Opinion: the abuse suffered online by local government candidates needs to end – Carol Adams, City of Kwinana Mayor

Opinion: the abuse suffered online by local government candidates needs to end – Carol Adams, City of Kwinana Mayor

ON Saturday night I was thrilled to be re-elected as a City of Kwinana councillor for a fifth term and subsequently elected mayor unopposed for a further two years.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank those in the community who took the time to vote, those who care about their community and those who wanted to have a say on who has carriage of their City’s management, governance and strategic vision for the next four year term.

While a 29.63 per cent turnout rate in a non-compulsory election may not seem a huge amount of interest, this actually equated to 23,509 votes being cast.

I would also like to congratulate new councillors for both Rockingham and Kwinana and to congratulate Mayor Barry Sammels on his re-election.

In the lead up to the election, the Local Government Minister spoke about the need to attract diversity to councils, focussing on more youth, more women, more ethnic diversity and indigenous candidates.

When looking through the lists of candidates across the state, there was certainly evidence of the above.

One thing many new candidates I have spoken with were unprepared for was the personal criticism levelled at them by virtual strangers who come into their homes via electronic means, and who seem to derive pleasure from cyber bullying, demeaning, ridiculing and often circulating untruths about a candidate.

Sadly this is not always a stranger, but some candidates also experience a rush of unhealthy competitiveness which sees them attack other candidates.

If elected, these candidates can adversely impact the good functioning of a productive council, to the detriment of a community.

I daresay there is going to be a lot of ‘relationship building and fence mending’ going on across many local governments in the coming weeks.

My impression of the 2017 election across the state is that it was tainted by the disrespect shown to genuine and decent candidates by people pontificating behind a keyboard in the comfort and security of their own homes.

While social media is an amazing communication tool, it can be a divisive and dangerous weapon on the fingertips of those who use the keyboard as a ‘sport’ to push the boundaries of human decency, at times publicly zeroing in on candidates by attacking their motives, credibility, and professional acumen.

This behaviour if left unchecked will deter good people in the future from contemplating running for their local council.

Many I have spoken with in the sector have felt let down by the WA Electoral Commission because of a distinct lack of protection afforded to them; and their almost blanket response of “freedom of speech’.

As the electoral regulator, to allow clear cases of keyboard bullying is to condone it.

When councillors across the state take their oath of office this week, I would ask those candidates who have on the receiving end of this form of behaviour to formally report their experience to both the WA Electoral Commission and to the Department of Local Government.

If we as a society don’t set the standard, we hand the good governance of our communities over to those warriors bravely tapping on their keyboards behind the bastions of their front doors.

I am proud to be again representing Kwinana and look forward to working constructively with the new council team.

Thank you once again to those who took the time to vote in this 2017 local government election.

Mayor Carol Adams
City of Kwinana

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