By Sean Car
While electoral rolls were due to close in only a number of days when the September edition of CBD News published, a lot was still unknown about the makeup of the October 24 City of Melbourne council elections.
August saw a spanner thrown in the works by the state government after a great deal of indecision around whether to postpone local government elections amid rising concerns around COVID-19 in Victoria.
While the way in which candidates can campaign wouldn’t change whether Victoria was under stage 3 or 4 lockdowns, with doorknocking, leaflet dropping and public meetings all banned, the indecision was understood to be centred around voting.
The Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) had expressed concerns to the state government around a “COVIDSafe election plan”, which was eventually released on August 19 with Minister for Local Government Shaun Leane reaffirming the October 24 election date.
Electoral Commissioner Warwick Gately reassured Victorians that postal voting was safe and of “high integrity,” and that the VEC was ready to respond to the changing environment.
“The situation remains dynamic and the VEC continues to actively monitor conditions and restrictions,” Mr Gately said.
“Additional measures in place include increased distancing in election offices, limiting face-to-face contact, enforcing mask wearing where mandated by the Victorian Government, and moving operational activity online whenever possible.”
Measures to further safeguard voters and VEC staff include the removal of counter service for replacement ballot packs and unenrolled votes for these elections. Mr Gately said requests could be made over the phone and replacement packs would be sent by mail.
Voters will still be able to hand deliver completed ballot papers to the election office if they miss the mail collection times with “strict social distancing measures in place.”
The indecision drew criticism from the likes of Greens councillor and board member of the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) Rohan Leppert, who said the move was “reprehensible” and had proven paralysing for many candidates.
“The MAV and local government sector was extremely clear with the state government: whatever you do, ensure that we can hold free and fair local council elections, and if there is a delay, make the decision by no later than the end of May 2020,” he said.
“We have advised the government for months that it is not possible to hold free and fair elections in October 2020, as this will only benefit incumbents and wealthy candidates that can afford to direct mail every voter – distorting the will of voters.”
“The idea that the government is only now thinking beyond the logistics of postal ballot safety and about how a free and fair election can be conducted is astonishing.”
While the late uncertainty around the elections wouldn’t have instilled confidence in the campaigns of many candidates in the City of Melbourne, the lack of disclosure around who is running and where has also been met with some criticism.
Labor’s Phil Reed, who is vying for Lord Mayor on a ticket announced in July, said voters should rightly be upset that candidates were continuing to “play games” and not disclose their tickets.
“They’ve largely known they were running and who was on their tickets for six months,” he said.
“These are extraordinary times and people who are putting themselves forward for election need to meet the challenges with the same level of flexibility and resilience we’ve seen from local families and businesses.”
“Our Labor team has already been hard at work throughout lockdown doing phone canvassing and running online community meetings.”
As one of the only tickets to have been revealed, Labor’s team includes Wesa Chau for Deputy Lord Mayor, while former Melbourne MP Jennifer Kanis’s partner Davydd Griffiths, Glen Eira councillor Mary Delahunty and Carlton Legal Service coordinator Hamdi Ali fill the councillor spots.
With nominations to stand as a candidate formally opening on September 17, here’s what we know about the rest of the field …
The Lord Mayor has made no secret of her intention to seek re-election after her by-election success in 2018 following the demise of former Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.
While the council has rightly had its hands full dealing with a raft of incredibly challenging issues, namely a once-in-a-generation pandemic, many are still surprised by Capp’s delay in revealing who will join her on her ticket.
What we can say with near certain confidence is that you can put your house on Labor Party member Cr Nicholas Reece running alongside Capp as deputy. There has also been strong evidence to suggest that former Team Doyle councillor Kevin Louey will feature first on the ticket.
While other names have been thrown around behind-the-scenes, the remainder of Sally’s ticket remains a mystery.
But what is fair to say, is that it’s her election to lose.
No sitting Lord Mayor has ever been beaten in the City of Melbourne and Capp has won many fans in helping rebuild the council’s battered reputation since the resignation of Robert Doyle.
As Rohan Leppert said, COVID-19 also suits incumbents heavily and Sally’s apolitical nature will likely prove a strength among voters.
