This local election has been a little like watching a classic play. You know the plot, but it’s still interesting to see how the actors tackle their individual roles.
Why is it like a play? Because the action is predetermined. Once the councillors are chosen they will, as many of them already realise, have the most important decisions made for them by a state government that is at best indifferent and at worst rapacious.
Large developments are decided by the state planning department on the basis that big money wins, regardless of the wishes of local residents or the merits of their arguments. On the whim of invisible bureaucrats Council land is resumed, LEP clauses changed, legal definitions mangled, local interests ignored. Meanwhile government grants decrease and government demands multiply.
And after digesting the arrogance of the state government the new councillors will encounter the reality that no matter how hard the humbler members of Council staff may work they are overseen by managers who have demonstrated little investment in this community.
So against that gloomy backdrop how have the auditions gone for the actors vying for the role of mayor?
Jack Sugarman is an amiable idiot. He thinks that Ocean Shores would benefit from amalgamation with Tweed Council while the rest of the shire is governed from Goonellabah. Obviously Jack has no inkling that the ‘dysfunction’ of Byron Shire is sweet harmony compared to the brawling that goes on in the Tweed. His single policy of creating larger local councils would make sense only in the context of abolishing the state government, which is not about to happen.
Morgan is not an idiot, but she has been treated like one by police and Council bullies over her sleeping, perfectly legally, in her car. Like the proverbial child pointing out that the emperor has no clothes she has observed that building on the edge of the sea is not wise and that the elected mayor outranks the appointed general manager. But as she is making her debut appearance these insights are unlikely to be enough to sway the voters.
Sol Ibrahim is also a debutant with a plausible persona and a line of patter that shows he is familiar with the business world. But he has not satisfactorily explained why he is exchanging preferences with Diane Woods. He says it’s because he doesn’t disagree with her published policies, but who would contradict motherhood statements about potholes? It would have been more relevant to examine her voting pattern in Council, and if this does not dismay Mr Ibrahim then we may fairly assume he is a stalking horse for right-wing interests.
Diane Woods herself is a well-meaning woman who has inherited former councillor Ross Tucker’s philosophy and following but not his debating skills. She is vague about her election funding and also vague about the problematic councillor-staff and council-state interfaces. In fact details of any sort tend to trip her up. Cr Woods is not, however, in the least vague about her desire to be mayor.
Basil Cameron is a serious candidate for the mayoralty. As deputy mayor he already knows some of the ropes, and he is hard-working and voluble. Expert on the processes of local government, he sometimes seems to view them more from the perspective of a bureaucrat than a representative of the community. Sometimes the process throws up an unjust result and one wonders if Cr Cameron would be able to tackle that effectively. Moreover, the part of mayor requires a player able to resist the importunities of a hostile state government, and the current deputy mayor does not give the impression that such toughness is within his range.
Which leaves us with Simon Richardson, the Greens’ candidate. He would be best for the role by elimination of the unsuitable, but in fact he is much more than the least objectionable. He is experienced and intelligent, improvises well and claims, in a somewhat saccharine but entirely Byronic way, to have the ‘heart’ to go with his other abilities. Heart – and also cojones – will be required of our new mayor to stand up to Macquarie Street, and there is no doubt that Cr Richardson has the energy for this scenario. It also helps that he will have the resources of a political party, albeit a minor one, in dealing with the state bureaucrats and politicians.
As for the casting of a chorus of eight councillors to support the lead, Mungo’s advice to number all the names below the line in reverse order starting with your most disliked is recommended. However, if you don’t know all the bit players and prefer to vote for progressive candidates, then number above the line (in your own order) groups B,C and E first.
After final casting on Saturday the show will open to disastrous reviews but be contractually obliged to perform for a further four years.