Ward wars

Mayor Bill Spragg’s statement that the weight of community opposition does not influence decisions made by the council is likely to be a blow for a community that potentially already feels it has little voice.
Whether or not the Mayor and some councillors believed they were acting for the greater good when they decided to abolish the ward-based representation system, their decision to go against the wishes of 94% of community responders is likely to disenfranchise not only those involved but others drawn to the resulting kerfuffle.
Mr Spragg is convinced the region will be better served without wards and said the arguments presented by almost 400 residents did not have enough merit to persuade him otherwise.
But for only 6% of responders to support the change shows the Mayor and the six councillors in the anti-ward camp themselves failed to establish a reasonable argument for the abolition of the system.
It should have been a priority for the Mayor and his supporters to develop a fact-based campaign – using Adelaide Hills Council data – on which to pin their argument.
There is little doubt the ward system does have flaws but they must be clearly highlighted if a decision is to be based on intelligent argument – as the Mayor states – rather than simple ideology.
It is acknowledged there are times when governments must make unpopular decisions for the greater good.
But the council’s decision to go against the overwhelming majority of feedback is likely to leave electors questioning the value of future community consultation.
As MP Isobel Redmond observed, the failure of governments to accurately represent their constituents’ wishes is resulting in the disengagement and disenfranchisement of electors across all levels of government.
In the scheme of government decisions the abolition of wards may be relatively insignificant.
However, a feeling of disconnection at a council level – the level of government that is supposed to be most closely connected to its electors – can only contribute to the dissatisfaction that has resulted in the kinds of unexpected outcomes seen during Brexit and the US election.
While the ratepayers of the Adelaide Hills Council may not be heard during periods of community consultation … they will have the whip hand on election day.