Clover Moore

Clover Moore has amassed an enviable electoral record since arriving on the inner-Sydney political scene in the 1980s, but her election on Saturday to a fourth term as Lord Mayor might just be the sweetest victory of all.

Moore’s primary vote of 59.7% stands at more than triple that of her nearest rival, and is a handy improvement on the 51.1% she scored four years ago — shortly before she was obliged to resign as state member for Sydney due to an O’Farrell government law banning simultaneous service in state Parliament and local government, which was clearly drafted with her in mind.

The result is all the more remarkable for having been achieved after a second “get Clover” initiative, in which state Parliament amended the City of Sydney’s electoral rules to grant two votes to rate-paying businesses, the exercise of which was made compulsory.

Votes for non-residential ratepayers are nothing new, but they were having very little impact as of the 2012 election, when only around 1200 such votes were cast out of a total of more than 68,000.

The change was promoted chiefly by interests with very little purchase in central Sydney: talk radio, The Daily Telegraph and the bill’s sponsors in the Shooters and Fishers Party, all of whom saw Moore as exemplifying a pernicious brand of metropolitan elitism.

Clearly it was anticipated that an influx of business votes would produce a result more alike to the City of Melbourne, where a similar system has twice elected incumbent Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, a former Liberal state opposition leader.

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Yet the result on Saturday so defied these expectations as to constitute something of a puzzle.

Thanks to the new rules, the number of enrolled voters was 141,369, an increase of nearly 40,000 on 2012.

However, the number of ordinary votes cast hardly changed at all, while the rise in pre-poll voting was in line with recent trends at federal and state level.

As-yet-uncounted postal votes may go part of the way to closing the gap, but they will clearly not be sufficient to solve the mystery of the tens of thousands of apparently missing voters.

By far the most likely explanation is that prospect of a $55 fine did not prove unduly troubling to members of the Sydney business community, who were clearly less troubled by their earlier “disenfranchisement” than their self-appointed advocates felt they should have been.

Those responsible can at least take comfort in the fact that they are hardly the first architects of self-interested electoral reform whose schemes have failed to find their mark.

The pattern arguably goes back to the introduction of preferential voting at federal elections in 1918, which a conservative government introduced to ensure that vote-splitting with the newly established Country Party did not hand seats to Labor.

Certainly that was its principal impact for many decades, but the main effect today is in allowing Labor to win seats on preferences from the Greens.

So it was that Labor came within striking distance of victory at the federal election on July 2, despite the Coalition outpolling them by 42.0% to 34.7% on the primary vote.

In Queensland, what would later become known as the “Bjelkemander” — a system granting greater representation to some parts of the state than others, which ultimately allowed Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s National Party to govern without Liberal support for two terms after the 1983 election — was actually established by the previous Labor government.

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Conversely, when a Labor government in Western Australia finally managed to get one-vote, one-value reforms through a long-intractable upper house a decade ago, it did so in the expectation that National Party representation would be cut in half, as country seats made way for city ones where Labor would be competitive or better.

Instead, the Nationals deftly used the reforms as a rallying cry for support among regional voters, who were told their voice would otherwise be drowned out in a new Parliament dominated by the interests of Perth.

The Nationals have since gone from five seats to seven in the lower house and from one to five in the upper, and both elections held under the new regime have been lost by Labor.

Most recently, and perhaps most spectacularly, Malcolm Turnbull’s grand design for a reconfigured Senate has delivered an even bigger crossbench than the one he had before, compounded by the unprecedented political nightmare of a four-vote bloc for Pauline Hanson.

As for the City of Sydney, its bike lanes, public art displays and secular Christmas celebrations are safe for another four years at least — and The Daily Telegraph and 2GB can rest easy too, secure in the knowledge that they still have Clover Moore to kick around.