Monday, December 1, 2008

Rotten system makes a mockery of democracy

PROFILE counts — that is the lesson out of the contest for Melbourne's next lord mayor.

Just as John So swept the field in 2004 after building up a strong public profile, Robert Doyle attracted by far the most primary votes in the race for the mayoralty based on a strong public profile — but in an embarrassment for the council voting system, it still did not guarantee him victory.

Doyle ran a quiet campaign, he made few public appearances, did not door knock and spent modestly.

But his four years as state Liberal opposition leader gave him brand recognition, made him familiar with voters, and gave him an image of a steady hand. He was no unknown.

On the other hand, the bookies' favourite, Labor's Peter McMullin, was known by relatively few four weeks ago.

The former Melbourne deputy lord mayor and mayor of Geelong spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the last few weeks building up his brand — and attacking that of others. It failed to attract a majority of primary votes, with Doyle attracting double the votes that went McMullin's way.

The Greens' Adam Bandt also attracted more votes than McMullin, with strong support from residents.

McMullin's rivals were lining up last night to attack his big spending, and often negative campaign. One estimated that more was spent on every vote he received then ever before in a Victorian council election.

Doyle, on the other hand, has resurrected a moribund political career, having been severely damaged by the drubbing he received at the hands of Steve Bracks at the state election in 2002.

He said last night he would not consider a return to state politics following his strong lord mayoral vote.

But he has been clearly energised by his strong showing, and win or lose, Victorians will be seeing more of him on the public stage.

If elected, Doyle has committed to reforming the Melbourne City Council voting system — something that is long overdue.

Last night Doyle had almost twice as many votes as his nearest opponent but any one of five of the 11 candidates who stood for lord mayor could still win.

Such a system raises the question of who really decides the outcome: the voters or the back-room dealers who decide preference deals?

The best policies — not the best preference deal — should count.

The Melbourne City Council voting system must be reviewed, and Doyle has vowed to lead the charge.

If successful, the man with the profile will have the prestige of mayoralty and the support of voters to push for change.

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