ANTI-CORRUPTION campaigner and former NSW Independent MP John Hatton said Port Stephens voters had been ‘‘blind-sided’’ by a system designed by political parties to be ‘‘rorted’’.
Mr Hatton was responding to revelations in the Newcastle Herald this week that mayor Bruce MacKenzie’s ‘‘Liberal-leaning’’ team used a complex system of candidate preferencing to help secure seven of the 10 council seats, and a solid pro-development voting majority at the 2012 election.
Full disclosure of the behind-closed-doors planning has led to claims voters were ‘‘duped’’, and that dummy candidates and groups were used to harvest preferences.
Mr Hatton, who exposed systemic corruption across government agencies, said local government was no place for party politics. He alleged it was ‘‘politically fraudulent’’ for groups to be organised ‘‘simply to ensure the flow of preferences’’.
‘‘Any alignment by way of exchange of preferences needs to be made public at least two weeks before the election ..,’’ he said.
‘‘I’m extremely concerned that local government is being overtaken by people who don’t give a damn about community interest, about the collective rights of people who have invested a lifetime in their home, their street, their community.’’
Cr MacKenzie, the longest-serving councillor at Port Stephens and first elected in 1968, said he didn’t ‘‘care about public perception’’ and was ‘‘getting on with the job’’.
‘‘I am very, very happy with the outcome of the election, it was the best outcome for Port Stephens,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t give two hoots about what people say. I’ve had things said about me for the past 44 years.’’
Port Stephens Liberal Party president and fellow councillor Steve Tucker said he assisted the mayor to form a network of aligned groups that included almost half the candidates at the poll.
Many voters only realised when the Herald revealed late last year that Election Funding Authority returns showed Cr MacKenzie contributed to the campaigns of eight other candidates.
Mr Hatton, who was instrumental in establishing the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 1988, said Australia’s electoral system needed overhauling.
He said millions in public funds were at stake, and in the case of local government, the ‘‘wellbeing of the whole community is up for grabs’’.
‘‘Why is it that a newspaper has to tell people what is really going on after they have been deliberately misled?’’ he said. ‘‘The community has, in many areas, lost control of its council and therefore its community and its environments.’’
Mr Hatton also blasted the Election Funding Authority for its role in policing the system.
He said donations should be made public at least a fortnight before the election, not a year after, to ensure voters know ‘‘who is influencing who’’.
‘‘It has been my experience that the Election Funding Authority is not doing its job,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s not vigilant, does not follow up with forensic examination and the punishment is ridiculous. There needs to be changes made to the whole electoral system to ensure it’s open and transparent.’’
A spokesman for the EFA said it did not comment on investigations and findings were not made public.