“Like the Melbourne Cup, you just pick the best name”: will we vote in the local government we need?
Heading in council elections in October, Victorian communities will decide who should lead their community planning over the next four years. This task is important as local areas face the challenges of population growth, increasing diversity, climate change, and pressure on our local economies. Will we vote in the right people to take on those challenges? A recent survey I managed suggests its a bit of a crapshoot.
WE ARE NOT MAKING INFORMED DECISIONS
Over two thirds of Victorians reported the work of councils is important to them. But a third of Victorians did not vote in the last council election, most did not know who their mayor was, and many voters do not know what their candidates stand for. Not many report making an informed decision when voting. It seems very few Victorians vote on policy.
DOES IT MATTER?
While the community is not putting much effort into voting, other interests are. Developers support candidates through donations and these links are often unclear. This has led to decisions being abandoned when the majority of councillors have had to excuse themselves because of links to major developers. Then there is the widespread practice of running dummy candidates. Candidates field "running mates" that appeal to different population groups (young women, ethnic groups ...) to swing votes through preferences.
There is little scrutiny in the system and the participants in our survey were cynical about who has influence. The sacking of whole councils for misconduct (Brimbank, Geelong, Wangaratta) doesn't help. The population is losing faith in our governing institutions.
Challenging times call for strong leaders. There are many excellent councillors in Victoria who are committed to serving the community and to whom we would entrust the shaping of our local areas, cities and State. We need to vote for these people.
Find out about your local councillors. We deserve to know more about the policy directions they are running on. We should also know who is funding them. If they don't reach out to you in some way, call them. Information, including their contact details, can be found here in the Mayne report linked to the VEC website.
With a bit of effort from us, we might just vote in the local governments we need.