Lord Mayor of Melbourne Sally Capp (Image: AAP/James Ross)

Nominations for Victoria’s 76 statewide local government elections opened yesterday and with Melbourne in hard lockdown until at least September 28 it’s going to be a unique fully postal election with campaigning severely limited.

Candidates have until midday Tuesday to nominate ahead of a postal voting period from October 6 to October 24. In the City of Melbourne, Australia’s hardest-hit local government area by COVID-19, we have the bizarre situation of independent Lord Mayor Sally Capp being so focused on the pandemic that she is yet to announce who will be running on her ticket.

Capp is being challenged by Arron Wood, the deputy lord mayor she inherited from her disgraced predecessor Robert Doyle. Wood has shrugged off his association with Doyle and is pitching to the business community, which has a unique gerrymander in that each non-residential ratepayer or commercial renter is given two votes.

Wood is also enjoying support coming from Team Doyle’s most reliable media backers, News Corp’s Herald Sun and 3AW’s Neil Mitchell, the Melbourne powerbroker who persuaded Doyle to first run for lord mayor in 2008.

The Greens are usually good for more than 20% of the City of Melbourne vote but Labor is running its first official City of Melbourne ticket in decades, led by Slater and Gordon lobbyist Phil Reed.

Labor aims to get at least one and possibly two of the nine councillor positions and then support Capp’s reelection, provided she does indeed have Labor heavyweight and current planning committee chair Nicholas Reece as her deputy.

Reece, a former Victorian Labor state secretary and Julia Gillard prime ministerial staffer well known for his Sky News appearances, was sponsored into town hall by Doyle but quickly pivoted to backing Capp’s run at the top job once Doyle fell over.

Capp is a former Liberal Party member but pitches herself as “sensible Sally in the centre” as she is also the niece of Keating-era federal minister Ros Kelly. She got her major break when sponsored by Eddie McGuire as the first female director of the Collingwood Football Club, and was later appointed by then premier John Brumby as Victoria’s first female agent-general in London.

Wood is a full-throated environmentalist who hates coal, backs the climate emergency campaign and pushes hard for renewables. Bob Brown even wrote the forward to his book, Billabong Boy.

However, he senses that Capp — a former CEO of both the Property Council and the Committee for Melbourne — is vulnerable on her right flank courtesy of the association with Reece and her collaboration with the two City of Melbourne Greens councillors on a range of policy fronts such as inclusionary zoning and prioritising bikes over cars.

There have been a number of bizarre News Corp claims (including this one from Robert Gottliebsen in The Australian) that anger over the lockdown will wipe out a generation of Labor councillors.

The only problem with this is that, unlike in New South Wales, Labor doesn’t have a big history of formally endorsing candidates in Victorian local government elections and the Liberals/Nationals haven’t done so in many decades, leaving supporters with no guidance on who to vote for and no alternative to the often unbranded Labor candidates.

The biggest worry in these elections is actually that candidate numbers will be down due to the pandemic and we will be left with more blokey, low-calibre councils.

Contributing to this phenomenon of reduced candidate numbers is the new requirement — effectively a barrier to entry — for candidates to conduct “online training”. (I’m having a run in suburban Manningham and the training took about half an hour to complete before generating this completion certificate.)

Even incumbent councillors, right up to the lord mayor, cannot nominate unless they complete the online training. Imagine if state and federal MPs were forced to do this.

Why not have a go yourself? It might even stimulate you to consider nominating because we are going to need as many good people as possible to stand.

Stephen Mayne is a former City of Manningham and City of Melbourne councillor and is married to Cr Paula Piccinini, a retiring Manningham councillor.