Comment: Why Clover Moore is better at politics than everyone else

Lord Mayor Clover Moore and Barrel of Monkeys performers Source: city of sydney

The results of the NSW local council elections are in, and City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore has blown her competition out of the water yet again.

Moore and her team of independents racked up a hefty 60% of the vote, ensuring Moore (should she serve a full term) will have been in office as Lord Mayor for 16 years by the time the next local election rolls around in 2020.

In a political climate where Prime Ministers, Premiers and governments have trouble lasting a single term, 16 years is an eternity. But Moore’s staying power is even more impressive than that number suggests. Moore served as the member for the state seat of Bligh (later renamed Sydney) from 1988 to 2012 — another 24 years in office.

If Moore retires at the next election, she’ll have an astonishing 40 years of public service under her belt (before 1988, she was a local councillor for eight years too). She’s seen off eight Prime Ministers and nine NSW Premiers, and given how Malcolm Turnbull and Mike Baird are travelling it wouldn’t be surprising if she outlasts a few more. In all that time, she hasn’t lost an election once.

"If Moore retires at the next election, she’ll have an astonishing 40 years of public service under her belt... "

There are many reasons for Moore’s enduring success, but one of the big ones, ironically, has been the constant efforts of her enemies to force her out of politics. Two years ago, Baird’s state government passed laws giving businesses in the City of Sydney two votes apiece in local elections — a move explicitly designed to oust Moore and rig the vote for a Liberal candidate, who was expected to benefit from a large business vote.

As the weekend’s results prove, that cynical exercise in manipulating the electorate backfired nicely. Instead of handing Liberal mayoral candidate (and Tony Abbott’s sister) Christine Forster an easy victory, Sydneysiders were understandably miffed at being treated like idiots by their own state government and voted for Moore in droves.

This isn’t the first time the NSW Liberals have tried to finagle Clover out of public life, either. When she stepped down as a state MP in 2012, it wasn’t because voters were sick of her — it was because Barry O’Farrell’s Liberal state government passed another law specifically designed to remove her from the job, this one banning state MPs from sitting on local councils.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore speaks at a welcoming ceremony for Australian Olympians at the Sydney Opera House, in Sydney, Monday, Aug. 29, 2016. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts) NO ARCHIVING
Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore

That backfired too. Moore’s choice to replace her as the Member for Sydney, former Australian Marriage Equality President Alex Greenwich, went on to win the seat Moore was forced to vacate. At the state election last year, Greenwich increased his majority.

The serious ethical implications of such practises aside, all these sneaky manoeuvres to oust Moore raise the question of what successive NSW governments could have accomplished in all the time they spent trying to bring down one local mayor. And it’s that question which might explain Moore’s enduring appeal. Unlike her foes, Moore has never treated elected office (and the large taxpayer-funded salary that comes with it) as something to be toyed with for personal or political benefit.

As dozens of state MPs from both major parties have been dragged before ICAC for accepting dodgy donations and federal pollies (both Labor and Liberal) have been caught out in expenses scandals, Clover’s kept her nose clean. As Cabinet ministers treat Parliament like a playground and use people’s lives to score cheap shots on each other, Moore responds to vitriolic personal attacks by shrugging and getting on with the job.

"Moore cuts against the perception of politics as a rancid boy’s club of rich, entitled money sponges"

Regardless of whether you agree or not with her views on the issues, Moore cuts against the perception of politics as a rancid boy’s club of rich, entitled money sponges more concerned with securing highly-paid titles for their mates than actually doing the job. Even today, as three bills that would legalise marriage equality sat on Parliament’s waiting list, senior members of the federal government spent hours making rambling, meaningless speeches to cover the fact that they, quite literally, had nothing to do.

That’s the kind of thoughtless entitlement that inspires the widespread contempt and indifference voters have for our political process. It’s the mindset that sees a state government genuinely believing they can pervert the system to give them a result they want and get away with it. And it’s the reason why so many politicians and governments come and go, chopped down as quickly as they rise, while Moore stays.

That’s the surprisingly simple lesson Australia’s big parties could learn from Moore. In 36 years of service, she’s never taken her office — or the people who put her there — for granted. In a year’s time, when yet more council elections loom and the Baird government cops another belting, they’ll be learning that lesson all over again.

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