A Worrying Council Move
© Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen October 2014
A very disturbing phenomenon in local Government and local democracy has just been initiated by the Greater Geelong City and Surf Coast City Councils, followed on Tuesday night 23 September by the Glen Eira City Council. Both have by a majority vote of councillors become advocates for same sex marriage and will use Council Resources and the supposed weight of their constituencies to lobby Federal Parliamentarians for it. Political interest groups appear to have alighted on the strategy of getting political statements from local councils across the State and Nation which purportedly represent the view of the municipalities on same sex marriage.
The discussion amongst Councillors in the Glen Eira Council Chamber focussed first on the rectitude of Council resolutions and actions on a national matter. Even though this matter is far from local council jurisdiction (and for that matter even from State parliamentary jurisdiction), it did not prevent five councillors from arguing that their advocacy on behalf of constituents was a concrete benefit for local constituents. They did not indicate whether next week they would advocate on behalf of constituents for euthanasia or assisted suicide. Nor could their arguments be tested, because the matter had not been aired through any local political debate. We heard the formula of “marriage equality”, that those who love each other should be allowed to marry one another. But there was no opportunity to ask whether this formula would also include the love of adult sibling children from a common mother or father, who are allowed in Sweden to marry. There was no community debate.
Leaving aside discussion of the merits of same sex marriage itself, this tactic encouraged by Labor and Greens councillors with the support of “Mayors for Marriage Equality” is undemocratic and damaging to local government for the following reasons.
One is that the municipality voters never expected that national issues would be championed by their council representatives and did not elect them on this basis. Even then, when this idea came up, no community consultation was invited by the Glen Eira Councillors on Council advocacy for same sex marriage. The Rabbinic Council of Victoria, roof body of about 80 congregations, most of which are in Glen Eira, did catch wind of it and wrote to Jewish Councillors; and so did the Catholic Church attempt to contact Catholic members of council. This produced uneven results, but these were amongst the ostensibly tiny number of interactions between constituents and councillors on the subject. Councillors for the motion put forward arguments for Glen Eira advocacy for same sex marriage on the basis of national surveys of support. But these are irrelevant to Glen Eira which has very large traditional Jewish, Catholic and Greek Orthodox communities and significant immigrant communities which favour traditional marriage. Because the Council did not seek community input on this surprise initiative, the Council’s decision represents only the five Councillors who voted for it and the Federal Parliamentarians, whom Council now wants to lobby, should know this. It also casts serious questions on the decision of the similar vote of the Geelong City Council, if that was carried out without community consultation as was the Glen Eira Council move.
Secondly, unless the Councils, which passed these motions, acknowledge the impropriety of their action and revoke it, this move could also damage the future of local Government. Although candidates for Council sometimes have national party affiliations, it seems that party affiliations were secondary to the standing of the candidates as persons, committed to local community issues. It was believed that Councillors would be elected to deal with local (not State and not national) issues. These were not the business and are not in the jurisdiction of local councils. Hence one looked more to the person and in fact the party affiliations represented on council did not parallel the federal or state political demographic. People, more than parties, were elected to Council. The new move to politicize councils on national issues means that “out of the blue” the council could start its own advocacy for euthanasia or a position on foreign policy. If so, from now on municipal elections could become party contests. That would be not only a distraction of council resources and attention from local issues, but would also introduce a new divisiveness at the level of local community, where we least need or want it.
See the report on the Council decision in the Glen Eira Leader: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/leader/central/glen-eira-council-votes-to-publicly-support-samesex-marriage-angering-religious-groups/story-fngnvlpt-1227069274622