“An election like no other”

By Sean Car

While candidate nominations are officially due to open on September 17, much still remains unknown about the makeup of the October 24 City of Melbourne council elections.

In what Cr Jackie Watts has billed as an “election like no other” and Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood has described as the “most important election in history”, the stakes for those elected are incredibly high as the city looks towards a post COVID-19 future.

With some teams having revealed their full tickets and news of other surprise candidates circulating in the mainstream media, the bulk of the race was still yet to be confirmed when Southbank News published its September edition.

However, August had seen 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.

But while the uncertainty of a possible postponement wouldn’t have instilled confidence in many campaigns, the lack of disclosure surrounding who was running drew criticism from Labor’s Lord Mayoral candidate Phil Reed.

Spearheading a ticket announced in July, Mr Reed said voters should be rightly upset that many candidates, including Lord Mayor Sally Capp and Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood, still hadn’t disclosed their full tickets.

“We’ve now got two people regarded as frontrunners. Still we get closer and closer and we know nothing. It takes more than a Lord Mayor to run the City of Melbourne. If people aren’t prepared to tell us who’s on their team then voters have a problem,” he said.

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.

Its campaign was officially launched by former federal Labor leader Bill Shorten on September 6, who likened the party’s local government bid to former Premier John Cain’s legacy of bringing Labor “out of the wilderness” in the City of Melbourne.

As part of a campaign calling on “cultural change” at Town Hall, Mr Reed said his team was looking to create a “real city government”, something which drew concern from Cr Arron Wood about a growing “Labor influence” in local government.

“What’s interesting to me is that the Lord Mayoral challenge is so important this year, but the important part is that ratepayers and voters have a say and they [Labor] rolled out a former leader Bill Shorten. I think there are bigger interests at play here,” he said.

While Cr Wood finally announced his own bid for Lord Mayor on September 6 (read details in this edition), here’s what we know about the rest of the field …

Sally Capp

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 but there was growing speculation that his place was still far from settled when Southbank News published its September edition.

While other names have been thrown around behind-the-scenes, the remainder of Sally’s ticket remains a mystery and there is a growing sense of frustration in her delays.

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.


Arron Wood

Now that he has announced himself as a candidate, the conversation now turns to how Wood “engineers” a possible victory.

There is no doubt he presents the biggest threat to the Lord Mayor but he acknowledges he has a monumental challenge in doing so without the connections and influence in the “big end of town”.

His success will depend on preferences and while he is billing a quasi-Malcolm Turnbull-left, business-centric ticket, a seemingly unlikely preference deal with the Greens could make the Lord Mayoral race interesting.

The Greens have made no secret of their lament for the controlling nature of the Andrews Labor government and while Wood appeals to a conservative base, his environmental credentials might place him ahead of the Phil Reed Labor ticket in Greens terms. But should former councillor Peter Clarke join Arron's ticket, you can bank on no preferences flowing from the Greens!

A positive working relationship between Cr Leppert and Sally Capp should play favourably for the Lord Mayor. However, with Cr Capp likely running alongside Labor puppet master Nicholas Reece, anything is possible!


Jennifer Yang

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 running for council 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 at cbdnews.com.au).

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.


The Greens

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. 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, having gone a three-term journey on the 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.

On September 9, the Greens revealed their Lord Mayoral candidate as 19-year CBD resident Apsara Sabaratnam. While you can find out more about their ticket in coming editions, 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 Southbank 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.


Gary Morgan

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 logistics engineer and North Melbourne resident Haya Al-Daghlas and Docklands academic Dr Dashi Zhang will follow in third and fourth spots, respectively.

While Cr Watts fate in being re-elected as a councillor will rest largely on preferences, Gary Morgan told Southbank 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. If 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 …

In addition to Southbank Residents’ Association (SRA) member and Southbank Sustainability Group leader Artemis Pattichi, who has nominated as an independent candidate, 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 (VS) (pictured)have also launched a campaign with candidates for Lord Mayor, Deputy Lord Mayor and councillor positions – promising to “challenge big business and fight to give workers a say in how their city is run.”

Lord Mayoral candidate Kath Larkins, a worker at Flinders Street Station, will be joined on the ticket by Daniel Nair Dadich for Deputy Lord Mayor and Chris di Pasquale for a councillor position.

In a Sam Newman-esque announcement, the Herald Sun also reported on September 4 that hospitality entrepreneur Nick Russian was weighing up a late nomination for Lord Mayor. According to reports, forces within the Liberal Party were behind the push and some sources say the rumours have legs ... we'll have to wait and see! 


Transparency motions – Hyperlocal News

Hyperlocal News Pty Ltd, which is responsible for publishing CBD News, Docklands News and Southbank News has agreed to host donation and personal interests registers 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 of $500 (cumulatively or more) and gifts during the calendar year 2020 within five business days of the elction, with current legislation only requiring it be disclosed 40 days after the election.

On a seperate register candidates will be asked to voluntarily disclose any position as an office holder of an institution (currently or in the previous two years), political party memberships or financial interest valued at more than $10,000 excluding superannuation but including self-managed super funds.

The motion on August 25 was passed by six councillors in Watts, Wood, Pinder, Riley, Oke and Leppert, with five councillors Capp, Reece, Le Liu, Frances Gilley and Louey all abstaining.

While abstaining councillors all said they were for “greater transparency”, Cr Oke said it was disappointing that they were for transparency but “not quite for transparency” •

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