McDonald’s will be among the businesses to help decide whether Clover Moore retains the keys to the city, when voters and businesses head to the polls for the City of Sydney election next Saturday.
The big four banks, fast-food conglomerates, NGOs, pubs and clubs will all partake in the democratic process alongside cafe owners, tech start-ups, retailers and, of course, residents – providing they successfully filled in the paperwork before the cut-off period.
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City of Sydney election: the elevator pitch
Candidates in the 2016 City of Sydney election explain why they should be Sydney’s lord mayor in the space of an elevator ride.
Even Fairfax Media, publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald, is enrolled to vote, with company secretary Gail Hambly due to cast the ballot on behalf of the company.
Dubbed the “wildcard” of the 2016 Sydney lord mayoral race, almost 23,000 business and corporations have enrolled to vote under new voting laws that require all businesses that own, occupy or lease property in the City of Sydney area to vote.
McDonald’s – not its licensees – will be voting next Saturday as the owners of the premises of their 12 inner Sydney restaurants.
“We do intend to vote,” a spokeswoman for McDonald’s said, but wouldn’t reveal which mayoral candidate would receive their company’s two votes.
The rules hand each business two votes. This means a McDonald’s director and company secretary will both likely be casting ballots.
The Herald spoke to a range of businesses across the City of Sydney to gauge their voting intentions, and while their political preferences differed, one thread of commonality emerged.
The enrolment process was enormously complex, time-consuming and ultimately off-putting.
Among those baffled by the extensive paperwork was Carolyn Kelly who, as general manager of SurfSide Hotel Group, spent over ten hours with her assistant filling out “hundreds of pages” of enrolment forms for the group’s businesses, which include four pubs across the CBD and Surry Hills, two residential apartments in Surry Hills, a factory in St Peters, and car spaces and storage spaces.
Despite starting the application process three months ago, a protracted back and forth with the council and NSW Electoral Commission ultimately meant the rolls closed before the issues were resolved, leaving the hotel group with one vote.
“The paperwork was so difficult, and so many pages. It was really confusing.
“The point of business voting is really good, but it was just all too hard.”
Ms Kelly said she thought incumbent mayor Mrs Moore “had done a fantastic job for the city” but said she planned to carefully evaluate each candidate’s policies before lodging her vote.
Kris Spann, who co-founded The Works, a co-working space in Glebe, where six out the 10 businesses operating from the space are enrolled to vote, also slammed the enrolment process as “absolutely ridiculous”.
While Mr Spann is voting as a resident in the election, his business partner, who lives in Bronte, will cast a vote on behalf of their business.
Though still undecided, Mr Spann said he had been impressed by Angela Vithoulkas, a councillor running for lord mayor under the independent Sydney Matters ticket, after she visited their workspace earlier in the year and personally collected their enrolment forms.
“Out of the policies [on offer] I think they have the most progressive, and realistic policies and have actually shown a voice to the business community.”
Cr Vithoulkas’ policies have also swayed Oxford Street businessman Wayne Nicol, who operates adult entertainment store Sax Fetish.
Mr Nicol said he had lobbied the City of Sydney for over a decade for a dedicated staff member to be allocated to Oxford Street to oversee the struggling precinct.
He was said he had “only recently become aware of Sydney Matters” but was delighted when he discovered Cr Vithoulkas had effectively adopted the idea in her proposal to appoint an Oxford Street place manager.
“I can happily say they will be getting my vote,” he said.
Both Cr Vithoulkas and Liberal candidate Christine Forster have targeted the Oxford Street vote, where vacant council properties and flatlining foot traffic have left many traders disenchanted with Cr Moore.
Mr Nicol said the council-owned building he operated from had been largely vacant for two decades, and had fallen into such disrepair that flooding had caused his business to shut down for a week last year.
However, he said Cr Forster’s proposal to hand the management of the buildings to a commercial operator would be “disastrous” and the street’s uniqueness would be sacrificed to a profit-driven model.
But the idea has found traction with another Oxford Street trader who did not want to be identified, but described it as “an awesome idea” and said Ms Forster definitely had his vote.
In Woolloomooloo, co-owner of Grand Days bookshop Tamara Kennedy said she and her business partner Tom Hespe were giving their votes to Mrs Moore based on a shared affinity for her cultural and sustainability policies.
Ms Kennedy said they had taken over the business three years ago, and had struggled as the lockout laws throttled neighbouring businesses in Kings Cross.
“Because we have relied on tourism a lot for our foot traffic and that has dropped dramatically. What then becomes important is community, and why people are staying here and what they do here.
“Also environmental issues are really important to us. Having a green city is really important.”
The Herald approached a range of corporations in the City of Sydney, including the Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, Macquarie Group and media publisher Newscorp. None would confirm they were enrolled to vote.