BAYSWATER voters will finally get to choose their mayor, but only as a result of the McGowan government’s gunboat diplomacy.
Bayswater is one of the last few urban councils that still has a mayor appointed by councillors via a secret vote after an election.
Almost everyone else has candidates nominate for the mayoral role during the election and the people decide.
The state government’s sweeping local government reforms announced this year will – if passed by parliament – eventually require nearly all medium and large councils to switch over to a popular vote.
There’s also proposed limits on how many councillors they can have based on population, so Bayswater will go from 11 councillors to 9.
Smaller councils may no longer have a “ward” system where councillors run in a certain neighbourhood rather than the whole council area.
Local government minister John Carey wrote to all councils in September asking them to ‘voluntarily’ make some of those reforms ahead of the next election before it’s made mandatory to smoothen the process.
If Bayswater didn’t come to an agreement in time, all council spots would be declared vacant at the 2023 election, and their wards would be abolished.
Bayswater mayor Filomena Piffaretti called in a special council meeting this week and urged colleagues to voluntarily switch over to a popularly-elected mayor system for the 2023 election.
The popular-mayor question’s been debated back and forth in Bayswater over the years, but there’s never been a consensus to switch over until now that the state’s forced their hand.
“Were we to take an alternative path … we would lose the capacity to have input on the process on behalf of our community,” Cr Piffaretti said.
A majority of councillors supported Cr Piffaretti’s motion, with only Cr Giorgia Johnson against. But many didn’t like the tone of the state government’s ‘request’ to ‘voluntarily’ switch.
Cr Petersen-Pik said: “We received an ultimatum from our minister of local government, that if we did not take what he referred to as a ‘voluntary’ approach, we would find ourselves next year in a big chaos. No wards, no councillors in specific wards, and the costs of [holding] elections for all positions.”
He said it was concerning that all this could be set in motion simply by a letter from a minister, even though the local government reform bill hadn’t actually been approved by state parliament.
“Only because of a letter, us – and all local governments throughout the state – are now compelled to consider our options.
“And I think that’s concerning for every resident in this state, and maybe this is an outcome of having one party ruling in both houses where one minister can make something like this, the minister that’s supposed to work with local governments.”
Cr Piffaretti, a Labor party member herself, said “if you’re considering what’s best for the city, this is the best option because it’s the least disruptive,” as at timely review could help keep their ward system.
by DAVID BELL