The former Team Doyle councillor did an outstanding job as acting Lord Mayor in 2018 following the resignation of Robert Doyle and probably never got the due homage for his good work he deserved.
The feeling within the council is that this notion is perhaps partly attributed to what has been, at times, a difficult working relationship between Cr Wood and Lord Mayor Sally Capp ever since.
This has very much been on public display in recent months, with Arron challenging Sally on a number of contentious issues including the safe injecting room near Queen Victoria Market (QVM) and, more recently, her high-powered business advisory group.
These public exchanges, which have received good airtime in mainstream media, coupled with a Queen’s Birthday Honour and a TV appearance on Filthy Rich and Homeless, have seen Arron’s name in the spotlight in the past few months. But, in election terms, many have been asking, what does it all mean?
Speaking to CBD News on August 24, Cr Wood said he still hadn’t confirmed whether he would challenge Cr Capp for the top job and he knows his time is quickly running out. He said a definitive answer either way would be left no later than mid-September.
While he too remains a staunchly apolitical candidate, his Malcolm Turnbull-left approach might prove a challenge to convey as a discernable point of difference to voters.
If anything, his point of difference rests firmly in his belief that the position of Lord Mayor should be “less authoritarian” and “more about the team.”
Pointing to Cr Capp’s business advisory group, he said there were too many examples of “big visions” replacing true representation of ratepayers.
“This isn’t about what the Lord Mayoral vision for the city is, but actually what people want. Big visions have to be acted on,” he said.
“If I see another beautiful render I’ll almost scream. We need less shiny new pictures, more hard work and delivery. The recovery is going to be really important and I want to become a true voice of ratepayers. There’s a nuance we’ve missed in actually getting things done.”
While his ambition to be part of the city’s recovery is clear, he said was looking seriously at the “reality of running” during COVID-19 and what will be an entirely digital election campaign for all candidates.
“The easier decision would be to say, ‘I’ve done my time’ and walk away after eight years of civic service,” he said. “But at the same time, I’ve been working with so many people through this pandemic and walking away from what I believe would be disappointing.”
“If I choose to run, it will be less about the support but how do I engineer an election run. There’s a small part of me that hopes things will change. I don’t have the big end of town networks that others have … that’s a bit intimidating.”
While he’s been “talking to lots of people”, former Team Doyle running mates Beverley Pinder and Susan Riley are veering towards retirement. But both have said they might reconsider should Arron decide to run, with the latter telling The Age she remained “loyal” to him.
While a bid for Lord Mayor at the 2018 byelection would have left his position as Deputy open, one wonders whether he should have struck then while the iron was hot.
Alas, the window of opportunity this time around is closing fast …
The Labor Party’s political gun for hire is no stranger to Melbourne, coming incredibly close to becoming Lord Mayor at the 2018 byelection after harnessing the support of the city’s Asian community.
Having come within a whisker of claiming the federal seat of Chisolm in 2019 election, which was eventually won by fellow Chinese-Australian Gladys Liu from the Liberal Party, it was widely believed her shift to the national arena meant council was no longer on her radar.
But in August, Ms Yang reemerged suggesting to the Herald Sun that she was considering throwing her hat in the ring again off the back of the Lord Mayor and City of Melbourne’s handling of parking infringements during COVID-19 lockdowns.
The former Manningham mayor highlighted the case of ICU doctor Katarina Arandjelovic who got a fine due to parking in a red zone after a long shift at Royal Melbourne Hospital, which was later revoked following a long Twitter exchange (see full story on page 24).
While the policy platform of parking seems somewhat dubious motivation for an election campaign, Ms Yang is believed to have the backing of Labor’s “industrial left”, which includes a number of unions.
As talk of an “unofficial” Labor Party ticket spearheaded by Yang continues, she was still yet to confirm her intentions by deadline. What is interesting to note is that Dr Arandjelovic is understood to be a Labor Party member … coincidence?
Nevertheless, her entrance to the discussion should present some concern for Sally Capp, as one would point to a likely preference deal between the two Labor tickets, stealing votes away from the Lord Mayor.
While the grassroot political experts know they don’t quite wield the power and influence for a serious Lord Mayoral push, they will once again be going around in an effort to get two councillors elected.
