Polls are now closed. It was a massive learning experience. Here are some final thoughts  –  no mincing of words

- September 12, 2016 11 MIN READ

“Is everyone entitled to an opinion? No. Because a lot of people with opinions don’t bother with facts and shit.”

 —  Urzila Carlson, comedian.

Disclaimer: This is my own personal opinion; it has not been approved by anyone or discussed with anyone in order to seek approval, nor does it reflect the views of the candidates within the Sydney Matters Independent platform through which I sought election as a councillor for the City of Sydney on Saturday. 

I am a person that likes to think ahead, I am always forward planning. It drives my team at Startup Daily crazy because I am forever talking about things that we will be needing to do in September 2017, a year before it even becomes an actual ‘thing’ with tasks attached to it.

Politics for me was always part of my plans for my late forties, and as such I was hesitant at first to accept the invitation from current independent Councillor Angela Vithoulkas to join her Sydney Matters Independent team ticket. My General Manager at Startup Daily ultimately swayed my decision, reminding me that as a leader I am always telling my staff to seize opportunities, play outside of their comfort zones, and to never stop learning new things – why, then, was I ignoring my own advice?

Touché. With that I was on the ticket. Those who really – and I mean REALLY know me – would know that for a person that is half-extrovert / half-introvert, being so public so fast on topics I do not consider myself expert in petrified me. For reference, I only started doing panels and keynotes around business, startups, and tech after four years of actually owning my company and learning the subject matter through experience. In truth, that is perhaps why I requested to be fifth or sixth on the ticket for the election; I suppose it gave me a sense of protection from public scrutiny.

First, credit where credit is due

At the time of writing this post, a little over 60 percent of the votes have been counted and current Lord Mayor Clover Moore has officially won a fourth term to lead the City of Sydney council. It is an achievement that should be recognised and respected, regardless of your politics. Seeing out this term will officially make her the longest running Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney, as well as one of the most successful politicians in Australia. Congratulations to Clover Moore and her team.

‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it’ – four of the five Lord Mayoral candidates were women, each from very different backgrounds. This gender diversity was reflected in the councillor candidates on each of their tickets. The importance of the impact this will have for young women just simply being exposed to this should not be underestimated. In fact, the inclusion factor for this election was outstanding – LGBTIQ, Indigenous, Asian-Australian, business, resident, tech, art and many other often non-mainstream communities were represented within the candidate pool.

I would also like to single out and give a mention to fellow media and tech peer Jess Scully, who will officially be sworn in as a City of Sydney Councillor – perhaps one of the youngest in history. Although supporting different Lord Mayoral candidates, it is obvious in the grand scheme of things that our values align when it comes to the tech and culture space in Australia, with Scully being behind the success of initiatives like Vivid Festival, TedxSydney and Kids Hack Day. Congratulations and I hope to continue productive dialogue in the future to reach the ultimate goal of being a top ten city for startups, innovation, and the arts.

Media have forgotten the essence of journalism

Once a media platform reaches a certain level of notoriety, the people within that organisation quickly realise the power they have to influence, spark debate, and shape narrative within the general public. With just over 100,000 readers my publication Startup Daily is at the lower-end of that scale, being influential moreso within a particular niche segment of the population. Organisations like a Fairfax or Newscorp obviously play at the higher end, with thousands of touch points into thousands of niche communities.

In politics, media organisations are used by parties and candidates as weapons – I made a conscious decision that I would not allow Startup Daily to become that and therefore officially vetoed myself from assessing and publicly stating an opinion on topics relating to the election beyond announcing my reason for running and inviting Angela Vithoulkas to be on a panel and pitch her candidacy at an IOT event I funded and moderated. All other decisions were made by my team.

The problem with media personnel overall is that once the platform you appear on develops street cred, your words are weapons. You can put a young man on a pedestal and give him a false sense of achievement or create body confidence issues in high school girls, sending them spiralling into depression with a complementary eating disorder to boot with a cleverly targeted, seemingly benign sentence. To borrow a term from Shonda Rhimes, this type of journalism is called Dog Whistle Politics.

There were many examples of this throughout the City of Sydney campaign – in fact I think every Lord Mayoral candidate was a victim in some way, shape, or form to varying degrees. When the media described the Sydney Matters idea of a tunnel under Oxford street as ‘bodacious’ (traditionally a combination of words bold and audacious meaning impressive) and emphasised this with video footage from 80s / 90s television shows like Ninja Turtles, along with highlighting the words cowabunga, max and rad, and adding an image in the editorial with Angela’s blonde hair being wind-swept right before the readers go on to digest further copy containing the term “thought bubble” is just one simple example.

On the surface everything about that piece seems light, a bit tongue in cheek and funny. However, the clever wordsmith and video editor knows that subconsciously they have caused every reader / viewer to question the candidates progressiveness (80s references) and intelligence (image and carefully selected quotes).

Not to mention the double-whammy of being able to also team up the wording of digging a tunnel under Oxford Street with footage of the Rainbow crossing is another seemingly harmless choice around structuring the content that subconsciously infers the candidate will bring ‘destruction’ to what is left of Sydney’s gay precinct. This comes even though as a councillor Angela has been quite vocal about things like a rainbow footpath, which is something Council can control without state government consultation, a Mardi Gras Museum, or helping the Mardi Gras organisation become a RTO for areas like event management and set design etc, helping to ease the pressure around donations and helping it become more self-sustainable which in turn means that more creative and cutting edge activities can be covered with government and corporate sponsorship packages instead of just the basics.

