A SINGLE polling date for local government elections in four years time has been given a cool reception from local leaders. Last month’s local government elections were the first in Tasmanian history to be compulsory, with authorities say the move successfully increased voter participation in the ballot.
About 85 per cent of voters returned a postal ballot, significantly higher than the last non-compulsory vote which saw just 59 per cent of voters participating. Voter return was also higher than the most recent elections in the other jurisdictions with compulsory council election voting including Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria – with NSW the closest at 83.5 per cent.
The Tasmanian Electoral Commission will conduct a review of the election including detailed turnout rates by council area, age, and gender; and informality rates. It is expected that the independent commission’s report on the 2022 local government elections will be issued in 2023. But Clark MP Kristie Johnston, a former mayor of Glenorchy, has called for the postal ballot to be replaced with a single day for voting in a polling booth, as is the case with Federal and State elections.
“My view is that, now it’s compulsory to vote at council elections, voting should be aligned with state and federal elections which both have a polling day,’’ Ms Johnston said. “Being postal voting only we have to suffer the vagaries of Australia Post, which commits only to mail delivery times of up to four business days. “I would be interested to know how many ballots arrived after the closing time, or were “lost” in the mail system. I fielded many queries from confused voters who wondered why their neighbour received a ballot and they did not. The uneven delivery of ballots caused a lot of concern.’’
When asked in Parliament what his view was, Local Government Minister Nic Street said he was open to the idea of a single polling day. “I am open to it, but not wedded to it,’’ Mr Street said. “I’m open to the idea and the review results. I’m more than happy to have further discussions if we can further increase participation.’’
But Derwent Valley and Brighton Mayors were less than convinced and Mayor of the Central Highlands Lou Triffitt suggested the best place to discuss the idea was at the next meeting of the Local Government Association of Tasmania. Brighton Mayor Leigh Gray said the turnout with the postal ballot had been very strong. “Pembroke (the Upper House seat) had an 81 per cent turnout recently – a lot less than most council areas,’’ Mr Gray said. “Why would you want to change what is the easiest way for people to vote – ballots delivered to your door and do it in your own time. Democracy at its easiest.’’
Derwent Valley Mayor Michelle Dracoulis said while a single polling day might provide a more focused timeframe, it may make it more difficult for some who weren’t as easily able to get to a voting location. “The important thing is that the voting process is accessible to voters and that there is diversity of representation in the candidates that represent our communities.’’
The Tasmanian Election Commission report on the poll is expected to be released in the first quarter of next year. Meanwhile the Government has introduced new code of conduct legislation for local government. Mr Street said the legislative reforms, which are currently before Parliament would: Improve consistency and clarity across councils through a single, standard Code of Conduct for all councils; Use local dispute resolution processes wherever possible, focusing initial assessments on more serious allegations and stipulating strict timeframes for processing code of conduct complaints; and Increase confidence in the assessment and investigation process, minimising the risk of conflicts of interest and improving confidentiality of the Code of Conduct process.
“A single, standard Code of Conduct issued by the Minister will automatically apply to all Tasmanian councillors and a council general manager will need to process any complaint within 14 days of receipt,’’ Mr Street said.
“The Tasmanian Liberal Government is committed to working with our 29 Tasmanian councils, the Local Government Association of Tasmania and the Director of Local Government to support new councillors, to build a more positive culture in local government and continue to find ways in which we can provide support to this important sector.’’