NSW state election 2015: Labor puts popular vote for mayors on the table


Originally published: The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 February 2015.

By Leesha McKenny

Sydney's mayors would be directly elected by the public every four years and forced council amalgamations would be off the table if Labor wins office in March.

Opposition leader Luke Foley, who will unveil the first of Labor's election policies on local government on Thursday, also promised to elevate the sector by establishing a "Congress of Mayors" as part of a beefed-up Greater Sydney Commission, and a new Premier's Council for Local Government.

Mr Foley said the commission, an agency announced by the state government last year, would bring mayors together to address issues such as urban renewal along Parramatta Road.


"Under Labor's plan, mayors will receive a mandate from their community every four years to implement their local vision and work with other mayors and the NSW government on the broader policy challenges facing our city," Mr Foley said.


Only 14 of Sydney's 41 councils popularly elect their mayors through a direct vote by ratepayers.

In most cases, councils rely on a system in which the mayor is internally elected each year by his or her fellow councillors.

"A mayor selected by councillors in September spends the first six months of their term learning the job and the last six months trying to keep it," Mr Foley said. "That doesn't provide the good government that ratepayers deserve."

Mandating that all metropolitan mayors be popularly elected echoes the recommendation of a 2013 review of local government, commissioned by the state government.

The report noted annual mayoral elections "create unnecessary instability and the risk that councillors will simply 'take turns' rather than taking the role seriously".

But Labor's position on amalgamations is far less consistent with the report's other finding – the number of Sydney councils should be "significantly reduced"  to  15-18.

The Baird government, which argues the status quo is not sustainable, has put forward more than $250 million in incentives for councils willing to merge voluntarily, but left open the possibility of forcing them to do so if they decline.

Labor, which opposes forced council mergers, would require those councils seeking to amalgamate to meet conditions, including no overall reduction in services or job losses.

Originally published as: NSW state election 2015: Labor puts popular vote for mayors on the table