No Deferral of Council Elections!

Dave Fagg has criticised the proposal by the Municipal Association of Victoria to defer the Victorian local government elections.

If you’re a local politics watcher, then you would not have missed this piece of news. However, for the average punter, this would probably have passed you by. The MAV has (again) called on the Victorian Government to follow NSW’s lead in deferring local government elections for 12 months. The MAV is the Municipal Association of Victoria, one of the peak bodies for local government in Victoria. I disagree with this move, and local residents do as well.

Why does the MAV think we should defer the elections until October 2020? From their press release, it seems there are 3 reasons:

  1. Covid-19 restrictions are making it difficult for candidates to consult with their communities, and generally campaigning is more difficult.
  2. Potential candidates, especially “women and people of diverse background”, may find it challenging to make the time to campaign because of the pandemic and associated restrictions.
  3. The first 2 reasons mean that holding “free and fair” local government elections is more difficult.

What do I think about these reasons?

On the first point, I certainly agree that Covid-19 restrictions are making it more difficult to run a traditional campaign, especially for candidates in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire. But difficult times call for creative solutions. I’ve been able to hold street stalls under the current restrictions, using social distancing. In addition, some candidates are holding online meetings and local organisations are planning to hold online candidate forums. Many people are using social media to find out about candidates, and residents who don’t use social media are still able to call or email candidates to raise issues of concern. I also think that local media, like radio and newspapers, need to up their game when it comes to covering the campaign – they can play a powerful role in disseminating information about candidates.

On the second point, it’s hard to know whether people (especially the groups they mention) are not putting their hand up. What’s the evidence of this phenomenon? It’s certainly not the case in my ward of Whipstick in Greater Bendigo, where a female incumbent councillor is planning to run, and two other women have already put their names forward. I’d like to know where the MAV is getting their evidence on this.

The third point is hyperbole by the MAV. Deferring local government elections is a backward step. Local democracy can’t stop because of the pandemic.

The MAV’s proposal assumes that things will be fine in 12 months time. I have very little confidence that this will be the case. It is quite possible that in 12 months time, we will be living under similar restrictions. What then? Will the MAV simply keep pushing for another deferral until things are ‘normal’ again? That is not a sustainable position. We need to push ahead with local elections despite the challenges that Covid-19 brings.