Councillors vote to abolish wards system

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times

Shire of Augusta-Margaret River councillors have narrowly voted to abolish the Shire’s wards system amid accusations of a rigged report, councillor bias and self-interest.

The decision means voters in October’s local government election will have a direct say on all four candidates elected to the council, if ratified by the State Government.

However, pro-wards councillors Mike Smart, Kim Hastie and Pam Townshend, who lost the argument on Wednesday night, warned the decision would give party politics a further leg up and make campaigning for a seat on the council far more costly and time-consuming.

While arguing for minor changes to the status quo allocating two councillors to the Leeuwin ward, three to the Margaret River ward, and two to North, Crs Smart and Hastie said the “biased” report was always designed to argue the case for abolishing wards.

“From the earliest discussions there has been a push by the CEO to exclude the option of two councillors in the Leeuwin ward,” Cr Smart said.

“It was only from councillor intervention that this option is being considered.

“The whole report is written from an intention of removing wards.”

The Leeuwin ward pair also questioned why the report examined several no-wards local governments, but none with ward systems intact.

Cr Hastie also noted that if wards continued, North ward Shire president Ian Earl and his deputy Kylie Kennaugh faced the prospect of competing for the same seat.

Councillors backing the no-wards system said candidates could already run for office in wards where they didn’t live.

Both sides of the debate used the same point that councillors represented all ratepayers.

“We should consign the wards system to the history pages,” Cr Earl said. “Here is an opportunity to allow all of our electorate to vote on the one item they get to vote on: the election of councillors.”

Rosa Brook farmer Andrea Frutiger and former Shire clerk Len Calneggia also lobbied for the no-wards system at the meeting.

Mr Frutiger said having no wards would improve democracy for ratepayers, who only voted for one or two of the seven-member council each election.

During public question time, Cr Smart asked Mr Calneggia if he had “solicited” submissions from within Rosa Brook.

“The CEO has hung his hat (in the report) on the fact 18 electors in Rosa Brook don’t want a ward system,” Cr Smart said.

He and Cr Hastie noted 164 submissions from Augusta seeking to retain two council spots for the Leeuwin ward.

However, Cr Peter Lane asked why Augusta should be guaranteed two councillors.

Cr Kennaugh echoed Mr Frutiger’s comment that residents overlooked other localities within their ward such as Rosa Brook because of their sole focus on Augusta.

Cr Townshend defended wards in the name of “localism” to enshrine the independence of different localities within the shire, head off increased political influence, and resist amalgamation with other no-wards local governments like the City of Busselton.

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