Terry Maher has entered his nine-part series on the Melbourne City Council election for a Walkley in the online category so here they all are.

Terence Maher’s Entrant’s Statement for Melbourne City Council elections 2001 on www.crikey.com.au for on-line journalism

Because Stephen Mayne, my editor and publisher at on-line site Crikey Media, was standing for Lord Mayor of the City of Melbourne, I offered to be Crikey’s Independent MCC Correspondent for the duration of the council elections in June/July 2001.

This was the first election in MCC history where the citizens of Melbourne of whom I am one would directly elect the Lord Mayor.

There was initial skepticism that I could be both an independent correspondent and also file for Crikey.

This vanished as the campaign progressed and Crikey Media provided more coverage of the MCC elections than any of the metropolitan dailies and weeklies.

I filed nine stories during the campaign and it quickly became the lingua franca for the election campaign. I also picked the eventual Lord Mayor and eight of the nine councillors.


THE CRIKEY INTRO: Firstly, Terry Maher has been covering Melbourne City Council elections for the past 25 years. He has also covered them for The Australian Financial Review and now Crikey. He is completely independent of People Power and all other factions. His job is to keep all the bastards honest, including yours truly. This will allow yours truly to avoid the sophistry of covering his own campaign for the Lord Mayor’s job on July 20 but not stop his polemics for Crikey – Stephen Mayne.

Part 1: Tezza’s opening MCC offering for Crikey

Although the Melbourne City Council elections are still more than a month off, the battle was starting to warm up in Lygon Street, Carlton, on Saturday morning.

Lygon Street on Saturday morning is hardly Struggletown, but the day does have its rituals for the local residents and having to battle barnstorming tyro politicians with cheesy grins and glossy brochures is not usually one of them.

Lygon Street, for all intents, purposes and posturings, is hardly the epicentre of the third tier of government. It was, until the Bracks Government in Spring Street stepped in last year to reshape Clown Hall in Swanston Street more to its own likeness, merely the main retail and cultural thoroughfare in what was then known as Universities Ward.

All four residential wards have now been abolished and the mayor and deputy mayor will be elected on one municipal-wide preferential postal ballot paper and the remaining seven councillors elected proportionally on another. In the past, the councillors elected the mayor and the deputy once the ratepayers elected them. Now it is arse about tit; the mathematics of the MCC elections have become excruciating and the politics, excruciatingly exquisite.

The new Lord Mayor may have a popular mandate to deal with the city’s ills – and the $100,000 salary that goes with it – but there is no guarantee that he/she can get any of his/her agenda past the other eight votes on council. It is a bit like electing a Prime Minister who can not control a majority on the floor of the house. Only a Labor Government could have dreamed up such a dichotomy and conundrum to truly stuff up the workings of the capital city government.

But when Bracks sacked the council last year, he had in mind that Peter McMullin would take the top job with the dual endorsement of both the ALP and the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce. Peace and happiness would break out all over City of Melbourne and there would be good feng shui between Spring Street and Swanston Street.

But he didn’t count on the indomitable Cr Kevin Chamberlin wrecking McMullin’s ALP endorsement by leading a walk-out of the party’s municipal forum last month to destroy all hope of the historic compromise that might have made Bracks’ bizarre bourgeois hypothesis work.

Now, the battle for the hearts and minds will be fought in the city’s suburban precincts and CBD boardrooms rather than the Premier’s office, ALP HQ and the Chamber’s chamber. Hence the campaign trail began at Lygon Street on Saturday morning, 05

Your correspondent had failed to discover any unusual inert or inept political activity as he went about his business that day with the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker (candles are still de rigeur for the Carlton dinner party). But when he went to the newsagent to take delivery of his regular half tonne of newsprint, he was almost bowled over by a phalanx of backslapping, handshaking, baby-kissing apparchiks from the Melbourne Civic Group entering the premises.

Now the Melbourne Civic Group is a name that has not been heard around Clown Hall for nearly 30 years. It was once the bastion of the Establishment and the big end of town, when people who lived in Toorak and worked in the CBD ran Melbourne City. Their mortal and moral enemies were the people who shopped in Lygon Street and Errol Street (North Melbourne) on Saturday mornings.

