It’s an unusual moment to be holding an election, even for local government polls that are typically vote-from-home affairs anyway. But despite Mackie’s own disappointment at the low turnout – just 18.75 per cent of eligible voters – he says this low level of participation is symptomatic of a growing detachment that pre-dates COVID-19.
“The voter participation rate in this by election is, in fact, no worse than the participation rate has been in other by-elections without COVID-19,” he says, echoing an earlier rebuttal to calls to postpone the poll. “But I guess my observation is a more general one: we have become, for a variety of reasons, complacent about the value of local government and the value of local democracy. Therefore we’re reaping the harvest of what’s been sown, and that becomes more apparent when elected chambers behave badly.”
About that. As recent conflict over the Hutt Street Centre (“What has changed in the Hutt Street and city south area is not the intensification of the Hutt Street Centre’s services, but the gentrification around in,” Mackie says), long-in-development bike path plans and the Adelaide Crows’ now-abandonded Adelaide Aquatic Centre takeover, the current council is evidently home to some very different ideas about what ‘progress’ in Adelaide should look like.
While there are some familiar faces – Councillor Anne Moran recently celebrated her 25th year on the council, while Mackie’s former Festival of Ideas colleague Sandy Verschoor is now Lord Mayor – Mackie will have to wade into a chamber marked by a level of factionalism and personal animus that’s exceptional even by city council standards. With Mackie set to replace the reputed architect of the so-called ‘Team Adelaide’ faction, former deputy Lord Mayor Houssam Abiad, he hopes to help raise the level of discourse and debate in the chamber.
“I’m under no illusion that one additional voice in the mix is, in and of itself, going to transform everything – there are now some evidently very deep-seated enmities between some elected members. I can’t fix that, but I hope to at least model the kind of civility that I practiced last time I was on council – and there were very deep divisions on the council that I served in, and there were factions.
“Factions are not new, and not unique to this current council. What I would hope though, is that we can see a return to a better standard of civility, of respect.”