Any debate shouldn’t be about whether local government elections should be compulsory. The true issue should be level of engagement with residents in local government elections.
Of the three tiers of government, it is the local government sector that can have the greatest impact on a Tasmanian’s day to day life – whether you are a ratepayer or a resident that municipality.
Firstly there is the issue of the three Rs that local government is traditionally known for – rates, rubbish and roads. You want bang for your buck when it comes to our rates. We want our money to be spent wisely, invested sensibly alongside a long-term vision, and of course remove the potholes in all the roads.
Like it or not, the councils are also responsible for more than the three Rs. They play an important part in representing the region to other levels of government.
Councils have strategic plans. They offer social, economic, education, health, recreation and environment policies, programs and initiatives to improve their regions.
Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia local government elections are all non-compulsory via postal vote. New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria have compulsory voting. However, participation is lower than federal and state elections.
In 2014, Tasmania recorded a 54.6 per cent participation rate. Meanwhile, in 2017, South Australia had a dismal 32 per cent.
In Tassie, the lowest participating within an age bracket was 20-24 (30 per cent), then 25-34 (32 per cent) and 18-19 (38 per cent). The highest was 65 and over (74 per cent), followed by 55-64 (64 per cent) and 45-54 (52 per cent). There is a clear disengagement with local government. It could be for myriad of reasons, including the sheer number of candidates and the disconnectedness with elections in general.
This is a conversation we must have. We must demonstrate how important that non-compulsory vote is come October 2018. Having the right representation on your local council, for four years, can be the difference between a progressive region and one that makes limited progress.