Sunday, December 4, 2011

A two-roled Clover

Clover Moore's dual-role as mayor of Sydney and local member for Sydney in State Parliament has always made me feel a little uneasy.

From what I understand, even the humble back-bencher's job is a gruelling role.  There are local constituents to keep happy, mountains of legislation to keep on top of, and long hours in parliament itself. When you attempt all that as an independent - that is to say, someone who (at least in theory) considers each new bill on its individual merits rather than just following the party line - well, it's no wonder that politicians complain about never seeing their families.

It seems inconceivable that any member of parliament could maintain a 2nd job as well - but that is exactly what Clover Moore has done, and for a long time at that.  She has been the local member for Sydney (previously named Bligh) since 1987 and Lord Mayor of Sydney since 2004 (see her Wikipedia for some interesting background).
Electoral Division of Sydney. Map from the AEC
It's clear that she is not doing it for the money. As mayor she is paid over $110 000 to go with her salary as a Lower House member of just under $140 000, but has consistently donated her entire mayoral salary to inner-city charities.

It seems more likely that she is just a workaholic who has a passion for Sydney and wants to do whatever she can to advance her agenda. Certainly during her tenure as mayor of Sydney she has done a great deal to make Sydney a better place (or, at least, what she thinks would make it a better place).

She is famously skeptical of some new developments but has eagerly championed others, has introduced kilometres of new bike paths, fought for the rights of homosexuals and fought against the sale of dogs and cats in pet shops.

She may soon, however, have to give up one of her roles if legislation mooted by the NSW Government is passed. A discussion paper on the topic can be found here.

The interesting part about the paper is this.  There are a surprisingly large number of members of the legislative assembly who serve on councils:
According to Jo Tovey's article on the discussion paper:
So, whilst the law will apply to everyone equally, Moore is likely to be the only person to have their hand forced by the change.

However, as Tovey correctly notes, the Coalition is very unlikely to win the mayoral race if Moore does step down, so there would not seem to be any direct political advantage in having her step down. That said, a few Liberal donors may well believe that anyone but Moore would be preferable.

The discussion paper is surprisingly readable and easy to understand - it covers in detail the pros and cons of allowing councillors to serve in parliament.  I don't propose to summarise them here, but they bear reading.

For me though, the most important question is this one: is there a conflict of interest?
What that paragraph says, in short, is that the dual roles are not a conflict of interest - rather it is just that it can be perceived as such. Whilst perceptions are important, and if people are going to perceive a conflict of interest then it is a matter of concern, my personal view is that the risk is low enough to be of fairly minor concern.

The most important pro this this one:
Clover Moore (and every other dual-role member) was elected through a popular election.  She broke no laws, and her opponents no doubt had plenty to say about the fact that she was going to be serving two roles.

Clearly the voting public is very unconcerned by any perceived conflict of interest or the workload.  This wasn't something that was secret like a bribe or a promise of quid pro quo - everyone knew, and, presumably, almost no one cared.

In those circumstances, where there is no actual conflict of interest, what business does the government have stepping in and making laws about who should be able to serve in these dual-roles?

Hopefully the discussion paper will receive a wide range of responses.  I'll certainly put in a response and post is here if I remember.


  1. You used the Federal map, not the state one...

  2. Otherwise, I think this issue is a bit strange and anti-democratic. It doesn't trust voters to make the right decision.

  3. >You used the Federal map, not the state one...

    Ah dammit! In fairness, they have the same name, and the AEC website can be VERY confusing. Thanks anyway, now fixed.