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Byron Shire
June 18, 2021

Vote for cohesion not tribalism

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Edward Kent, Suffolk Park

Thank you to those Byron Shire Council candidates who made themselves available to public questions recently at the Byron Community Centre. Thank you to the mediators for keeping the heckling to a minimum.

With the election of a new council upon us it strikes me as odd there are so many different groups on the ticket. Perhaps this is the biggest problem our local council faces. By their very nature these groups are tribal and divisive. As it is Byron is perhaps already laden with too many ‘radicals’, whose apparent passion does not really serve social cohesion and cultivation of the politics of consensus based around honest and open input from involved citizens.

Groups present the electorate with package plans, and are often associated with larger groups involved at higher levels of politics, some even internationally. Yet community council is supposed to be about locals. For a future truly by and for Byron locals these groups are counter productive. The idea that somehow Byron needs groups with big agendas or access to money runs counter to the free-spirit of Byron Bay and smacks of hypocrisy. The slate of candidates should be independent across the board; independent of mind, of political association and willing to engage with the community as individuals not beholden to some larger agenda to which certain issues may be held ransom or that does not allow for effective, efficient and creative problem solving.

Whatever the outcome of this election we will be stuck with groups for the next few years as there not enough independents on the ticket and unfortunately this approach will likely lead to division and wasting of time and money commodities a small council can hardly afford.

Hopefully, whatever the result, the Echo will help turn a fresh page and commit itself to non-partisan objective reporting so as to best bring on more community consensus over division.

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  1. Claims occasionally made during the campaign that some so-called Progressive candidates are part of national or international groupings, whilst true, play almost no role at the local Council level. Over many decades Conservative candidates who were members of the Liberal and National parties ran as independents. But like the Progressives their national political affiliations usually played a poor second to their underlying personal political philosophies. The Greens and Labor are just more open about it.

    Australia has an unusually democratic voting system, called Optional Preferential Voting. The First-Past-The-Post system that the United States, Britain and most countries use is particularly undemocratic. For example it took just one extra candidate on the progressive side to run against George W Bush and Al Gore in the 2000 US election to make it very difficult for Gore to win. As a result, we got Bush and the Iraq war. Even though the majority didn’t vote for Bush.

    If you don’t understand Australia’s system, it’s easy for your vote to exhaust before being counted. For example had people been aware of how the preference system worked in the 2012 Byron local election the progressives would have got up six councillors instead of five. This would have ensured the four years of Council reflected the majority progressive vote.

    The Aussie system works well for all candidates, whether anti-developer or pro-developer, or anything in between, because it’s fair to all.

    How it works: Every voter gets two ballots: one of the Mayor, and one for the Council.
    Say you only place one number in the box next to the candidate you like best, for either of Mayor or Council. And no candidate gets an absolute majority. Then the Electoral Commission counts back second preferences, starting with the candidate who got the lowest number of votes. So if you didn’t give a second preference, your vote may be wasted.

    The same system operates when electing eight Councillors. Only this time the Electoral Commission adds up total votes and sets a quota to be elected to Council. A quota is the total number of votes each of the eight candidates need, to be elected as a Councillor. Quotas change slightly from election to election, but in our last election a quota was 1731 votes.

    The Electoral Commission keeps counting the preferences starting with the candidate with the lowest number of votes, and then second lowest and so on, until they get 8 quotas.
    So if you only fill in only one or two squares it’s likely that your vote will not be fully counted or counted at all.

    You get the choice of numbering the party (or group) ‘above the line’ on the ballot form. Or ‘below the line’ by numbering each individual candidates you like. Most people vote ‘above the line’. So with ‘above the line’ you should number at least five boxes. How many boxes you number and, in what order, has a big impact. That’s why candidate’s ‘how to vote cards’ make detailed suggestions.

    And if you make a mistake when numbering your ballot—that ballot becomes invalid. If you make a mistake, just go back to the booth official and ask for a replacement ballot. They will destroy your old one and give you a fresh one.

    As Winston Churchill famously said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

  2. Great comment Edward. Tribalism and divisiveness will play out in this community for some time yet, as they are symptoms of the old paradigm, or the old story of the world that we all live by. This story states that we are all separate; from each other and from everything else on earth. This story will unfortunately play out for along time before the destruction it has caused becomes too much to ignore. This old story is of course a lie and will one day be replaced by a new story, the true story, which is that we are all connected, with each other and with every thing else on this wonderful planet.

  3. It is worth noting that the electoral system used by local government is designed by the two party dominated NSW parliament and works against independents who wish to stand outside of a group. The important distinction to be made is the difference between groups made up of community independents and groups made up of the same big parties that designed the system and are often a vehicle for aspiring politicians rather than local representatives.


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