Launceston mayor Albert Van Zetten is the latest in a string of Tasmanian mayors to announce they won’t run in upcoming local government elections, taking the total quitting to 10.
- Ten Tasmanian mayors won’t be standing for re-election this October
- Greater Launceston Albert Van Zetten is the latest to call it quits
- It comes as compulsory voting is set to be introduced and a government review of the sector continues
Most of those who are part of the exodus say they are retiring or stepping down for personal reasons.
Newcomers set to be elected in October face a changing local government landscape as compulsory voting is introduced, non-ratepayers are allowed to have their say for the first time and a state government review of the sector continues.
The majority of the mayors not re-contesting are based in the north and north-west of the state: Annette Rockliff in Devonport, King Island’s Julie Arnold, Flinders Island’s Annie Revie, Waratah-Wynyard’s Robby Walsh, Circular Head’s Daryl Quilliam, Tim Wilson from Kentish, and Central Coast major Jan Bonde.
Albert Van Zetten was first elected as mayor to Tasmania’s second biggest city in 2005, and said he now wants to spend more time with his family.
“I’ve been very thankful for the opportunity I’ve had to serve this beautiful city, and it’s been an amazing time,” he said.
“My case is it’s my time to go. It’s not got anything to do with what the other mayors are doing. If their time is up, then it’s their time up.”
In the south of the state Doug Chipman is retiring as major of Clarence.
He has been in the top job for 11 years and has said “it’s time for a change”.
Bec Enders stepped down as Huon Valley Council Mayor earlier in the year amid the controversy over the hiring of general manager Jason Browne.
President of the Local Government Association of Tasmania Christina Holmdahl said it was not abnormal to have a large number of mayors leaving.
“It’s something that happens about every second or third council election.”
“The majority have been mayors for quite some time, and almost all of them are standing down for personal reasons. They believe they’ve made a contribution,” she said.
“They also believe that maybe it’s time for new energy, new ideas in their municipality.”
Major voting changes on the way
With the introduction of compulsory voting for the October elections, Minister for Local Government Nic Street said he hoped it would bring more quality candidates to council.
“I hope that compulsory voting leads to more people putting their hand up to run if they think that they’re going to be held accountable by the whole community and not just the people who would normally vote at local government elections.”
“We’re committed to strengthening local government as best we can, and the best way to strengthen it is by having multiple candidates in every municipality so that people have got a legitimate choice to make come October.”
Mr Van Zetten said he welcomes compulsory voting.
“I’m sad I’m not running in a way because of the compulsory voting. I think it’s better for incumbents.”
“The time that I’ve had my closest vote, which was three votes (between him and the next candidate), many people said to me ‘I didn’t vote for you because I thought you were a shoe-in.”
Christina Holmdahl from Tasmania’s Local Government Association said she thought there were still some issues to work through when it came to voting in local government elections.
“It’s still going to be a postal vote, so there are still those issues of letters not being delivered, people have changed addresses and haven’t updated their electoral roll.”
It will also be the first time local government elections are open to everyone over 18, not just ratepayers.
“I think it’s going to be quite interesting as a result of that.”
She was hopeful the changes wouldn’t stop new people from running for older.
“We hope all the new incoming councilors have the commitment and the vision that the retiring mayors have had, and they’ll enjoy what they get out of local government.”
Code of conduct questions
A 12-month local government review is underway, which includes an examination of its code of conduct.
The code has been in the spotlight this year after a number of controversies including when a Kingborough council meeting descended into unrest in June, the fact a council had no power to sack a councilor convicted of sexual offences. and the code of conduct investigation into the Huon Valley general manager’s appointment.
Nic Street says the review is about strengthening local government even further.
“It’s looking at the service, delivery, and functions of local government. What they do well, and perhaps what services should be delivered by a different tier of government.”
“At the end of that, we’ll look at the reforms that have been suggested by the local board of review.”
Ms Holmdahl says the next stage of the review, set to finish at the end of the year, should be extended to allow more people to have their say on local government.
“The community has had an opportunity to express their concerns or their suggestions about how local government could be better, and they have been noted.”
“I guess what’s disappointing is the very low level of input from the community. It was 0.34% of the voting population that actually took part.”
She said she was hoping to come to an arrangement with Mr Street to extend the next stage of the review until March.
“That will also cover the fact that after October this year, there may be new councilors that are not familiar even with the process, so we believe that there’s a period of time needed for the new councilors to familiarize themselves with the process as well. “
Mr Street said there was potential to extend the review.
“That’s a conversation that we’re continuing to have with the local government sector at the moment.”