Fears council process “exclusionary”

Former Mayor Geoff Pritchard has voiced fears that part of the process of running for local government, becoming an agent, is potentially putting people off the idea of running.

An agent is “a person who is legally responsible for the management and disclosure of the election campaign finances of a political party, elected member, candidate, group of candidates or third-party campaigner,” according to the NSW Electoral Commission.

A person running for council can be their own agent, and the same one agent can represent a group of people. Becoming an agent involves taking an online training course and then completing a multiple choice quiz, with five chances of getting over 80 per cent.

Mr Pritchard fears the process – which was not legally required when he was in council – is off-putting to newcomers.

“Before anyone can nominate to be a candidate, they have to appoint an agent or become an agent themselves to deal with the Electoral Commission, and it’s quite complicated,” he said.

“The average person in the street can’t employ people to do that, they can’t afford it. There’s an online course to become an agent, and you have to pass an examination. You’ve got five go’s and if you can’t do it you’re out.

“It excludes people who aren’t used to dealing with serious documents, and I’m not sure that it’s available in different languages.

“It also encourages people to go into groups, because it’s a fairly heavy responsibility to do it as an individual without getting fined.”

However, Sue Bulger, also a former Mayor, said the requirement of being an agent “wasn’t difficult.”

She did it herself as a councillor, before her niece volunteered to do it for her.

Ms Bulger said to the best of her knowledge, when her niece was doing it she didn’t struggle.

“I don’t think it was hard to do, it’s just filling out forms and disclosing donations,” she said.

“I would email her and she would organise things. It was just about having an extra pair of hands and an extra brain to help.”

For more information on agents or to take the training course, see http://www.elections.nsw.gov.au/fd/agents/agent_training.