Sunday, 14 May 2017

More on Council elections

In a discussion on Facebook of my first post about the upcoming Council elections Peter Marshall mentioned the fact that landowners who are not residents can also vote in the election.  This is in line with the philosophy of "No taxation without representation".  (However I don't think we'd find people tipping chests of tea into the Molonglo if this rule wasn't around.)

A separate roll of non-resident voters is set up by Councils as described by the NSW Office of Local Government (OLG).
  • The Local Government Act 1993 (the Act) requires council general managers to prepare and confirm the rolls of non-resident owners, occupiers and ratepaying lessees of rateable land in the council’s area (the non-residential rolls). 
  • The non-residential rolls are to include the names of the persons who: 
    • have applied, at any time, for the inclusion of their name in any such roll; and 
    • on the closing date (40 days prior to the election) are, in the opinion of the general manager, qualified for inclusion in that roll.
The OLG site includes a comment encouraging Councils to publicise the availability of non-residential enrolment on their websites.  QPRC has published on their Facebook page an invitation for non-resident ratepayers to enrol using the forms on the Council website.  The instructions make it clear that only one person can be nominated for each property which is helpful in estimating the impact of such voters on the enrolment. as it can possibly be approximated by the number of vacant dwellings available from the Census.

In the 2011 Census 772 vacant dwellings made up 12% of the dwellings in Palerang, while 1200 vacant dwellings were 7.5% of the dwellings in Queanbeyan.  It has been suggested that there are more holiday homes in Palerang than Queanbeyan!. Of course these are only the dwellings which the Census Collector identified and determined as vacant.  They could have missed a few dwellings and would correctly have ignored blocks of empty land (which still have an entitlement to enrolment).

The inclusion of these non-residents has a very slight positive impact on the relative size of the 'rural' vote.  It mat well be balanced by voters who own property in Queanbeyan but reside out of the LGA.

I have attempted to discover how many non-residents were actually enrolled in the 2 Councils in 2012 but this is turning into a bit of an epic.  QPRC didn't know - possibly because the roll is deleted after each election - and referred me to the State Electoral Commission (SEC).  They have assured me they will reply in 5 working days!  When they do so I will update this post.

In fact the SEC got back to me in about 3 working days for which they are to be congratulated. With my customary gift for understatement I could say the results were surprising.  There were 8 (yes, the number between seven and nine) non-resident electors enrolled in Palerang  and 7 (one less than in Palerang) enrolled in Queanbeyan.  That is a smidgin over 1% of the unoccupied dwellings in Palerang and close to 0.5% of those in Queanbeyan.  One can only assume that no-one knew of this entitlement.

While there are nuances in the qualifications for enrolment (eg the landowner must live outside the LGA - but someone in Queanbeyan who owned land in Palerang would have been eligible) but quite clearly fears of us being swamped by the opinions of people from Pitt or Collins Sts would seem to be unfounded.  Unless a lot of absentee landowners read this (or the QPRC website) and flock to register!

While looking at the Electoral Commission website I came across some interesting material about the 2012 elections.  There are inter alia summaries of voting for Palerang and Queanbeyan which show a number of interesting facts:
  • Voter turnout was higher in Palerang (81.49% of enrolled voters) than Queanbeyan (75.85%)
  • The proportion of informal votes was similar at around 9% in both constituencies;
  • The method of voting with the highest proportion of informal in both areas was ordinary voting at close to 10% in both.
Looking at the total number of formal votes we still get round about 3 Councillors from the former Palerang.

It seems that if people in the rural area are concerned about whether the merged Council will represent them the best thing is go and cast a vote  - and do this carefully so that it is formal!

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