Why I won’t vote Liberal for Sydney City Council.

So, I’ve been sort of secretly hoping for a reason to vote Liberal at this today’s council elections. (Those are the ones for which I was considering running for because I think there’s such a paucity of sense in that government.) The Liberal Party is Australia’s conservative party, but I was prepared to give them a shot at local government because I think that at that level ideological distinctions break down; what I want from a local government is one that makes it easy to start a business and easy to build new housing. Council is one arena in which social conservatives can’t do that much to ruin people’s lives and market failures aren’t large enough to hurt people through lack of regulation. Council doesn’t control welfare policy and the services it provides are fairly basic. There aren’t obvious ways for right wingers to fuck it up. And what’s more, Sydney surely has the most moderate Liberals it’s possible to find. This isn’t Macquarie Hills. If I could find a Liberal I could come to agreement with, it would be here.

As a result, I’ve really wanted to hear from the Liberal candidates. Sydney has had enough of Clover Moore, and the Labor and Greens candidates’ cultural affinities result in economically stultifying policies that favor the city’s entrenched upper-middle class at the expense of those of us who’ve recently entered the labor and housing markets.

Earlier this week, I got a mail-out from Edward Mandia, the Liberal’s candidate for mayor, detailing his party’s priorities for the city. It was disappointing.

”Sydney’s most pressing issue is alcohol fuelled violence,” he writes, in bold type. The party’s banner policy is to spy on its own citizens to prevent a problem that doesn’t exist. I hear Liberals tell me their party is actually one that believes in the freedom of the individual, but, then, even its most moderate politicians are obsessed with this tough-on-crime posturing. Of course, this isn’t a deviation from the party’s principles; its patron saint Robert Menzies loved individual freedom so much that he remained an ardent monarchist for life and conscripted his countrymen to fight in Vietnam. But I would have hoped his acolytes would sometimes believe their own press.

But I’m prepared to look deeper than the banner policy. Maybe Liberals are pushing the anti-violence thing as a vote-winner, but actually have some solid policies to back it up if they should win power.

Nope.

Issue number two is “Cut wasteful spending.” The mail out says: “With over 1,700 full time staff costing over $160 million a year, Council has become bloated and is not delivering improved services.” 

This is an argument I’m prepared to listen to. But the Liberals don’t say why Sydney should not have 1700 staff. After all, this is the biggest city in the country. Perhaps it does need close to 2000 people to run it? I don’t know. I do know, however, that the proposed benefit of a ten per cent rate cut is something that will benefit landowners and that renters like me won’t see a cent from. I know, cuts to land taxes should trickle down to renters. But the Sydney housing market, with about a one per cent vacancy rate, is so skewed that such savings have no chance of being passed along.

Liberal proposal three is to “protect existing bike paths [and] review new spending on bike paths.” Now I don’t love bikes. But this sounds like culture war bullshit. And worst of all, it includes the extremely anti-market policy of mandating that people who build apartment blocks provide a car space to every person who rents an apartment — whether they want it or not.

This is a terrible policy! If developers think it is in their own interest to provide a car space to prospective tenants, why wouldn’t they provide one to make their apartments more attractive? Why does the government need to require by law that every apartment comes with a car space, whether it’s wanted or not? Why should the limited supply of land be taken up with required-by-law parking spots that residents don’t even want?

Liberal proposal four is “supporting local businesses.” I like this idea! Sydney is a world city and it should be brimming with commerce. I like the idea of “cutting pavement dining levies” — who gives a shit if people are eating on the footpath? — and even though it’s a terribly ill-defined suggestion, I like the sound of “cutting red tape.” But why do council rates need to be cut? Do we know if they’re onerous? And why do we need “15 minutes free parking in local shopping areas to encourage residents to buy local” when we residents are the ones most likely to access such businesses by foot?

Policy number five promotes “working for today, not just planning for 2030.” ”Council’s plans for 2030 have become an excuse not to deliver better services today,” the leaflet says. I agree. “Drop the nutty schemes.” This is sensible and I’m glad to hear a major party pushing it. Long term planning is valuable, but it shouldn’t be an excuse for megalomania.

I’m really disappointed in the Liberal plan for Sydney. A party that claims to be pro-business and pro-individual is instead an authoritarian subsidizer of car ownership. Its single policy aimed at addressing the pressing problem of Sydney rental costs would only serve to drive costs up. It’s methods for helping local enterprise are more concerned with spitting in the face of cyclists and calling for tax cuts without explaining why they’re necessary.