The experienced and classy operator in Rohan Leppert will once again sit as number one on the ticket, and will likely be re-elected for a third term. Leppert has proven to be an undisputable asset to the City of Melbourne over his two terms on council.
His fellow colleague Cathy Oke will not be recontesting after a decorated three-term journey on council. It’s understood that Dr Olivia Ball, who ran as the Greens Lord Mayoral candidate in 2016, will assume her position on the ticket.
An announcement on the identity of their Lord Mayoral candidate is expected to be revealed in the coming weeks, but who the Greens preference could have a telling impact on who ends up in the Lord Mayoral robes.
Philip Le Liu
The Liberal Party member represents one of the only conservative voices on the current council and he is keen for that to be reinstated after the election for the sake of a “diversity of views”.
Unlike the Labor Party, the Liberals don’t endorse local government candidates, however Cr Le Liu has formed an unofficial “moderate conservative” Liberal Party ticket for the upcoming elections with himself running in the first councillor spot.
Speaking to CBD News prior to the state government’s final confirmation of the October 24 election date in early August, he like many lamented the indecision as being “bad for democracy.”
“There will be less and less people voting. I think it goes against democracy,” he said.
While we won’t know the names on his ticket for another few weeks, he said it consisted of some “seasoned campaigners” who had experience at both federal and state level. It’s understood Lauren Sherson, who ran for Melbourne in the last state election, is on the ticket.
Le Liu also wields strong influence in Melbourne’s Asian community and that combined with the experience of four years on council places him personally in a strong position to be re-elected as a councillor.
The prominent Melbourne businessman and head of Roy Morgan Research will again lead a ticket, largely for the sake of getting long-time Cr Jackie Watts re-elected for another term.
What is interesting this time around is that Mary-Lou Howie, the vocal and well-known president of lobby group Friends of Queen Victoria Market, will run alongside Mr Morgan as deputy.
The president of the Coalition of Resident and Business Associations (CoRBA) Michael Kennedy will follow Cr Watts in the second councillor spot on the ticket, while a third councillor candidate is yet to be revealed.
While Cr Watts fate in being re-elected as a councillor will rest largely on preferences, Gary Morgan told CBD News he wanted to become Lord Mayor and tackle the state government “head on”.
“This Premier has gone crazy,” he said. “I’m the only business person standing. Victoria is in a very bad state at the moment and the issue is we need to go back to stage 2 restrictions.”
“We need to copy what they’ve done in Taiwan. I’m not saying get rid of face masks and allow rock concerts, but there’s no reason why cafes, bars and restaurants can’t stay open with social distancing.”
“There are a lot of amateurs in council sucking up to the Premier. Sally Capp is a wonderful person but she hasn’t stood up to the state government. It’s not right.”
Mr Morgan said he would be preferencing Sally Capp ahead of Labor and the Greens, who he accused of wanting to control the council.
“I don’t want that to happen,” he said.
“Jackie [Watts] is so sensible. The heritage work she has done, and with the waterways and the maritime museum, IT and knowledge, is just remarkable.”
The rest …
Former City of Melbourne councillor and journalist Stephen Mayne has re-entered the conversations as an independent councillor candidate.
Southbank Residents’ Association (SRA) member and Southbank Sustainability Group leader Artemis Pattichi has also thrown her hat in the ring as an independent, while reports have suggested ex-politician Phil Cleary is weighing up a nomination.
Cr Nicolas Frances Gilley told The Age that he was not standing but said he was in conversations with a number of potential Aboriginal candidates he hoped to support to run.
The Victorian Socialists Party has also formed a ticket for this election, and you can read more about its bid on this page.
Transparency motions – Hyperlocal News
Hyperlocal News Pty Ltd, which is responsible for publishing CBD News, Docklands News and Southbank News has agreed to host a donation register for all candidates on its website (hyperlocalnews.com.au) for this year’s elections.
Under the motion raised by Cr Jackie Watts at the Future Melbourne Committee meeting on August 25, candidates will be asked to voluntarily disclose all donations and gifts within five business days, with current legislation only requiring it be disclosed 40 days after the election.
In a separate motion, Cr Watts will also ask candidates to disclose their positions and any beneficial interest they have in a company or body.
For more electoral and voting information on the upcoming postal elections visit vec.vic.gov.au •