Lord Mayor's Forum

(3.30pm, Thursday 16 October 2014, Lord Mayor's Reception Room)

"Return to Village: Sharing global insights to drive competitive advantage"

Good afternoon and welcome.

We're holding today's forum just three weeks after the controversial Bill changing the business franchise for City of Sydney elections passed through Parliament.

As all of you would be aware, Council strongly opposed this Bill primarily because it gave two votes to business. This was not something sought by businesses or business groups. Patricia Forsythe is on record saying she didn't support this. Other business spokespeople were concerned about the division this move was creating between the business community and residents.

Non-resident business owners have always had the right to vote in City of Sydney elections, and I support business owners having this right. I recognise the contribution business, particularly small and medium business makes to the vitality of the City, providing important services, diversity and employment to our residents, workers and visitors.

I also support the right of business people to decide for themselves whether they wish to enrol and vote, while making the process as easy as possible. The changes to the City of Sydney Act will take that right away. Business owners will be automatically enrolled without their consent, and once enrolled will be required to vote.

I recognise changes were needed to make it easier to for businesses to enrol. Earlier this year, Council adopted my Mayoral Minute which set out the changes that would improve the enrolment process.

Alex Greenwich MP introduced a Bill into Parliament to implement these reforms while ensuring businesses retained the right to make their own decisions about enrolling and voting. Under Alex's Bill, businesses would be able to enrol at any time and their details would be checked and updated before each election. This would have overcome a major criticism of the former system, which was that businesses had a limited time to enrol, and this time coincided with the period leading up to and just after the end of the financial year.

Instead, the recent changes to the City of Sydney Act will require businesses to deal with automatically enrolment during this critical and busy period.

Ironically, when these changes were first introduced into Parliament, poor drafting would meant that thousands of small businesses who were already entitled to enrol and vote would have lost this right, by largely limiting the franchise to City landowners. While this error was eventually corrected, the voting process for business in the City could have been much improved had the Bill's proponents consulted businesses and the community.

Council also opposed these changes because they transfer responsibility for preparing the roll from the independent Electoral Commission to the City of Sydney. The CEO is now tasked with this responsibility.

I am confident our CEO will carry out this responsibility methodically and diligently and will work to minimise the disruption faced by business.

Voting is however only one way businesses can be involved in the work of the City. The City engages with businesses in a variety of ways.

  • By the end of this month, we will have delivered ten Business 101 seminars this year attended by over 1500 people with demand ever increasing. These workshops focused on a variety of subjects from tech start-ups to growing established businesses;
  • The City Business e Newsletter was launched in April and provides timely information on grants, sponsorships, awards, trends and seminars. I encourage you to sign up so you can stay informed on new opportunities for your business;
  • The grants and sponsorships we provide aim to help local business communities grow and flourish;
  • I am proud of the City's Business Precincts team which work alongside business chambers and partners to deliver precinct based Festivals, Events and Campaigns- to attract more people to the city, events such as 'Asia on Your Doorstep', 'Sydney is Fashion and 'The Pyrmont Festival of Wine Food and Art'; and
  • The City's Economic Development Strategy outlines how the City continues to guide and support existing and prospective small businesses.

Last month Council resolved to join the recently established Small Business Friendly Councils Program. The program has been developed by the Office of the Small Business Commissioner in partnership with the NSW Business Chamber. It's the first of its kind in Australia, and it enables NSW councils to be formally recognised as 'Small Business Friendly'.

Councils have to make specific commitments to encourage proactive and effective engagement with small businesses to be able to join. We already meet these commitments, and there's further work underway.

As part of this work Council has asked the CEO to report to Council on ways of incorporating further involvement of and representation from small and medium businesses in these Chamber forums.

So to today's topic - Return to Village - is fitting and appropriate considering the importance of our villages and the critical role they play for Sydney as a global city.

There are 10 village groups designed to recognise the diversity of local needs and values that exist across the City.

Each group is unique and dynamic in its own right with its own set of social, economic and environmental characteristics.

Thank you for attending today and I look forward to continuing our close working relationship to make Sydney- Australia's largest global city- an even greater national powerhouse.