Party Politics in Councils

The spurt in the number of relatively high-profile minor parties who contested the 2013 federal election has given me cause to wonder about party affiliated local councillors.

In my shire, there are four out of nine councillors endorsed by a party: two Liberals, one Labor, and one Green. There are others who have previous or rumoured links to parties, but it is only these four who stood and were elected to council as party candidates. The situation is similar in other councils, though some have no party-endorsed councillors at all.

There is plenty of criticism levelled at party-affiliated councillors. Exhibit A:

  • This piece by a Leichhardt Labor councillor targeting Greens councillors for a focus on state, federal or international responsibilities;
  • These quotes from a Liberal party branch president arguing against party-endorsed candidates on the grounds they direct funds from state and federal campaigns.

So while there are some serious questions to be answered about whether party affiliations have any place in local government or not, the fact is that there are many councillors currently associated with major parties. The Greens are said to have more than 100 local councillors across the country, giving them significant power amongst councils, including the controlling stake in several. In addition, the Liberal and Labor parties have numerous councillors.

Overseas, other small parties such as the Pirate Party have representatives on local and regional governments. With parties such as Palmer United and the Liberal Democrats gaining seats in the Senate and House of Representatives, is it only a matter of time before these small parties begin campaigning in local elections as well?

I’m not advocating for or against party-affiliated councillors as I am genuinely undecided on this issue, but I wonder whether standing candidates in local government elections might serve the minor parties well, helping them get a foothold. It does seem to have worked for the Greens. And, if the big parties continue to endorse local candidates, shouldn’t everyone take up that opportunity? Or are the small parties only concerned about big issues?