OPINION: Popularly elected mayors well past due

By Jon Gaul, Tura Beach

It’s well past the time when we must all in future elect our mayors by universal popular vote, instead of standing on the sidelines allowing our mayor to be elected by default - by internal and undisclosed deals between individual councillors. 

The present mayoral election system for Bega Valley Shire is not democratic, not transparent, not accountable and not designed to provide ratepayers and residents with the best available representation. 

Almost one-quarter of mayors in NSW (36 out of 152) are now popularly elected for a four-year term, and popular election is on the rise. 

By contrast, mayors elected by their fellow councilors have only a 12-month term – not enough to plan and put in place longer-term policies and programs for the benefit of ratepayers and the financial sustainability of the council.  

And don’t we know it!

Significantly, 60 per cent of popularly elected mayors are in regional NSW.

Close to us, for example, there are popularly elected mayors for Snowy Shire, Queanbeyan and Eurobodalla.  

Popular election supports the democratic principle that the closer government is to the people, the better the representation. 

Popular election of mayors may also speed up correction of the big gender imbalance among both mayors and councillors in NSW. 

The typical NSW mayor is a male, professional, 60 to 69 years old, English is his first language.

Only 27 per cent of councillors are female, although we do much better here with four of our nine councillors female.

Only eight of the 152 NSW councils have majority female representation.

All of them have a female mayor – and half of those female mayors are popularly elected, compared to the average of one-quarter popularly elected where males dominate. 

So what are we waiting for? 

State Government rules governing local government mean a referendum is required to vote in favour of having a popularly elected mayor. 

And the existing council must vote in favour of allowing a referendum at the same time as the next council election in 2016.

Do our existing councillors possess the courage and democratic instinct to permit that?

We’ll see.

Even if they do agree to a 2016 referendum, and if it succeeds, it would be 2020 before we could see a popularly elected mayor for Bega Valley Shire.  

It’s a long wait for democracy.


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