Democracy continues to be a bit of a laugh at Canning.
The City nearly consigned itself away under local government reform, when it ignored community preference and bid to merge with Gosnells instead…
Then, oddly enough, staff costs increased significantly while the Council remained suspended….
Now *democracy* seems an outright contestable concept at Canning with the way a Ward and Councillor Representation Review has just been conducted, as staff and some of the Commissioners bid to change Canning before a Council is allowed to return in October….
What’s the problem as we see it? These words, from a power point by the consultant used by the City to procure the outcomes it has, say it all:-
“When the community was forced to choose their most preferred option…..“
Let’s have a closer look.
What was the reason for the review in the first place? Well, one needs to occur at least every 8 years (ours was overdue), and Nicholson Ward was out of whack in terms of ratio of councillors to electors. That’s about it.
But bold bids were made by staff to get wider change through, in fact its frightening to realise how much the staff sought to engineer overall.
Currently the City has 4 wards, 10 councillors, but no “No Change” option was offered in the review (or even a bid to move ward boundaries a few streets over, as Town of East Freo did when it had one ward out of whack).
Instead the staff offered up 7 options, most of which were ridiculously wide of what the community was familiar with (No Wards, Two Wards – would you like 8, 9 or 10 councillors with that?)….. and what was left was the calculated part: options closer to what we knew, but with trade-offs:
- You can keep your 10 councillors, but you have to agree to 5 wards, OR
- You can retain 4 wards, but you have to agree to let 2 councillor positions go
But wait! The community was assured, in the discussion paper for the review, that the City’s options were “developed to invite discussion. They represent only a sample of amendments that may be considered. These choices are not exhaustive and members of the community may suggest others“.
It sounded good – the community wasn’t locked in to anything, other options seemed possible – but it didn’t turn out that way….
What followed was laughable, unless you felt like crying. The City didn’t seem to want to run the risk their options might not get through, so the survey questionnaire that was the review ( apparently) made absolutely sure you nominated one of them:
- the paper survey reinforced and reinforced and reinforced their options: “[On a scale of 1 to 10…]”, then “If you had to choose….”, finally “why did you choose [what you “had” to]?”
- the online survey did the same but slapped a big red THIS QUESTION IS MANDATORY on you, that stopped you in your tracks, unless you agreed to its demands you filled out all of the above
- on top of that the City paid a fortune to have market researchers knock on God knows how many doors (or survey bomb the recent Gallipoli event) until it got 1600+ people to agree to do the survey. Must have been good door knockers – a 47 page discussion paper, complete with maps, tables, 21 questions and a heck of a lot of “um….” moments only took on average 9 minutes per household!
The result of this tightly scripted review was predictable: 2,713 responses were achieved, and the City’s prescribed 5 wards, 2 councillor option received 36% of the vote (motion carried, as they say).
Did I mention the City invited the community to offer up alternatives to their options? Well, they were submitted and accompanied by huge numbers of signatures – nobody was forced! – but the City has an answer for that “the survey has already started….. [to add any more options now would compromise its integrity]”. What…….? How……? So……. Wait, what……?
Canning has some very canny people keeping a watch on all of this and here are prominent ratepayer group reactions to this review:
“I think we’re being pushed into a five-ward system”
Bill Prince, Co-ordinator, Canning Community Alliance
“Mr Campbell was concerned the City had not provided justification or identified benefits gained from the belated proposal and wanted the review to wait until after the October election”
Blair Campbell, Vice President, Wilson Residents and Ratepayers Assoc
“I don’t believe those figures”*
Paul Ng, President, Riverton Rossmoyne Shelley Ratepayers Assoc
What about the fact that we were only being asked about “discussion starters” and “a small amount [of what was possible]”?
Well, it seems those options were fixed and final after all. And you know what is even scarier? In his original motion to the Commissioners on the how’s and why’s of the review, former CEO of Vic Park and former Commissioner of Albany, John Bonker, not only suggested the City see if the way the Mayor is elected could be changed, he outlined how this could be used in the survey:
- offer the community 5 wards, 2 councillors each (down from three), but they would need to agree to a “council elect” Mayor…. OR
- keep the existing 4 wards, and current option of the public voting in a Mayor, but for that you would need to agree to lose 2 councillors overall and only have 2 per ward from now on
So not only was the community, in reality, faced with fixed and final options from the beginning – originally it seems it was going to be hit with fixed and final SETS to choose from….
Is this democracy New-Canning style?
Some people suggest all of this was done to ensure none of the previous councillors could get back in, but its a poor rationale upon which to fundamentally change how a community is governed.
As for racing up to 5 wards – as much as we probably need more rates to pay for what is rumoured to be a gigantic list of demands staff have for their next enterprise bargaining agreement – the reality is Canning’s growth has been below average, and mooted infill is still 5 to 10 years away.
The truth is, given how long the community has had to cope without councillors (come October elections it’ll be three years), Canning’s community should be allocated “special circumstances” status, and a ward review held over until a democratically elected council of the people is returned.
Is there still hope that democracy will prevail? Well, the City rushed its “recommendations” off to the Local Govt Advisory Board, while the community ROARED for an alternative option after all, so, maybe there is still hope…
*Comment from Mr Paul Ng, President, Riverton Rossmoyne Shelley Ratepayers Assoc, when the results of the survey were aired at a community briefing.
(Image used with thanks OpenClips, PixaBay http://pixabay.com/en/community-forum-questions-154715/ CCO 1.0)