EDITORIAL: Questions from an election

POLITICS is a dark art, with perhaps a dash of science.

To the uninitiated, analyses of preferences and voting patterns can seem head-spinningly complicated, but this aspect of the political game is bread and butter to campaign strategists.

A vital ingredient in success is the ability to count, as Port Stephens councillor and Liberal Party office-holder Steve Tucker told this newspaper last year.

Cr Tucker, with disarming frankness, helped shed light on questions that arose last year after it emerged that the mayor of Port Stephens, millionaire developer and sandmine proprietor Bruce MacKenzie, had contributed to the campaigns of a surprising number of candidates in the most recent local government election.

The precise details of those contributions – the form they took, the use they were put to and how they should be defined under electoral rules – have been subject to some confusion and disagreement. There is probably a case for some external authority to examine the matter in detail, to clarify whether the contributions were donations or something else instead.

Whatever they were, their existence highlighted what Cr Tucker described as a ‘‘team ticket’’ designed to put Cr MacKenzie into office with a workable majority of ‘‘like-minded’’ councillors.

Some have condemned the practice of putting a number of those like-minded candidates at the head of nominal ‘‘teams’’ on ward ballot papers, but just as many have expressed admiration for the skilful exploitation of an imperfect voting system.

Some have criticised Liberal Party members for not declaring their partisan credentials on voting literature, but others have pointed out that this is no new practice, even at Port Stephens, with members of both major parties often choosing to present themselves as ‘‘independent’’ candidates.

To be blunt, most voters would probably prefer to have the truth of such affiliations openly and plainly declared at polling time.

The other, related issue, is whether associated groups of candidates ought to be allowed to field seemingly separate teams on a single ballot paper. 

If so, should more be done to ensure voters recognise relationships – where they exist – between what might otherwise seem to be competing ‘‘teams’’ on the ballot?

These are serious issues since, now the template for success has been published, more ‘‘team tickets’’ of a similar sort to that seen at Port Stephens might well be expected to vie for control of councils in future elections.