have been postponed for a second time due to Covid-19, this time pushed back to Saturday, 4 December.

NSW Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock said the decision to move the election date from 4 September was made following consultation with the NSW Electoral Commission and NSW Health.

“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and current public health orders impacting Greater Sydney, we have made the difficult decision to postpone the local government elections until later this year,” she said.

“We have taken this step to … ensure the safety and wellbeing of our communities, voters, polling staff and candidates.”

The elections for the state’s 125 local councils were initially due to be held in September 2020 but were moved to September 2021 due to safety concerns around the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In a statement released today, the NSW Government said iVote (electronic voting) would be available on 4 December for the first time in the local council elections, in a bid to ensure voters’ safety. 

The government has also implemented changes to pre-polling, with voters set to have 13 days to cast their ballot, to reduce congestion at booths on polling day.

Local Government NSW (LGNSW) president and City of Sydney Councillor Linda Scott urged that there be no further delays to the elections.

“Covid-safe local government elections must be held by the end of the year, to uphold democracy and ensure renewal,” Cr Scott said.

“Public health and safety must always come first, but we do not want to reach a situation in which democracy delayed is democracy denied.

“This latest three-month deferral comes on top of an existing deferral of 12 months from September 2020, with no guarantee further delays won’t be incurred.”

Cr Scott’s comments follow representations last Friday from another City of Sydney Councillor, Small Business Party leader Angela Vithoulkas, to Cr Scott, Ms Hancock and Shadow Minister for Local Government Greg Warren, urging clarification on how the local government elections would proceed.

“The local government elections are the biggest single event in NSW,” Cr Vithoulkas said in an email seen by the Sentinel.

“Hundreds of thousands of volunteers and electoral staff also attend and it’s only seven weeks away. 

“When will this government make a decision to keep our people safe?”

Cr Vithoulkas noted that the Queensland Government ran a state election safely during the Covid-19 pandemic, asking: “Why can’t NSW? … SHAME on our Premier.”

Speaking to the Sentinel today, Cr Vithoulkas said “they have delayed the elections but there is still no plan”. 

“I think this delay without a plan is to safeguard the ‘blue’ (Liberal) councils – it’s a setback for independents and an advantage for mainstream parties.

“They should have already introduced and had iVote prepared – protecting democracy should also be a priority. Are they worried that people [in lockdown] might vote according to how they feel?”

A NSW Government spokesperson said the government had allocated $57 million for the elections, including $37 million to deliver them in a Covid-safe way.

The elections will see 5.2 million voters across the state cast their ballots for around 5,000 candidates competing for 1,200 positions on 125 local councils.

Nominations, initially set to open today, will now open on will open on Monday, 25 October and close on Wednesday, 3 November.

Peter Hackney is the editor-in-chief of the Sydney Sentinel.