Shire turnout off 8pc in poll

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Local Government Minister David Templeman.
Camera IconLocal Government Minister David Templeman. Credit: Kalgoorlie Miner, Tori O'Connor

Voters have shown dwindling enthusiasm for local politics, with a slump in electors returning their postal votes.

Voter turnout for the weekend’s election result dropped to 34.68 per cent, down about 8 per cent on 2017.

Although many WA local governments returned low numbers, critics suggested voter disengagement with council politics and the removal of the Augusta-Margaret River Shire’s ward system were factors.

It was no longer possible to measure Augusta’s specific vote, but freshly retired Augusta-based councillor Mike Smart said the normal strong engagement from the south of the shire had been undermined by the lack of a local candidate.

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The 2017 election was the first held after wards were abolished, but had a good return after a strong, co-ordinated campaign by newcomers Naomi Godden and Julia Meldrum, backed by then-members Mike Smart and Pam Townshend.

Under the ward system in 2015, Augusta had a 45.03 per cent turnout.

Mr Smart said Augusta residents reported dismay without an Augusta-based option for voting.

“Within Augusta and surrounds, the community are possibly thinking if the previous council was prepared to ignore their strong desire to remain in a wards system, why bother voting for prospective councillors that have little knowledge of or connection to Augusta?” he said.

“Many have expressed their concern that they won’t have a local councillor.”

He said when the ward system was abolished by previous Shire chief Gary Evershed — which Mr Smart fiercely opposed — it came with an undertaking to review any consequences such as low polling.

Mr Smart said 250 signatures were required to force a review.

“In light of the fact that Augusta’s local representation has slipped from two to none at all over the last two election cycles, it’s more than likely a review will be sought,” he said.

Cr Ian Earl said a review of the wards decision was expected as standard practice, but he supported the status quo. “I believe that no wards is more democratic,” he said.

Unsuccessful candidate Rob McDonald noted the 1198 votes cast for Richard Moroney, who failed to withdraw his candidacy, also muddied the results.

“Only 30 per cent of the eligible voters voted, which is disappointing considering the effort and amount of sacrifice made by candidates and council members,” he said.

Retired Shire president Ms Townshend said a doorknocking campaign drove 2017’s voting figures.

“They really raised the awareness the election was on and engaged younger people,” she said.

She also noted those elected had placed prominent newspaper advertisements.

Local Government Minister David Templeman said he was looking at new ways to encourage interest.

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