Should members of political parties stand for Council?

Suspended Central Coast Councilors

Forum –

Errol Grace (CCN, November 6) calls on members of political parties to be excluded from standing for local government office.

His reasoning appears two-fold.

Firstly, he cites the State Government’s inadequate funding of Council amalgamation on the Central Coast, it seems because it was not a conservatively orientated council.

Ironically, it might be logically argued that if there had been no party representation at all, there would have been no funding whatsoever!

But more seriously, it is an argument against certain actions at State Government level rather than councillors having political attachments.

Second is the writer’s apparent belief that any commitment to an overlying policy framework is antithetical to a council member representing his/her ward members and addressing their interests.

This warrants further consideration.

Implicit in this view is that local government is different in kind to its state and federal counterparts.

Yet each is charged with responsibilities at multiple levels, for the benefit of individual constituents and the collective community.

Whether as a councillor, or state or federal parliamentarian, each must deal with the concerns of individuals in his/her electorate, work in the wider context to promote or resist changes that affect the much broader community, and keep watch to ensure that administration is carried out responsibly.

One would hope that each person’s decisions are made within a system of values, whether or not that system is shared with others in a political party, rather than by whim!

The writer claims that 99% of his letters to councillors have not been answered.

While this is a concern, I am guessing that the figure 99 is being used loosely, so is not a true measure of response incidence.

It is noted however, that there is no claim that the responses that have been received came from “independents” rather than political party members.

Let us consider why we have political parties.

If we were electing a street-committee we would each soon get a good idea of the values, vested interests, and other characteristics of our neighbours and hence whom to elect.

With increasingly large geographical areas and communities, the difficulty of obtaining that first-hand knowledge grows.

Perhaps we would look to vote for those of whom we had heard or read, and then hope they would act as we would like, once elected.

But that would mean we would keep electing the same few people with little chance for new representation.

Furthermore, celebrity does not necessarily equate with community commitment.

And even where candidates bombard us with election material, and we choose to study it (and I doubt many do) how confident are we of its veracity?

I suggest that, when the material is from a major political party instead of an independent, it is likely to be more reliable because a party has more to lose if found to be making false claims.

Furthermore, endorsement of a candidate by a major political party tells us quite a lot about that person—at a minimum whether they lean to the left, right or centre and also, that there is a credible group of people who have deemed them worthy of office.

Local party members have a high level of first-hand knowledge of the alternatives when selecting candidates.

They look to weed out any who are in it for essentially selfish reasons, or who are fronts for land-developers, or who lack understanding of the responsibilities of office.

Yes, sometimes a “bad apple” slips through, but he/she usually soon loses party support and endorsement.

The writer complains that Council, because of political alignments, can become bogged down in arguments of principle.

Well, thank goodness there are arguments of principle!

What matters is that those debates are informed ones.

Party members are likely to have access to a much greater stock of research and other information than unattached individuals, so better able to contribute to debate and bring about the best outcome.

It follows that this is not a reason to exclude political party members.

What if there were an embargo on political parties in local government representation?

The result would not remove party involvement, rather it would become hidden.

Either party members aspiring to local government office would stand without endorsement, or they would officially leave their parties to stand as so-called independents.

Of course, this can happen now.

Indeed, it might be better argued that each candidate must make overt any political party membership he/she has held in the last, say, 10 years, and if currently a member, he/she must have party endorsement.

Email, Nov 8
Sonnie Hopkins, Tascott

Share this story