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
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.