The people of Shellharbour City should have a direct say in electing their Mayor – a position advocated by both Anna Watson and current Shellharbour Mayor, Marianne Saliba.
Direct election was the method of electing the mayoral position prior to Liberal Government coming to power in 2011. However their political interference meant the position has since been elected by the councillors each year.
The NSW Government sought to cynically gerrymander the local election system in Shellharbour Council, rorting the system for blatant political purposes to capitalise on the controversy of the previously sacked administration.
There are growing calls for the election of the Mayor to be returned to the people.
The Shellharbour councillors who oppose ‘people power’ through direct elections have been labelled hypocrites and democrats of convenience. When they ran for office they want democracy and transparency. Yet now they’ve been elected, they run a mile from their support for democracy, transparency and direct elections by the people.
Continued turmoil within the Liberal councillors ranks in late 2013 over their inability to organise their mayoral candidate led to Anna calling for the Liberals to “sort out their differences for the good of the local Shellharbour community”.
In light of the public resignation of Councillor Paul Rankin from the Liberal Party amid claims of deals with the Greens Party and the direct interference of two local Liberal MPs, Anna has urged the NSW Minister for Local Government to amend the local government legislation to allow the people of Shellharbour to directly elect the mayoral position.
But the Minister refused to amend the Local Government (Shellharbour and Wollongong Elections) Act 2011. Like Pontius Pilate, the Minister has said ‘not my problem, put it to a referendum’ – a referendum now being the only way the direct election of the mayoral position of Shellharbour City Council can be re-established.
Further supporting the calls for direct election, the report by the NSW Independent Local Government Review Panel released early in 2014 makes clear that it considers the mayoral position should be directly elected by the people. It concludes that annual elections create unnecessary instability and ‘draws from the hat’ should be prevented. The report concludes that councillors should not have a veto power over a change to popular election.
This report has blown apart the objections of a small group of Shellharbour Councillors intent on denying the people of Shellharbour the right to directly elect the mayor.
Anna welcomed a resolution since passed by the former Shellharbour City Council calling for a report on the costs and options of holding a referendum on the direct election of the City’s Mayor.
In the 2017 Local Government elections, Shellharbour City included a constitutional referendum regarding the direct election of the Mayor. The question:
Do you favour the election of the Mayor by the voters of City of Shellharbour for a four year term which necessitates an increase in the number of Councillors by one (1)? This will result in a total of nine (9) elected representatives made up of one (1) Mayor and eight (8) Councillors.
The referendum results for the above question were 70% in favour of direct election of the Mayor. This will come into effect at the next ordinary election of the Shellharbour City Council in 2020.
“This is an important step forward towards restoring the right of all Shellharbour citizens to directly elect the highest civic office-holder in the city,” Anna Watson said.
“I will continue to advocate for the right of the people of Shellharbour to have their voices heard.”