The recent debate at Fremantle Council about Ward representation and local government elections made me think about the relevance of them when only around 25 percent of the electorate bothers to vote at Council elections, while the rest stays at home. So do we really get community representation and the claimed community democracy I speak so highly about?
Fremantle Residents and Ratepayers Association(FRRA) President Mark Woodcock made good points earlier this week about it, writing that in the 2011 Council election Bill Massie, Jon Strachan and Robert Fittock got in unopposed while in the 2013 election Josh Wilson and David Cogging did not have candidates standing against them. North Fremantle Ward Councillor Fittock was unopposed at the 2007 and 2011 elections, so how could he possibly claim to speak on behalf of constituents.
That is not an attack on Robert or any of the other unopposed Elected Members, but showing that there is an unbelievable apathy when it comes to electing community leaders to speak on our behalf at local councils. From memory just over 25% of voters bothered to vote at the last Freo Council election.
In light of these figures, would it make one iota of a difference if we have a Ward system in place at the start of the council amalgamation with East Fremantle? Aren’t Wards very NIMBY anyway and not relevant to the bigger picture, because Councillors are required to vote for what they consider best for the entire community, not just the Wards they represent.
We often read about silent majorities when elected members in local, state and federal governments go against the opinion of the vocal and involved members of the public, but if the so-called silent majority at Council level can’t bother to vote they have no voice and should not claim to have a silent one.
If you can’t be bothered to turn up at the Townhall once every four years to vote for your preferred local candidate for your Ward than you have given away your right to whinge and to expect better representation for your local issues. You are not part of the silent majority but of the apathetic majority. That apathy is shown every week at Council committees and full Council when hardly anyone turns up in the public gallery. Often it is just Mark Woodcock and I who sit through those evenings observing how local democracy works. Only those with a self interest now and then turn up and address council, often not even understanding basic Council procedures.
Democracy is a privilege that people in many countries in the world still only can dream about, but we in the western world take it for granted and give it the cold shoulder, when it should really matter to all of us who will lead Fremantle into the future. Having Wards is less important than getting rid of voters apathy.