Enrolled voters in the Bega Valley will not be filling out one set of ballot papers for the 2021 local government elections but two, with a referendum being included this year.
The question posed asks voters "should the Bega Valley Shire have a popularly elected Mayor from 2024?".
Voters will be require to vote yes or no - but what does this all mean and how has it come about?
A spokesperson from the NSW Electoral Commission said Bega Valley's referendum relates to whether or not voters will be electing a mayor in future elections as well as councillors.
"This means that in future, the voters will be picking the mayor in the same way that they presently pick councillors," the spokesperson said.
What is a referendum?
A referendum is when enrolled voters are asked a single political question to which they must vote yes or no.
Voting in referendums is compulsory for enrolled voters.
The NSW Electoral Commission stated the following reasons a council will usually hold a local referendum:
- To change the basis on which the mayor attains office
- To increase or reduce the number of councillors
- To divide the council area into wards or abolish all wards
- To change the method of ordinary election of councillors, for an area divided into wards
For the referendum to pass a majority of Bega Valley voters will have to have voted yes, in support of having a popularly elected mayor from 2024.
If the referendum is passed, the result is binding on council and will take effect at the next local government elections.
What are Mayoral elections?
As outlined by the NSW Electoral Commission, mayors elected by voters in local government area will serve a four-year-term.
Popularly elected mayors are elected in addition to the elected councillors, meaning they'll have their own ballot paper.
Mayoral elections are conducted using the same optional preferential voting system used for local government elections.
Just like councillor ballot papers you will need a valid first preference vote, then allocate the rest of the candidates in order of preference.
The Bega Valley currently does not have popularly elected mayor and instead undergoes internal elections where newly elected councillors vote among themselves as to which among them will serve as mayor for a two-year term.
At the end of the two-year term the councillors re-elect a new mayor and deputy.
Note - when councillors elect their mayor it is done within their own council, and has nothing to do with the NSW Electoral Commission.
Which other NSW shires have a popularly elected mayor?
Across NSW there are 128 councils and only 35 of them have popularly elected mayors, these councils include:
- Ballina, Bellingen, Botany Bay, Broken Hill, Burwood, Byron
- Canada Bay, Canterbury, Cessnock, Coffs Harbour
- Greater Taree, Griffith
- Hornsby, Hunters Hill
- Lake Macquarie, Lismore, Liverpool
- Maitland, Manly, Mosman
- Nambucca, Newcastle, North Sydney
- Port Macquarie-Hastings, Port Stephens
- Richmond Valley
- Shoalhaven, Singleton, Snowy River, Sydney
- Warringah, Willoughby.
The push for a popularly elected mayor
The option for Bega to hold a referendum as part of this year's local government elections was passed earlier this year by the Bega Valley Shire Council.
The issue was raised at a council meeting on January 27, 2021 with a motion proposed by Cr Robyn Bain.
The discussion for a popularly elected mayor has been discussed in council four times before, the first being in 2014.
To find out more about who in council voted for and against click here.
Bega Valley Shire isn't the only council discussing the push for a popularly elected mayor.
In September 2021, MidCoast Council councillor Peter Epov spoke on the issue when tabling a motion saying ratepayers and residents should be entitled to determine how their mayor is elected. However, his motion was lost.
Where to vote and how to pre-poll ahead of elections
Where can I vote?
There are four places in the Bega Valley Shire where people can visit a pre-poll voting venue.
The pre-poll venues in Bega and Merimbula are open as of Monday November 22 until December 3, whereas the locations in Bermagui and Eden only open for three days starting December 1.
- Bega - the pre-poll venue will be held at Grace Church Bega at 14 Church St. The pre-poll is open from November 22 to December 3, Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm.
- Merimbula - the pre-poll venue will be held at Twyford Hall at 16 Market St, Merimbula. The pre-poll is open from November 22 to December 3, Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm.
- Bermagui - the pre-poll venue will be held at Bermagui Community Centre at 3-5 Bunga St. The pre-poll is open from December 1 to December 3, from 9am to 5pm.
- Eden - the pre-poll venue will be held at Eden Library at 114 Imlay Street. The pre-poll is open from December 1 to December 3, from 9am to 5pm.
To find out more on the Bega Valley election venues' locations and details, visit the NSW government elections map page online.
How can I vote pre-poll?
For the 2021 local government elections people can choose to vote from the comforts and safety of their homes through two ways, by using iVote online and operator assisted telephone voting or through postal voting.
To find out more on how and where to vote, read ACM explainer: What you need to know about voting ahead of council elections in the Bega Valley Shire.