From Southbank to Carlton, the city of Melbourne is littered with sky-blue posters. They carry the slogan Our Melbourne and the beaming face of Lord Mayoral candidate Sally Capp. Capp is the frontrunner for the by-election that follows by the resignation of Lord Mayor Robert Doyle after an independent investigation found that he sexually harassed two women.
For interstate readers not familiar with outgoing mayor, imagine if Mr Toad of Toad Hall was a sexual predator. Some of the highlights of Doyle’s decade in the robes include using riot police to brutalise peaceful protesters and plotting to purge the city of homeless people.
So Capp, if she wins, will surely be a breath of fresh air. The major parties certainly seem to think so. Both the Liberal Party – which Capp forgot she used to be a member of until a journalist helpfully reminded her – and “key local Labor figures” support the Lord Mayor for our Melbourne. But who does the “our” refer to?
Until she announced her candidacy, Sally Capp was the CEO of the Property Council, Australia’s peak lobby group for developers and landlords. The Property Council’s website states that its number one focus is “housing affordability.” But its number one political agenda is to retain negative gearing, a tax rort that redistributes wealth from the poor to the rich, keeps house prices high and forces children into poverty.
It’s a novel approach to problem solving – take a crisis you helped create and directly profit from, then offer to fix it by making it worse.
The Property Council advocates for the interests of the powerful against the interests of the powerless. The forces it proudly represents have ensured that the Australian dream can never be a reality for much of my generation. If the CEO of the Property Council becomes Lord Mayor of Melbourne, it will be the coup de grâce in a coup d’état staged by oligarchs and slumlords.
A mayoral election might seem like pretty low stakes. But local government is where we have the most immediate capacity to formally influence our community. And corruption accumulates. It flows up the food chain like a contaminant.
So how could Capp become Lord Mayor in the the most stereotypically lefty constituency in the country? For that matter, how did Doyle become Lord Mayor, or the string of businessmen who preceded him?
In the City of Melbourne, each residents gets one vote and every business premises gets two. Sixty per cent of council voters aren’t residents. The argument for companies having the vote is that they pay rates and have a stake in how the city’s run. The argument against companies having the vote is that they’re not people, which would kind of seem to be a voter requirement for any system calling itself a democracy, which famously means rule by people. The argument for companies having two votes is fuck the plebs.
Karl Marx one described government as the “committee for managing the common affairs of the bourgeoisie.” In the city of Melbourne, where absent business owners get more votes than resident workers and a property lobbyist is winning the race for Lord Mayor, this is very literally the case.