Edward Mandla
COUNCIL SPEECHES
Edward’s Speech to the Parliamentary inquiry into the Business Vote

Published On: 16/09/2013

No taxation without Representation was one of the major causes of the American Revolution

The catchphrase "Taxation without representation is tyranny", became the basic Patriot position.

Yet fast-forward to 2012, and in one of the most important cities in the World, the City of Sydney, 77% of rate revenues came from business and they were effectively denied a vote, denied a voice and denied representation.

The denial of the vote has been so cleverly crafted that the word “business” isn’t even used.

Business is reduced to a being called a “non-residential voter”. “A term cleverly devised by legal minds to deny business a vote, to tax without representation.

While the result of the electoral system in the City of Sydney, and may I say, in other cities like Parramatta, Wollongong, and Newcastle, hasn’t quite led to tyranny, it has certainly led to distortion and a horrific misuse of business taxes.

There is no better example of the misuse of business taxes that the current City of Sydney Council under the control of the Lord Mayor Clover Moore. The City can’t spend the business rate haul fast enough resulting in the birth of many "nutty schemes”.

Schemes like the recently failed $5B trigeneration power plant extravaganza. Despite construction of power plants and city wide hot water distribution networks being beyond the remit of any Council, businesses were not asked whether they wanted it and they effectively funded $8.1 million on preparatory work without a single light bulb being turned on.

Schemes like the over engineered "gold plated" disconnected bike paths that were rammed through with no costed benefit to business, funded by business, the so called “Non-Residential” voter, without business representation on any of the bike path decisions.

Schemes like the continual and systematic removal of parking and loading zones. Removal of parking funded by business rates and used to reduce their business opportunity.

The scheme where the Lord Mayor has personal staff of 24 rivalling the Premier of NSW would not be possible without the business rate haul. 24 individuals dedicated to thinking up ways to spend “non-residential rates” from businesses that don’t vote on “residential ratepayers” that do vote, basically to keep to Lord Mayor in office.

The Lord Mayor will of course tell you the current system devised by the previous Labour government is fine. “Non-residential” voters can vote they just don’t want to. The Lord Mayor will tell you how the City writes to business people to encourage them to vote.

My argument is that every obstacle has been placed before business to silence their voice. Let me walk you through the process:

  1. There is no electoral roll as it gets wiped after every election so there are no reminders.
  2. A business has to figure out that they are not a business but a “non-residential ratepayer”.
  3. A “non-residential ratepayer” has a small window of between two and three months before the Council election in which to enrol. You cannot enrol prior to this period and if you aren’t enrolled more that two weeks out of the election you will miss out.
  4. You then need to download the correct enrolment form of which there are three options. It’s not enough that you are a “non-residential ratepayer”, you have to figure out whether you are a Non Rate Paying Lessee; a Rate Paying Lessee or an Owner/Occupier. You need to know where to go in order to download the correct form. The forms are very complex to fill in. I’ve experienced lawyers dumfounded as to whether the form is properly filled out.
  5. Next you need to obtain your Rate Assessment Number. For an Owner/Occupier, this is on the rate notice, but many rate notices go to their accountants and they have to chase up the number. For non-ratepayers and rate paying lessees, they don’t have access to the rates notice, so they need to ring the Council to find the rate assessment number. It’s not specified what number you need to call, but once you get through after being put on hold, you have to answer a number of questions in order to get the rate assessment number. If you don’t answer correctly, they won’t give you the rate assessment number. At least, the worst offshored call centre try to help, with the City of Sydney, the answer is basically “the computer says No”.
  6. Next you need to make a declaration and then have the form signed and witnessed. If you live within the LGA as a resident and you are concurrently a non-resident, you then need appoint a proxy from outside the LGA (who will be fined if they fail to vote).
  7. Those that actually manage to submit the form, face a penultimate humiliation. A rejection of the form from a tiny mistake. But as the checking is so slow and the enrolment window so tight, there is most likely not enough time to correct and resubmit the form.
  8. The ultimate humiliation is the roll is erased a few days after the election.

By any standard, this process is too hard and most businesses simply don’t have the time or expertise to exercise their democratic right to vote. It’s an elaborate scheme devised to deceive, hinder, and distort democracy. It is Sydney’s silent shame that we tax our productive backbone without representation.

The solution is rather simple: We need a permanent roll where eligible non-residential voters, the businesses that make up our great city, are automatically enrolled.

Points:

Non-residential voters stay in the LGA approximately 3 years whereas as leasing residents stay on average 6 to 12 months. But irrespective of length of stay, all rate payers should not be denied their democratic rights.

Since the amendments to the NRR has to just 396 electors in 2008 and approximately 1,700 in 2012 from an estimated 50,000 eligible NRR. At the same election the residential roll was approximately 100,000 for 2012.

Businesses or land owning rate payers who are also residents in the COS can nominate another person eligible to be on NSW electoral roll but not residing in the COS to represent their vote – This should remain.

The CBD that produces 8% of Australia’s GDP, 25% of the State’s GDP and employs approximately 385,000 people.

Melbourne City Council has automatic enrolment of non-resident rate payers.



Edward Mandla
September 2013

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