By TILEAH DOBSON
After twice being rescheduled, ostensibly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the NSW local government elections are going ahead on Saturday, 4 December, giving residents the opportunity to choose their next councillors and mayors.
However, many don’t realise that businesses, occupiers, rate-paying lessees and property owners – who are classed as non-residents – can also vote in local government elections. In fact, the NSW Government has made it compulsory for the City of Sydney Council to keep a register of non-resident voters, in a situation that’s unique amongst the state’s LGAs.
December’s elections are already bogged down in controversy before they have even begun. While most councils have a non-resident registration deadline of Monday, 25 October, the City of Sydney has pushed theirs earlier to Monday, 27 September.
At the council meeting on Monday, 20 September, City of Sydney CEO Monica Barone clarified the earlier date.
“The date shown on the website, 27 September, 2021, is the latest date of receipt to ensure applications can be processed in time for the 2021 election,” Barone said.
“This cut-off date coincides with the legislated nomination cut-off date and was advised to Councillors in the CEO Update of August 2021. Applications received after this date will be processed in the order in which they are received until close of rolls at 6:00pm 25 October, 2021 and the City will attempt to process all applications received in that period if possible.”
This has caused alarm in some quarters, and allegations of a lack of promotion of this new deadline have arisen, with some believing the moves to be a way of ensuring small business and property owners do not vote on 4 December.
Councillor Angela Vithoulkas – who is not only one of the City of Sydney’s ten councillors but the founder and leader of the Small Business Party – has voiced concerns over the matter.
“Never has there been a time more significant for small business be to heard than now, especially for our devastated CBD businesses,” Vithoulkas said.
“But unless they get registered to vote for the upcoming council elections, they could miss out on their democratic right to vote and be represented. The deadline is September 27 for City of Sydney small businesses, while it’s October 25 for every other council area in NSW. There are potentially 73,000 small businesses in the City of Sydney council area who have the right to vote for representation in council, even if they don’t live here. And considering business pays almost 80 per cent of the rates revenue, they should have a say as to how the city is run.”
Labor City of Sydney Councillor Linda Scott, however, expressed different opinions on the non-resident vote when contacted by the Sentinel.
“No other local government is subject to these blatant attacks by the state government to increase conservative power on the City of Sydney Council,” said Clr Scott.
Speaking on non-resident voting and the requirement for the City of Sydney to keep a register of said voters, she stated: “Each election, City of Sydney residents and ratepayers have to fork out millions of dollars, that could otherwise be funding community services for our most vulnerable or new green spaces, to fund the compilation of a complex, costly, gerrymandered voting system.”
Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore was approached for comment but did not provide responses by deadline.
More information on non-resident voting at the City of Sydney is available at www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/elections/non-residential-register.
Tileah Dobson is the news editor of the Sydney Sentinel.