Fremantle Elections Less Than Nail Biting.

New Council On Notice As Social Media Wins the Day

Fremantle town Hall: Waiting for the election results. © Roger Garwood 2013
Fremantle Town Hall: Waiting for the election results.
© Roger Garwood 2013

The election count at Fremantle Town Hall on Saturday evening was a less than nail-biting experience. Years ago several hundred people would turn out to watch the results being chalked on a blackboard and in later years, when hi-tech stuff took over, a whiteboard.

An exuberant crowd of voters would become silent as a tally number was rubbed out and replaced with a fresh total. Frequently the elections were close. Finally the results indicated which candidate won and which had, well, been rubbed out.

Sterile Process

Saturday evening’s barely detectable frisson of  excitement depended on an occasional leak from the tally room. The results emerged a little later than expected and one by one sitting councillors breathed again, had pictures taken on iPhones and any talk of close results vaporised as the numbers came up on a computer screen. Sadly the process was sterile.

Many people had hoped for a close race, a change of face here and there. In the event the sitting council gained a clear mandate for its progress thus far. No sitting councillors were rolled and most recorded massive and increased margins.

What Accounted for Council’s Overwhelming Public Endorsement?

The weather may have accounted for the poor public  turnout at the town hall but what accounted for the massive endorsement of the sitting council? The past four years have seen a great deal of resistance to council’s plans. Principle among those has been the opposition to the location of  the youth plaza on The Esplanade and the open ended and all encompassing approval  by council for towering developments in the city

There may have been apathy among those who considered voting  a waste of time in the face of proposed council mergers. About 60% of eligible voters didn’t bother. It could be said that a non existent vote is an endorsement of the current council.

That point does not ring true. A more likely reason is a lack of co-ordination between the various groups who attempted to form tangible opposition individually.  A number of small organisations, all with individual interests but collectively with a broader interest in the terms of the city’s management, failed to co-ordinate their efforts in the face of a well orchestrated campaign.

Social Media Was the Winner

Brad Pettitt’s campaign on social media was highly successful. Anybody who regularly received posts from him and his followers could not be blind to the enthusiasm of his supporters. It gave a strong impression of coordinated teamwork. Nor was the mayor complacent in the face of his opposition, Mathew Hansen,  who endured massive insults on social media. (See Fremantle Backchat: “Freo’s Shock Blog Derails Democracy”.  Oct 15 2013)

Thus the current council, with many plans in place, must now concentrate on the next four years – the home run – not withstanding the proposed amalgamation. Councillors are aware the city’s future is under scrutiny, not only from the pending amalgamation but from developments already approved or waiting approval. Leading up to the campaign, in fact part of the campaign, were many mainstream media articles related to the city’s ‘rebirth’.

Council Now On Notice: No Effective Opposition

On the latter point councillors are aware they are on notice. If one poor quality development  emerges it is likely to trigger a massive backlash.

Maybe the real threat to Fremantle is amalgamation. Currently nobody seems to know what will happen. A reasonable hypothesis is that  East Fremantle and Melville will wish to retain their leafy suburbs. Fremantle, with fewer voices in its management, may experience little more than a progression of what has happened since 1983 when seeds were sown during the America’s Cup era. They grew Fremantle into a city which is now little more than a weekend playground and entertainment centre. This resulted in massive rent and high maintenance costs in the city as well as increased anti-social behaviour. The city lost it’s community based local patronage. The danger is the two councils grafted onto the city may wish to have things remain that way – Fremantle a playground surrounded by a leafy suburb.

Thus the future of the city is not only in the hands of current management but must be considered and projected by coordinated opposition groups who are currently disparate and ineffectual.

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