7:59 AMBehind the desire to serve.
Please read the Election Period Policy tabled in the 29 March 2016 council meeting.
Basically it is a list of practices and prohibitions councilors and council staff are to follow in the days leading up to a council election. Manningham council needed to prepare this Election Period Policy because of changes in State government legislation.
So why is this so necessary?
If we cast our mind back to the last Manningham Council election in 2012 we can get an idea of the need for this policy.
I have a habit, possibly a bad habit, of keeping old news cuttings. It is interesting to read these old news articles from around the time of the 2012 Manningham council election.
The impression we have of our councilors and candidates is one of smiling faces of people eager to help and serve their community.
But we are often quick to forget the ferociously competitive nature of many of the candidates. We forget the scheming, the fights and the attempts to derail the campaigns of other candidates.
At the last election, the flow of election preferences was in the news for all the wrong reasons. In council elections, preferences can be directed to other candidates just as they can at federal elections. Sometimes the preferences can mean the difference between winning and loosing.
At the last election in 2012, preferences were a hot topic.
For instance, there were claims that money changed hands so preferences would be directed to some candidates (See 'Candidate Denies Loan Claim', The Weekly Review, 10 Oct 2012, page 7).
There were claims that one candidate was 'fixing' the system so preferences would be directed to him. (See 'Dummy Spat is "Bullying"', Manningham Leader, 10 Oct 2012, page 3).
We tend to forget all this.
The Election Period Policy is designed to stop some, not all, of these antics from happening.
Here are some of the things it prohibits:-
Contracts over $100,000
One major restriction is the awarding of contracts over $100,000 (or over 1% of council rate income) during the election period. (The election period is the 32 days prior to the actual election.)
The reason for this may not be obvious. A good example of how abuses can occur in this area was seen in the council elections in London, England some years back. The outgoing council were essentially all from one side of the political spectrum. In the last days of their term it became apparent that where to be replaced by essentially conservative councilors. They took great umbrage to this and in the last days of their term signed highly questionable contracts worth tens of millions of pounds. It appeared their goal was to sabotage the incoming councilors term.
Major Policy Decisions.
The Election Period Policy also prohibits council from making major policy decisions during the Election period. I imagine this also could be easily abused. The goal of the Election Period Policy is to 'not bind an incoming council by making unnecessary decisions during the election period'.
Under the new laws, if major policy decisions are made by the council illegally during the election period, and people or companies suffer loss, they can claim compensation. (See page 800, minutes.)
Misusing Council Resources.
This Election Period Policy prohibits councilors using council resources, i.e. staff, property, equipment, stationary, etc. In their election campaigns. Apparently the temptation to use council resources to defray their own election expenses is ever-present.
Misusing Council Events.
This policy also prohibits incumbent councilors using council public events and even the consultation process with ratepayers as platforms to further their own re-election chances.
Equal Sharing of Council Information.
The policy also insists that council information is shared equally with all incumbent councilors and candidates. One rather dastardly tactic used by incumbent councilors is to restrict the flow of information to new candidates. This keeps them in the dark and gives the advantage to incumbent councilors who can make would-be councilors look foolish, uninformed and not suitable for the office.
The Election Period Policy does not really claim all these practices take place during Manningham council elections. However, documents from Manningham council do hint that certain inappropriate practices do currently take place during elections. (See minutes page 774, 1.7.3)
Council staff, as well as councilors, at Manningham are not beyond criticism.
I offer this for your consideration.
Page 794 of the minutes, point 2.12.1 says this:
"It is an established democratic principle that public resources must not be used in a manner that would influence the way people vote in elections. Council commits to this principle in that it will ensure Council resources are not used inappropriately during the election period."
Do they now?
And council commits to this established democratic principle.
I would like to draw your attention to an article that appeared in the Manningham Leader on Wednesday 12th June 2013. "Stouch over ratepayer funds".
This article describes how Manningham Council intended to spend $36,000 of our money to convince us to vote a certain way (i.e. "yes") in an upcoming constitutional referendum. There was a public outcry against what Manningham Council proposed to do and, as far as I know, they abandoned to proposal.
By the way, voting "Yes" in that referendum would have meant that Local government would have been recognized in the Australian Constitution. That would have opened the door for the Federal Government to give money directly to local government without that money needing to go first to the state government (where it no doubt receives a bit of a hair cut). However, none of this comes as much of a surprise to those who follow the antics of Manningham council and their maniacal greed for money.
Manningham Council may say that this was a 'referendum' but now they are talking about 'elections'. So there was nothing wrong with what they wanted to do back in 2013.
However we are talking 'principles' here – Manningham Council's own words. In particular we are talking 'established democratic principles' articulated by Manningham Council which says that pubic money should not be used to influence the way people vote.
I would argue that this principle is equally applicable to both elections and referenda and that that it is incorrect to make a distinction between the two. Both are used by the public to influence government and government policy. One influences policy prior to government taking office and the other influences policy once a government has taken office. Each are meant to be a platform for the people to influence government.
Just how ethical is it for Council to forcibly take other people's money to fund a campaign to promote their own opinions?
The Council's Election Period Policy makes the point it is perfectly acceptable to spend private money on election campaigns but it is not appropriate to spend public money on election campaigns or to use public money to influence voters choices. Their new policy goes to great lengths to ensure that public money is not used for those purposes.
I think Manningham Council has changed their tune since 2013.
The point is that Council can be an unprincipled animal that can slide very easily between different positions and all the while claim they are being ethical and are in the right.
It is interesting to note that the public were quick to pick up on the inappropriateness of the council using public funds to promote their own opinions in that referendum. It appears that the ratepayers have an innate sense of what is right and wrong when it comes to such public matters -- a sense that does not appear to be present at Manningham Council. The council seemed to think that it was just a matter of opinion as to whether it was right or not. Now they have been essentially forced to acknowledge they were in the wrong - not that you will ever hear them say that.
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