I think Ron Walker was the last Civic Group leader to wear the Lord Mayor’s chain and robes in the 70s, 05but it could have been a retired Toorak real estate agent who’s name escapes me. He, like most Civic Group timeservers, probably copped the job as a sinecure for years of toadying to rapacious capitalists against then rampant forces of resident action.

In those days, it was always a losing battle between the residents and the CBD ratepayers from Toorak. As they spoke for much of the City’s rate revenue, they were given a proportionate-verging-on-disproportionate share of the leather seats in the council chamber in Swanston Street. They also got to meet the Beatles at civic receptions on the red carpet inside while we residents queued for a glimpse on the bitumen outside.

Let me tell you that the new Civic Group does not look anything like the old Civic Group. Its leader is Clem Newton-Brown, the present deputy lord mayor and he doesn’t look much older than that serial electoral pest, Stephen Mayne, from the Peoples’ Party, or whatever he calls it.

Unlike Mayne, he has a day job. He’s a solicitor (editor’s correction: barrister, you fool) and he runs a cafe51 under the footbridge that goes to Southbank (Ed: what about the River taxi business?). He’s personable and articulate. He’s a member of the Liberal Party (Ed: plus Ted Baillieu’s electorate chair in Hawthorn) but we won’t hold that against him, just yet. He’s running for Lord Mayor under the slogan of “The City’s Future”. His running mate on the leadership ticket is Sue Hatch. She’s chief executive of the St John Ambulance and if his leadership boat comes in she will become deputy lord mayor, his current job, in his Civic Group administration.

The Melbourne Civic Group is run by Gary Morgan out of the Collins Street office of Roy Morgan Research. One of the tenants in the building is Carlton Football Club president, John Elliott. There is no sign of Elliott’s involvement in the MCC elections but former journalist and publisher, Dulcie Boiling, is on the Melbourne Civic Group Committee. Morgan and Boiling will probably stand for councillor positions. (Ed: Now that’s a good story if true!)

Cr Newton-Brown became deputy lord mayor last year when Cr Wellington Lee had a deep and divisive falling out with The Right Honourable the Lord Mayor, Cr Peter Costigan, over some trivial issue of travel expenses and access to the chauffeur-driven Bentley. Being an old journo, no one was ever going to get the taxi dockets or the Bentley off Cr Costigan. Journalists are trained from an early age how to creatively craft their expenses. Cr Lee is a chemist by training and merely wrote a scrip. Goodbye Cr Lee, hello Cr Newton-Brown.

He was, I might add, the popular choice to replace Cr Lee as deputy and has evidently been dutiful and diligent in the role. He is certainly forceful in presenting himself.

Back at the Lygon Street newsagency, Cr Newton-Brown is the first swallow of Swanston Street’s sudden electoral Spring to introduce himself to the proprietors and customers and ask for a helping hand in this arduous campaign to get the Lord Mayor’s chain and gown and the soft seat in the back of the Bentley on the way to and from home and those ghastly civic receptions.

“As I am the first to ask, may I put up my poster in your window?” he pleads. “No,” say the proprietors firmly, “if we let all the candidates put posters in our window, we would have to put up people we don’t like and we would not have a window anymore”.

“Fair enough,” says the Neutron Bomb, as his entourage slip next door to the holistic vegan greengrocer who, I already know, is still far too busy mourning the loss of his ephemeral Nepali royal family to contemplate the temporal life of a self-serving, serving City councillor. The distraught merchant of greens gives in to the persistent poster pusher but the Civic Group juggernaut finds a much tougher customer with the Baker’s Delight hot bread shop franchise next door to that.

By this time, your correspondent has leapfrogged the Civic Group bandwagon and sought refuge in Jimmy Watson’s. There he warns the proprietor, Allan Watson, of the approaching locusts from the Civic Group who are banging drums and bedecked in bunting (your correspondent always gets a little carried away when he visits Watson’s).

Old Man Watson, like his father Jimmy, is a thorough gentleman and is the calm in the eye of the storm in the face of this fiendish onslaught by the Civic Group on our Saturday morning constitutional. Not only is Allan Watson a serial Melbourne City Councillor, he’s been Lord Mayor of the City of Melbourne before and has also been sacked by a State Government (Kennett) before and is still coming back again to have another go at the top job.

By way of explanation for this aberrant behaviour, he points to a recently hung painting of Don Quixote tilting at a windmill. It is subtitled “Allan Watson running for Council”. It is a recurring theme for this old soldier. His handbill says Allan Watson “will provide leadership, experience, accessibility and efficiency”. Even the refuge has become a den of political municipal intrigue. I test his accessibility and efficiency by ordering another drink.

