The Melbourne City Corporatocracy

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The re-election of Robert Doyle as Melbourne Lord Mayor has more to do with the defeat of democracy by corporate interests than the true will of the people, says Carl Scrase.

Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle and his wife Emma celebrate victory; who his corporate backers are is still unclear.

Do you believe Local Government should be engaged in a system of democratic decision-making that is as accessible and consultative as practicably possible?

That is one of the questions Real Democracy Australia sent to all the candidates vying to be one of eleven City of Melbourne Councillors in the recent local elections.

All the respondents said "Yes"; tellingly, Team Doyle did not bother to answer.

Sadly, the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle, has been re-elected in a landslide victory, receiving more than 40 per cent of the primary vote. This is despite also refusing answer repeated requests from The Age newspaper to disclose the names of those who donated to his re-election bid and respond to serious allegations about his running mate, Kevin Louey, asking developers for cash donations in return for better access to Town Hall.

Why was Doyle re-elected so easily, despite his obvious unwillingness to answer these serious and important questions?

I believe, firstly, it is because the Kennett government laid the road to a "corporatocracy" in Melbourne to make sure the Greens don’t get hold of Local, State and Federal politics in our little progressive enclave down south. The disproportional voting system that he installed – that sees business get two votes – means anyone running on any platform that values community, sustainability and democracy does not have a chance of getting voted in.

Secondly, a member of lord mayor Robert Doyle's election team allegedly organised a series of meetings with city developers in which they were asked for tens of thousands of dollars each for the Doyle campaign in return for Town Hall access.

Thirdly – and a fact not unrelated to the above – it is estimated that Robert Doyle spent around $500,000 on his campaign to be re-elected ― more than all the other candidates combined.

The re-election of Robert Doyle is proof that the voting system in Melbourne is disproportionally weighted in favour of big business. Off the record, a number of election candidates told me they thought that Melbourne was the worst example of democracy in Australia. Dollars and mainstream media spin are the only things that matter in Melbourne.

The re-election of Robert Doyle further cements my resolve to defend democracy against corruption by the corporate aristocracy ― the 1%. From Tahrir Square to Wall Street – from Madrid, Spain to Melbourne, Australia – people in hundreds of cities around the world are starting to mobilise into a global movement for real democracy. This is not a game, and it not irrelevant in Australia. Democracy in my hometown is being systematically corrupted by extreme American neo-liberal sensibilities; ones that are looking towards China and realising that democracy might be getting in the way of profit.

The question now is: how do we proceed from this point forward?

As John F. Kennedy famously said:
When written in Chinese, the word "crisis" is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity."

This seems very fitting at this point in time.

It is becoming widely recognised that a coup d'état has occurred and democracy in Melbourne has been disposed of. That being said, six out of the eleven councilors elected are good people, who are there for the right reasons ― to protect and deepen democracy for the residents and small businesses of Melbourne.

The following is my breakdown of the current council.

First, the bad news...

Five were elected on the Team Doyle ticket and will vote as a bloc in support of whatever he advocates. I have sent a significant amount of correspondence to Robert Doyle over the last year; he has replied to none of it. This included correspondence before the eviction of Occupy Melbourne. I wrote two articles earlier this year on Robert Doyle's use of social media as a campaign – not a communications – tool.

Now for the good news.

Greens Councillor Cathy Oke will be returning for her second term the City of Melbourne and she will be joined by Clr Rohan Leppart. The Melbourne Greens had a really strong democracy policy for the City of Melbourne ― I just wish they had been able to put democracy on the agenda for the local elections. They are both on Twitter and very open to all correspondence.

Another who will be returning is Clr Jackie Watts, the ex-convener of Coalition of Residents and Business Associations (CoRBA). The primary goal of CoRBA Melbourne is "to bring democracy, equitable representation and good governance to the City of Melbourne” ― an excellent aspiration.  I have found Jackie very open to all correspondence.

Clr Richard Forster, a Labor member, also got up. His Twitter description says he ”is a leading advocate with a history of protecting the rights of disadvantaged people.” He volunteers at Ross House, which is an important part of the social justice and environment community in Melbourne for over two decades ― as well as a place very close to my heart. He seems open to answering Tweets.

Also elected was Clr Stephen Mayne,  an Australian journalist, former Manningham councillor and prominent shareholder activist. He is perhaps best known for founding Crikey.com.au, an independent online news service. Mayne has been reported as saying:
"I think in general the council needs to collaborate more constructively together and the lord mayor needs solid checks and balances and scrutiny applied.''

I have found Stephen open to dialogue, even though he is obviously very busy with fingers in many pies.

Finally, and probably most importantly, Clr Ken Ong also returns to council. A Liberal Party member, Ken Ong will hold the balance of power. I have found him very approachable and, I believe, he is a decent person. I hope that he can look past the false dichotomy of left/right politics and work with Oke, Leppart, Watts, Forster and Mayne to instill some transparency and accountability into the City of Melbourne. I note, encouragingly, that Ong agreed to support a call for an independent inquiry into the eviction of Occupy Melbourne in the election campaign.

The Occupy Melbourne Legal Support Team has just released an extensive report into the effects and legality of the eviction of Occupy Melbourne from City Square on 21 October 2011. Several calls have been made, including a formal motion to Melbourne City Council for an independent investigation into the policing on 21 October 2011. This report reiterates these calls and documents the pressing need for such an investigation.

It is my hope that the first significant matter to be passed by the new council will be an independent inquiry into the eviction of Occupy Melbourne. If the councillors believe that local government should be engaged in a system of democratic decision-making, than we need to address the significant lack accountability for decisions and actions taken by Melbourne City Council in this forcible eviction.

We need both a Melbourne City Council internal inquiry into the decision-making process, so all the council are clear on who ordered what, as well as a more encompassing independent inquiry by the Ombudsman that will shed light on all the complex issues, such as it did with the S11 protests in 2001.

Once that's done, perhaps we can all start working together to make Melbourne a real democracy based around the three core principles that should guide any democratic government: transparency, citizen participation and accountability.

[If you would like to help Carl lobby for real democracy please email real.democracy.australia@gmail.com]

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