This election was about big new ideas, specifically the lack thereof.

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This City of Sydney election was supposed to be about big new ideas, but the reality turned out to be specifically the lack thereof.

The Liberals and Living Sydney successfully framed the election as a referendum on Clover’s supposed reign of terror on small business, alleging bus lanes and bike lanes were keeping cars away from local shops, even though 40 per cent of the city’s population do not own a car. And complaining the city’s rates were being spent on unnecessary and expensive schemes like the trigeneration network, even though the successful implementation of the network could defer heavy costs of wider network upgrades by $1.5 billion.

In framing it as such, the Liberals and Living Sydney felt they needn’t offer any alternative vision for the city, instead confining themselves to small-minded populist policies like rate cuts, staff cuts and free parking.

Furthermore, the two were competing for the business vote. But despite their greatest efforts in encouraging them to enrol, only 1,700 business owners decided they were cheesed off enough with Clover to think it was worth the effort.

The end result was Vithoulkas and Mandla were not the massive threat media and bookies portrayed them to be; rather their campaigns nibbled at Clover’s feet like doctor fish at a Vietnamese health spa. If the Clover Moore Independent Team had any new policies, they weren’t getting space in any of the local publications. Constant attacks from all sides meant they were running on their record, and the vision Clover campaigned and won on in 2004.

Calls to Clover’s office each time a party launched a new policy were met with the same reply almost every time: “Yeah, we’re already doing that.” In truth, they usually did have some scheme in the works, but many of them were started years ago and put on hold for one reason or another. For instance, the plan to put power lines underground was abandoned because the State Government wasn’t interested.

Other proposals had recently been approved and were only just starting up. Living Sydney broadened their policy base in the last week of the campaign to promise a Youth Council, even though the Greens had recently moved the policy themselves on Council. It’s also probably fair to say that a lot of promises get lost before delivery just because of the sheer volume of demands from such a diverse local government area.

The Greens and Labor were a little more realistic about their prospects than the Liberals or Living Sydney. They hoped to retain and regain their seats respectively, and return Clover with a reduced majority, forcing her to take more account of the smaller parties or use her casting vote as Lord Mayor.

Labor’s pitch was lost in a series of small policies that resemble the requests of single issue parties: access to childcare, putting power lines underground, giving money to the GLBTI health, and being anti-privatisation and pro-live
music venues.

The Greens focused on long-term structural reform following the failed referendum on wards at the last election. The current system allows for tickets headed by popular candidates like Clover Moore to be elected from across the city, but they are responsible for an electorate of more than 100,000 voters spread over disparate urban environments with very different needs. The Greens’ plan to introduce precinct committees to the City of Sydney, while not particularly sexy, was a solid idea that would have provided a framework for citizens in the ‘city of villages’ to engage in their local area.

Unfortunately for the Greens, this attempt to do things properly couldn’t compete with the empty populism of the Liberals and Living Sydney, or the incumbent’s eight-year-old vision.

  • Stephan Gyory

    Election Journalism debriefed: Where was the actual Journalism.

    It’s a pity, Jason that you delved no further into the actual issues than most of the people who casually allow Clover Moore’s PR juggernaut to wash over them.

    Had you bothered to do more than regurgitate the incumbent’s spin, you would, no doubt, have been surprised to learn a few things.

    On the business vote you would have learned that to complete the non-residential enrolment form a Rate Assessment Number [RAN] was required. This number is only available to most retail tenants via two channels: their landlord or the council. Many, if not most businesses do not have direct access to their landlords and so the council was the only place to get their RAN.

    You would also have learned that in spite of my, and Living Sydney’s best efforts, the council switchboard was denying the release of this number to all but the most persistent of callers up to about 10 days before the close of enrolment.

    In the lead up to this we had a guarantee, not once, but twice from Monica Barone, City of Sydney CEO, that the RAN would be released, after which they still were not. Only after a direct and persistent and very public twitter and facebook bombardment did we get the public assurance that the RAN would be released to callers, 10 days out from close of enrolment.

    You might also have been interested to have learned that more than 15 months ago I, independently, began a series of email requests to council to hold an awareness campaign around the non-residential roll due, basically, to the fact that most people, business, resident or casual observer had no idea the thing existed. I felt that businesses, paying more than 70% of the City’s rates, at least had a right to know they could claim a vote.

    With the help of Greens councillor, Irene Doutney, I eventually managed to get the Electoral Commissioner to present to the Sydney councillors, but the Lord mayor seemed perfectly willing to sit within the confines of the City of Sydney ACT, which, basically, does not require anyone to anything about the non-residential roll other than send out a few letters to any businesses that voted in the last election.

    It was again only after intense pubic pressure that the Electoral Commission got the go ahead from the City of Sydney to try and raise awareness about the non residential roll – the ‘greatest efforts’ you refer to – which was a facebook page and letter campaign launched about 10 days out from the close of enrolment. Great, indeed.

    Regarding the lack of big ideas, it’s strange that you consider a wholesale revamp of the City of Sydney Economic Development Unit small or populist. Sydney Business First, the Living Sydney policy around this, was a direct result of our own, frustrating and counter-productive experiences (over 7 years) as executive members of the Darlinghurst and Pyrmont Business Partnerships, with said ED Unit.

    Had you bothered to ask, or delve, you might have learned that the City’s ED Unit has spent nigh on $15 million since it’s inception, with no strategy, that is, no measurable outcomes. Check it, it’s on their website.

    Sydney Business First proposed creating an autonomous, fully funded, council owned organisation to Centre Manage High Streets. Small Ideas you say?

    Really, if you are going to play at journalism, Jason, you’ll need to do more than read Clover’s leaflets in your letterbox.

    And before you write off the ‘will’ of the small-business community, bear in mind that there are now 3 small-business friendly councillors sitting at Town Hall, where before there was one.