Then enters the Neutron Bomb with his whistlestop entourage. There is a lot of “hello maaate” going on in the backroom but the Civic Group leave without fixing a poster to the Watson’s window. Allan mumbles something about wrongs from the past and never forgiving but best wishes, 05

Two men going for the one position (OK, two if you count the deputy – but Allan Watson hasn’t got one yet) is never going to be much more than a how’s your father-type conversation. Sure, they could swap preferences but everyone is walking on quicksand at this stage of the proceedings.

Your correspondent is much more open to suggestion than the former Cr Watson (especially after a few drinks) and, on the way out, he has a quick chat with Cr Newton-Brown and snaps up one of his cheaply-printed Polaroid posters when all he wanted was a glossy brochure. However, what the poster gives this newly empowered Melbourne Citizen is Cr Newton Brown’s website of www.melbournecivicgroup.roymorgan.com.

There he learns all sorts of good things about the Civic Group’s strategy for what he sees as an un-winnable election where you elect a head and then try to match it with a pre-existing body. He is particularly impressed about Cr Newton-Brown’s proposal to run a separate slate of Civic Group resident candidates for the councillors ballot as well as a slate of Civic Group business candidates for the same positions.

This, he thinks, is what the mathematicians and the derivatives traders call a contango. You try to corner the odds and the market by spreading your risk while maximising your return. The Liberal and National parties call it a coalition.

But it also means that the Civic Group will have to come up with at least 14 candidates for the two slates on the councillors ballot to give the Newton-Brown/Hatch team some lungs to breath with.

On my way home, I note that the Civic Group have managed to erect 10 posters on the western side of Lygon Street between Elgin and Grattan. One had already been ripped down. I feel it’s going to be a long campaign, 05

Who’s next?


Part 2: A cast of thousands to meet in the land of the GVT (group voting ticket)

With a week to go before the close of nominations for the Melbourne city council (June 19), it has just occurred to the cast of thousands who are considering throwing their hat in the ring that you can’t run for mayor (preferential) and run for the council (proportional) at the same time.

This means that a lot of talented people are going to be standing for the mayoral election, will lose and not end up contributing to the talent-starved council as councillors. It also means some dunderhead will slip through the system as deputy lord mayor and will contribute absolutely nothing for the next four years except the opening of an occasional fete.

At the last MCC elections in 1999, 47 candidates sought the nine places on council. When nominations close at 4:00 pm on Tuesday 19th this year, you can expect maybe three times that number running for only seven positions and a councillor ballot paper that will look much like your Senate wallpaper ballot paper.

The ballot paper for the mayoral “leadership team” will likewise be voluminous. The Age on Monday listed a field of seven “so far” running for the top job. This number could double by the end of the week when others are forced to show their hand for the $100,000 a year full-time job.

With the exception of Cr Rosemary Daniel, all the nine present councillors are expected to run again and most, like Cr Peter Costigan, Cr Wellington Lee, Cr Martin Brennan, Cr Clem Newton-Brown and Cr John So will run for the top job if they run at all. Only Cr So and Cr Newton-Brown were mentioned in The Age story but the other three are very strong possibilities to run for mayor rather than council.

Former Lord Mayor Allan Watson and Peter Ferne, chairman of the ratepayers reform group called Residents 3000 have also declared they will run for mayor next month. The Greens, the Democrats, the Trotskyites and an assortment of other lunatics will come out with the fullness of the moon. They will join the other outsiders in Stephen Mayne, Peter Sheppard, Don Chipp, Peter McMullin and Jacki Turfrey.

While most of the attention in this two ticket election is on those running for the top job, not much attention has yet been focused on the real politic of this election which is the election of the seven councillors who will actually control the council.

Only Joan Kirner, who was never elected Premier, could have devised a system where the Lord Mayor gets to head a city council where he or she doesn’t even have a nominal majority. The Lord Mayor can’t sack the council but presumably the councillors can pass a no-confidence vote in the Lord Mayor and make that person’s position and agenda totally untenable. At least George Washington balanced the separation of the executive, legislative and judicial powers so they were forced to coexist and collaborate to bring about good governance.

