The decision by the NSW state government to automatically enrol Sydney businesses and compel vote in city council elections might seem like a petty, parochial matter. At a basic level, it could look like a political game arranged to get rid of the current mayor. The full details of the arrangements are yet to emerge, but on the basis of yesterday’s news it seems that non-resident businesses owners will have to vote; residents with businesses will have to vote more than once; and presumably those with several rate paying businesses will get a vote for each one. Clover Moore’s decade-long administration will very probably come to an end as a result. While the political right once needed to invoke totalitarianism and spies to fiddle the political system, now, apparently, the world-historical danger that requires an effective gerrymander in favour of business is bike lanes and public art. No one really believes the justifications that have been trotted out by premier Mike Baird, and nor are they expected to. The players know that their explanations misdescribe the underlying political and social realities, they know we know, they mouth the words anyway, and we too-readily accept that this is just what politics is.
Sydney residents insisted on repeatedly electing the wrong mayor, their story goes, so the system needed to be changed to produce a result that more accurately reflected the preferences of the powerful. Residents had proved themselves incompetent, so “adult” intervention was needed.
A premier who saw his predecessor and two backbench supporters resign over corruption doesn’t expect to have his bromides about ending the disenfranchisement of financial entities taken at face value. In turn, the electorate fully expects him to act in his own interests first, with those of the Daily Telegraph a close second, and his friends third. Slavoj Zizek’s paraphrase of the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk is apt: “they know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing it”. NSW politics: business as usual, we might think. But the reason we might consider doing more than heaving a sigh is that the effect of the changes means it is continuous with a global tendency which is fast eroding the pretence of electoral equality in democracies.