Residents are a low priority for council election

By Shane Scanlan

If you are a CBD resident, the chances are you won’t be voting in the council election to be held later this year, but your landlord probably will.

Fewer than a quarter of the CBD’s residents appear to be enrolled to vote and, even then, there is little confidence in the accuracy of the roll.

According to the Victorian Electoral Commission, at the most recent count only 7316 locals were on the roll.  No one knows how many people live in the CBD, but estimates range between 30,000 and 40,000 and we know that there are now 20,000 homes here.

Under the current rules, a resident must apply to be enrolled to vote.  Property owners, on the other hand, are enrolled automatically via the City of Melbourne’s rates data.

Critics of the current system say there are many ways it unfairly favours business and non-resident landlord interests at the expense of local residents.

Business voters are actively pursued and council officers are currently surveying the municipality to ensure all eligible business occupiers are enrolled.

In a move that will somewhat address this imbalance, the council will later in the year write to residential addresses where it knows no one is enrolled.

But history shows that residents play only a small part in City of Melbourne elections.

In 2012, the municipality had a residential population of about 110,000 but only 43,789 were enrolled to vote at the council election that year.  Residential representation made up only 40.3 per cent of the voter roll in 2012.

Also in 2012, less than 60 per cent of enrolled voters bothered to cast a ballot at all.

It has been estimated that only 16 per cent of the total enrolled voters in the City of Melbourne can these days be “door-knocked”.  These voters are generally residents living in the more-established residential areas such as Carlton, North Melbourne, Kensington, East Melbourne and South Yarra.

In the CBD (and other urban renewal areas such as Southbank and Docklands), residential voters generally live in “gated” communities and also no longer use land-lines so they can’t be contacted via the phone book.

Adding further to the disproportionate representation are entrenched transience and extremely high levels of overseas-born, language-challenged residents in urban renewal areas like the CBD.

Reaching these people and encouraging them to, firstly, enroll and then vote is increasingly difficult for residentially-focused candidates.

Expensive Australia Post delivered addressed mail is only really an option for the well-funded campaigns (did I hear anyone mention developer contributions?).

It also appears that hyper-local newspapers like this one are not on the radar of the advertising purchasing authorities.

For local residents, it is most likely that the October 22 City of Melbourne election will pass you by.  You are too hard to reach for those who want your vote – which is exactly the way those who don’t want you to vote would like it to stay.

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