Not so this hair-brained scheme, 05

Here, Joan Kirner has created a Hegalian version of Dante’s Inferno where the difference between heaven and hell is the ringing of the division bells. Where the Lord Mayor can’t lord it over the council – but the council can lord it over the Lord Mayor – you have a recipe for disaster at the most fractious level of government where egos are usually in an indirect proportion to ability.

The only way to stop Clown Hall turning into George Orwell’s Animal Farm is to get the numbers on the councillors ticket to roughly match the numbers on the leadership ticket, a task that even Richo would find difficult given the multiplicity of mayoral candidates (where only one team can win) and the multiplicity of council candidates (where – proportionally – everyone can win).

The trick here will be to do backroom deals that allow you to share GVTs (group voting tickets) so that you can vote above the line for a coalition slate of grouped candidates that includes some of your council candidates and some of your coalition partner’s. If you choose not to vote above the line with a GVT, you will have to fill out every square below the line and waste much ink and mental concentration.

The People Power ticket for council lists only two grouped candidates in Greg Hoy and Richard Brew “but appreciates the need to co-operate with other stakeholders”.

People Power’s natural allies would appear to be the Residents 3000 group and the mysterious new Melbourne City United group which is said to be from “mixed cultural and political backgrounds”.

On the other hand, the Melbourne Civic Group is going to run two full GVTs of seven candidates – one for CBD businesspeople and one for inner suburban residents.

Those named on the Civic Group’s business GVT are Irene Goonan, president of the Victorian branch of the Australian Retailers Association; Gary Morgan, the pollster; Marcia Griffin, a former businesswomen of the year; Geoff Ireland, the florist; Kate Sears, general manager of Stephen Mayne’s favourite watering hole, the Lindrum; James Ramsden, the celebrity vet and John Reynolds, a group executive of Normandy Mining.

It is a pretty impressive list of talent that bats all the way down to number seven and the Civic Group should be congratulated for assembling it. It is just so hard to get good people with real talent to volunteer to serve the community rather than just feather their own nest and/or pamper a bloated ego.

But even in the Civic Group’s wildest dreams, the two GVT slates could not possibly pick up much more than two councillors, under proportional representation, to add to their two from the leadership team (if it manages to finish first past the post under the preferential system), giving it a grand total of four votes out of nine on council. That is about as good as it gets.

McMullin, Chipp and Sheppard seem the only ones capable of mounting a similar scale challenge. And the more of them who stand, means the more votes they will be taking from each other and the degree of difficulty increases exponentially.

Remember that there are only about 64,000 on the City’s electoral roll. Roughly 38 per cent are residents, 29 per cent are property owners, 26 per cent are corporate representatives and 7 per cent, business occupiers. Assuming a quota is about 9,000 votes for one of the seven council seats under PR, the CBD may end up with four seats and the residents three.

It may well be the other way around with the residents on four and the CBD on three because voting is compulsory for residents on the same Federal and State electoral rolls, whereas the business vote might be harder to muster.

The ALP vote, which is strong in the State and Federal seats of Melbourne, will be split between the McMullin ticket, the Sheppard ticket (where Cr Kevin Chamberlin is leading the council ticket) and the Socialist Left’s Cr Martin Brennan, should he choose to run.

Little Italy, Little Athens and Chinatown precincts are all expected to be well represented.

Only those with deep pockets need apply for the top job. McMullin, Sheppard and So qualify in their own right, Chipp and Newton-Brown, through connections.

The end result is not going to look pretty because Joan Kirner and Steve Bracks set up a committee to design this horse.

Part 3: The Clown Hall bell tolls for Michael Malouf & Lady Mayoress

The only person not standing for the Melbourne City Council elections is the one person in Clown Hall who really should face the wrath of the voters – chief executive officer Michael Malouf.

Malouf and his bloated bureaucrats high up above Little Collins St are the fat cats with the real power in Australia’s second largest city. Why does this Melbourne Machiavelli not have to dirty his hands with democracy when he pulls all the strings and levers behind the scenes?

I’m not saying he is incompetent or corrupt. I’m saying he calls himself this city’s chief executive officer and he should face the citizens for endorsement every three or four years just like the other councillors do. If the City of Melbourne were a company, which it obviously is, he would be appointed by the other directors, which he is, and have to face the stakeholders at the next annual general meeting to have his position confirmed – which he doesn’t.

