Before sitting down to write tonight, 612 ABC Brisbane hosted the one and only debate between the five candidates for the position of Brisbane’s Lord Mayor. Rightly or wrongly, I’ve been criticised for, well, criticising the calibre of the five candidates.
Two of the candidates, mysterious independent Chris Carson*, and Sex Party candidate Rory Killen, have taken the unusual step of phoning in sick. I'm not sure of the exact reasons for their decisions to be no-shows; in any case, it's not acceptable for a serious candidate to refuse a surprisingly rare invitation to talk to the voters. Perhaps they weren't serious after all...or perhaps the dog ate their homework.
That leaves three: the incumbent, Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, the ALP Contender Ray Smith, and the wild card, Democrat-turned-Green Andrew Bartlett.
But before I can make my voting decision, I have a question: what does a Lord Mayor actually do? The position is worth a salary of almost $220,000, plus a $70,000 car and allowances. In the corporate world, that's not a lot. It's a senior manager, but probably not executive level.
That's right: We have to vote for one of these gentlemen running for Lord Mayor. The winner is going to enjoy a $300K+ package, and I'm not sure what he does. That makes it impossible to compare candidates against a job description.
Our current Lord Mayor, Graham Quirk has been in local government for 26 years. That’s a long stretch to work for any single employer these days, yet to quote Ms Shania Twain, "That Don't Impress Me Much."
Does he have the fresh ideas for Brisbane? Or is he so institutionalised that he's lost touch with the city? Having worked for so long in the shadow of Campbell Newman, is “Quirkie” riding on his ex-boss’s coat-tails, or is he tainted by association? Remember, he was never elected Lord Mayor, just assumed the position when Premier Newman resigned a year or so ago to enter state politics. I'm sure Graham Quirk knows what a Lord Mayor does, but he hasn't told me.
The ALP's Ray Smith is a self-made business success story with an enviable reputation across many areas, but no experience as a councillor. Labor is so unpopular in Queensland right now, it’s hard to imagine him winning a chook raffle. His business experience would certainly be an asset to Council, and through his business, his fundraising and his leisure activities, has contacts all over Brisbane and beyond. Can he do whatever it is that a Lord Mayor does? Probably; he seems capable. (Vague, isn't it?)
And then there’s Andrew Bartlett, probably the most credible candidate of the three. A former Federal Senator and leader of the Democrats, Bartlett has name recognition, experience in and out of Government, and a real passion for public office. He contested the federal seat of Brisbane in the 2010 election, and while he came third, he polled over 20% of the vote. Could he do what a Lord Mayor does? I'm not sure, but I know that the Lord Mayor wears robes and chains, and I suspect Andrew Bartlett would look quite spiffy in them.
As this is "just" a local council election, there's been very little polling, and as I've mentioned in previous posts, very little interest. The lawn signs that are taking over the suburbs seem to be enjoying the warm autumn weather more than their minders in the folding deck chairs. Even during morning peak hour, the roadside campaigners seem disinterested.
Election fatigue is no excuse, though. We have to vote this weekend. This getting-interested business and learning about the candidates is part of our responsibility to the democratic process. What do we want from our local councillors? What do we need from our local council? Of the candidates, who best addresses our issues, our concerns, our priorities?
In the Federal arena, we can talk about the big concepts: capitalism, socialism, foreign affairs, the economy, national security, cultural identity. Down here in local government, the view is different. The concepts tend to involve stable rates, a clean, reliable water supply, regular garbage collection, potholes that don't swallow the family car and decent libraries, preferably with iPads. Rates, roads and rubbish. This is not the stuff of Socrates, nor, I suspect, is it the business of the Lord Mayor. Council employs a CEO for that, and pays him rather more than the Lord Mayor gets.
One automated ReachTEL phone poll conducted earlier this week suggested that the incumbent will be re-elected comfortably. I wish I could get worked up about that, because of the three candidates with any chance, he's the one I have least faith in. Unfortunately, he's also the one who knows what the job is.
Here in Brisbane, I can turn on the tap and clean water comes out. I put out the garbage and a nice man in a big truck takes it away. I drive to work because I can't get there on Public Transport, but my Barina hasn't been swallowed yet. Quirkie has had a whole year to break Brisbane, and he hasn't. Whatever he's doing seems harmless enough.
I reckon I could do that. For a three-hundred-thousand dollar a year package, I too could be harmless.
* Chris Carson did attend the debate, but arrived late.