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Candidates slam "anti-democratic" election alliance

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Former Greens senator Rob Simms has revealed he declined to join a local government election alliance later dubbed “Team Adelaide”, amid growing concern about the secretive group.

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Simms said he rejected the overture and, while in favour of people running for council, he opposed any “strategy to stack” the next city council through a preference deal.

For more than a month, rumours have been circulating within Town Hall about the group – which had supposedly agreed to swap preferences on how-to-vote cards in order to form a majority voting bloc to control the next council.

Dr Helen Donovan – a candidate for south ward – told InDaily last week that central ward councillor Houssam Abiad had asked her last month to join the group, reasoning that with enough candidates swapping preferences – 19 is apparently the magic number – it would be relatively “assured” that members of that group would form a majority on the next council.

“In our meeting, he advised (that) the team required 19 candidates to ensure a majority voting bloc is elected,” Donovan said.

“I wasn’t comfortable with that approach.”

Former area councillor and Greens Senator Robert Simms told InDaily he had also been invited to join the group in May this year, and declined.

“One of the things that I really loved about council is that … you can convince people of things on their merits,” he said.

“I think it’s great that so many people are running, but if that’s part of some strategy to stack the council that’s a very different matter.

“Indeed I think residents and ratepayers would be very concerned about that.”

Area councillor Anne Moran said if there was a notion of using a preference swap deal involving a large number of candidates for the purpose of building a majority on the next council, that would be seen as “anti-democratic” – and voters would not like it.

“(There is) nothing that the voting public hate more than being taken for a ride,” she said.

“I have been on councils where there has been a solid majority … and it really is not a good thing.

“It’s absolutely anti-democratic.”

She said she would complain to the electoral commission if she discerned any “pattern” in how-to-vote cards that suggested any large-scale factional deal.

“We’ll be watching to see if there’s a pattern in those how-to-vote cards,” she said.

But deputy electoral commissioner David Gully told InDaily there was nothing illegal about preference swapping or running large numbers of candidates for the purpose of forming a majority.

“That’s part of politicking,” he said.

“That’s not anything we have any power over.”

He also noted that the voting system in local government advantaged candidates running in teams because preferences flow to running mates.

Lord Mayor Martin Haese said that to his knowledge, “Team Adelaide” has never existed, but that he had spoken with Abiad about the benefits of a more unified city council.

“Team Adelaide, to my knowledge, has never existed,” he said.

Haese said he had “not at all, categorically” had any discussion with Abiad involving the directing of preferences among a group of candidates.

He stressed he had had no involvement in any plan for a unity ticket – but said that he would speak to all candidates at the coming election, and publicly support those whose aspirations for the city align with his.

“I don’t know of a scheme to swap preferences … to get a majority on council,” he said.

However: “Candidates will form alliances.”

“It’s happened to some degree probably every election.

“Like-minded candidates will talk to like-minded candidates.”

Abiad, who is currently overseas, did not respond to InDaily’s request for comment last week.

We have put further questions to him today.

He told InDaily last month that he was unaware of any group called “Team Adelaide” – but that it would be beneficial for the council to work together.

Asked whether he was aware of, or behind the website www.teamadelaide.com.au – which had featured images of the councillor, but had been cleared of content and later deleted altogether – Abiad said his website was www.betteradelaide.com.au.

He said at the time that he was speaking to prospective candidates and encouraging them to put their hands up, but that he was not aware of any “team”.

He said at the time that he had spoken to about 10 prospective candidates.

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