Governance isn’t just about getting it right. It’s about legitimacy and accountability. Now that Melbourne has decided to follow Adelaide’s lead last year and directly elect its Lord Mayor, why are we not directly electing the CEO instead of the Deputy Lord Mayor (or the Lady Mayoress as the position has come to be known)?

In May last year for the first time, Adelaide’s citizens directly elected Cr Alfred Huang, a Chinese-born and Melbourne-educated engineer, as their first among equals. He replaced the charismatic, but slightly loopy, Dr Jane Lomax-Smith in the top job in Colonel Light’s City of Churches.

Huang polled 3955 first preference votes out of 6878 formal ballot papers to easily head the five candidates for that position. He had been deputy lord mayor to Lomax-Smith for five years before that.

But the deputy lord mayor, Cr Michael Harbison, was unanimously elected by the other eight elected Adelaide City councillors who got up from the 14 candidates who stood under the preferential system. He topped in the poll in the councillor election and was elected unopposed for a term of 18 months.

Why did we not follow the Adelaide model down the same garden path? Maybe because Malouf and his merry band of Melbourne mandarins wanted to keep the figurehead Lord Mayor, the councillors and ultimately, the citizens, in a power vacuum.

With the executive and legislators at permanent loggerheads, the administration can get on with its “Yes, Lord Mayor” business of running our lives unimpeded by the tacky business of seeking a consensus of directly-elected citizens’ interests. That’s is why the wards for our geographic areas and precincts have also been abolished. Wards represent real people with specific problems. Mayors and councillors now represent every one and no one.

By having a dodo deputy lord mayor elected on the same ticket as the lord mayor rather than the council, you build in two firm votes to go against the magnificent seven elected proportional and therefore diversely. All you need is a couple of toadies crossing the line to make life difficult for both the Lord Mayor’s faction and the majority view on council. And the winner is? The administration and Commissar Michael Malouf. Even Chief Commissioner Kevan Gosper didn’t have that much power.

To win one of the eight seats on the Adelaide City Council you only needed a quota of 717 primary votes. To win one of the seven seats on the Melbourne City Council you will need a quota of about 7,000. Does that make Adelaide ten times more democratic than Melbourne or Melbourne ten times less democratic than Adelaide?

Farewell to the good Councillor Costigan?

It is now almost certain that the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor, Cr Peter Costigan, will not be throwing his hat into the ring when nominations close on Tuesday.

When we spoke to him at home on Sunday he was heading off to watch the Melbourne Storm play in the NRL at Colonial Stadium (he’s a born loser who also barracks passionately for Collingwood) and would not be announcing his decision until nominations close at 4.00 pm on the 19th. Cr Costigan told Crikey his phone had been “ringing hot” all weekend for his decision and that we would all be told at the same time.

On Friday, he told his staff he would make up his mind over the weekend. But this particular Costigan Royal Commission seems to have already reached a conclusion.

When asked how he thought this particular election was panning-out so far, the journalist who spent 11 years covering Australian politics in Canberra and 10 years covering American politics in Washington, was poignantly forthcoming.

“It’s a bloody schmozzle,” he said. “You’ve got two votes (in the mayoral election) opposed to the seven votes (in the council election) and it can’t possibly work. It has been designed (by ALP Local Government Minister, Bob Cameron) specifically for McMullin (ALP member and mayoral candidate Peter McMullin) and it doesn’t look good,” he said.

You don’t have to be Einstein to read between the lines on Cr Costigan’s intentions. If he does pullout on Tuesday (and he has probably left it too late to get a top position on a councillor ticket), he will be joining fellow sitting councillors Cr Rosemary Daniel, from Universities Ward, and Cr Martin Brennan, from Flagstaff Ward, in bowing out from the council.

Cr Brennan announced on Friday that he was “calling it a day”. He said he had little confidence in the new electoral structure devised by Bob Cameron and Steve Bracks.

Cr Costigan was elected Councillor for Domain Ward on the Melbourne First ticket in March 1999. He surprised everyone, including himself, when his fellow councillors elected him Lord Mayor for a three-year term (1999-2002) at the first meeting on the new council.

But just as greatness was thrust on him in 1999, it was grabbed from him by Bob Cameron late last year when he, effectively, sacked the council to stitch up Steve Bracks’ mate Peter McMullin in the top job.

For a Collingwood supporter, Cr Costigan was not a bad bloke.