New South Wales Coalition government plans to give two votes to City of Sydney businesses and a single vote to ratepayer residents has come under such intense fire that the enabling legislation has been delayed again.

The controversial bill was scheduled to be presented by Shooters and Fishers Party MP Robert Borsak in the NSW upper house on Wednesday afternoon, but Crikey was told it was still being “tweaked” by “parliamentary draftsmen” (perhaps a euphemism for the Premier’s Department?).

The bill’s timing has been atrocious. It has been hailed by Premier Mike Baird’s government as a move to bring the City of Sydney into line with City of Melbourne, where businesses have had two votes since the authoritarian Jeff Kennett era (1992-1999). But just this week, a Victorian local government panel, headed by former Kooyong MP Petro Georgiou, criticised Melbourne’s voting model and called it for to be scrapped. The electoral system, he said, must be fair, consistent and transparent.

Georgiou’s recommendation was slapped down by Victorian Local Government Minister Tim Bull, who said the Napthine government recognised the City of Melbourne was governed by its own act of Parliament, with its own “unique electoral system”.

In reply, Georgiou ignored the legal particulars: “A corporation is a legal individual and it should be treated as an individual, and that means one vote.”

Georgiou, Naphine and Baird, all senior Liberals, are now at odds over the two-votes-for-business system.

The NSW push for changing Sydney’s voting laws to give a double vote to big business has become entangled in the long-delayed debate about reducing the number of councils. Local Government Minister Paul Toole, National Party MP for Bathurst, has been pushed by the Liberals — and The Daily Telegraph — to slash the number of councils by a third.

By raising the subject of council eliminations six months before the March 28 election, the Baird government is inviting a backlash from metropolitan, regional and rural voters.

Perhaps Baird believes that by adopting a core element of the Daily Telegraph’s agenda he will receive some favourable publicity. That may well be so, but Baird’s weakness will only encourage more demands on his government. Soon voters will start to believe that the Tele — and commercial shock jocks like Alan Jones and Ray Hadley — are running the government, and the drift by voters back to Labor and the Greens, as the only alternatives, will intensify.

In Macquarie Street, two reasons are being given for the Coalition’s ill-advised push for the City of Sydney voting change and large-scale council amalgamations.

“The government is being slaughtered every day by headlines from the Independent Commission Against Corruption,” one senior adviser told Crikey in confidence. “We’ve lost a premier, two senior ministers and a heap of backbenchers, and the bad news just gets worse.

“Maybe it’s risky, but we have to produce some diversions. What we’re looking for is relief from ICAC.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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