Sometimes things just are what they are and people read far too much into things. The media however makes its money of this type of shit – the ability to manipulate using content combinations and broadcasting it at pivotal moments.

It is also became more and more obvious that most media failed to inform the public comprehensively when it came to the “business vote” and the truths around what that means. The rhetoric was “two votes for business – be outraged – it is the end of democracy” – all because journalists did a shit house job of explaining where the two vote thing actually comes from.

First, the facts that were not highlighted for Sydney residents and business owners:

  • Non-residents throughout all of New South Wales have had the right to vote in local council elections since 1993
  • A non-resident under the Local Government Act 1993 (sections 299 and 300) is defined as a rate-paying land owner or either an occupier or lessee (the bulk of business owners are the latter)
  • The non-residential roll is wiped clean at the end of each election cycle with everyone needing to register again the following election
  • The electoral rolls do not have business names, they have the names of the registered company director or in some cases directors.

This is where the media did a bad job of explaining what that meant …

  • If a company director is also a resident in the council electorate where they are voting, they only get one vote, as a name can only appear on an electorate’s roll once.
  • If a company has two directors – for example a startup with two founders – and one founder lives in the electorate and the other does not then both only get one vote in that electorate as normal. However the second founder that is a resident in another electorate also gets to cast a vote in that area too, meaning technically they have two votes – but for two different electoral areas.
  • Business voting is not just a Sydney thing, it is an entire NSW thing. The only difference is that Sydney businesses (read director or top two directors) were forced to register on the electoral roll, or face a fine exceeding $2000 – a fine which Council can implement if it wanted to, meaning those who didn’t register or turn up to vote at a booth on Saturday could be up for a nasty surprise. From a media standpoint, given the stance from the Lord Mayor on being against mandatory business voting, it would be counter intuitive to her image to enforce the fines.

Journalists could have made things simple with a ‘One electorate, One Vote’ headline, but obviously never asked the in-depth questions. If they did they would have seen that the number of two-director companies is microscopic compared to the number of one-director companies and sole-traders. They would have been able to give some accurate information on how many residents are directors of companies and they would have not have caused a divide between Sydney’s business and residential communities, because at the end of the day it is all one bloody community.

Media taking the approach of doubling the number 23,000 (the number of City of Sydney-based businesses) and stating that means 46,000 new votes is the kind of reporting that makes me angry because it is quite simply a false statistic.

That isn’t journalism, that is making shit up, or more eloquently, propaganda.

‘That’s Politics’ is a term used to excuse being an arsehole

Yes, I chose carefully to use that word because saying unpleasant or stupid person won’t create the type of impact that vulgar slang will and I want people to read this part, because it is important.

For the most part, being a candidate and really having a front row seat throughout this entire process has made me realise some important positive things:

  1. For the most part all Councillors and Lord Mayoral candidates of all parties generally agree on reaching the same outcomes when it comes to issues in the city. The independent team on Moore’s ticket will also have to work together now post election with the other councillors from other opposing parties. For the next four years residents and businesses will now want a productive council
  2. At a macro-level most people are human, well-mannered, helpful and interesting human beings that make the volunteering experience on election day a fun one; regardless of what candidate’s shirt they are wearing while handing out flyers, food was shared, stories were told and that is a beautiful thing
  3. Anyone running as a Lord Mayoral candidate in particular at their core genuinely wants to make Sydney a better city and thinks that the way they will do things is an effective way of achieving that goal. They personally spend too much money and energy, and stand there and take too much negative abuse in person, online and via a myriad of other channels for me to believe anything different

Elections however also bring out the most vile side of people I have ever witnessed. I am a big believer in productive conflict – anyone wanting to enter public life should expect and should encourage tough questions. Candidate behaviour and their ability to lead effectively as well as party policies should be questioned. In fact it is where the core focus should be.

However from my experience in the front row, there is more focus on causing personal destruction as a priority. In past two months I have seen this take many forms all as equally immature, mean-spirited and calculated as the next – every instance defended with the line “That’s just politics”.

First, the fact that countless generations before ours have gone on to just accept the “that’s politics” culture without genuinely challenging the media, politicians, advisors and other key people behind it is ridiculous. It would be fair to say that Australians don’t accept the “that’s college” excuse being used by some in the United States at the moment to shrug off rape on campus – why then are we allowing behaviours like referring to a candidate as a lizard, likening a person to a dog because of the jewellery they choose to adorn or associating (negatively) a person’s ability to be an effective politician with their marital status?

That’s just a tiny bit of the publicly available bullying in mainstream media – I have not even touched on the threats, derogatory remarks or mind-games that happen behind closed doors or on social media. I think it is fucked up that any candidate would be comfortable winning that way as well – no wonder the world has so many problems. Maybe if we stopped accepting “That’s politics” as having any sort of merit as an excuse for behaviour we might start to impact the way politicians approach politics.

I’m activated

The results currently show that Clover Moore’s Independent team will likely have six seats on the new council as well as the Lord Mayoral seat, while the Liberals will take one seat, Labor will take one seat, and by Tuesday we will see whether the last seat is taken by Sydney Matters candidate Angela Vithoulkas or Greens candidate Lindsay Johnstone.

No matter the result there is still a lot of work to be done around implementing the tech action plan into the community, and as a Sydney based media platform with just under 50,000 Sydney-based readers alone it is important that we assist in that process. The big picture, Sydney as a top ten startup city, remains the same outcome everyone is working towards in the ecosystem – state and local government included.

I created Startup Daily because in 2012 I felt it was important that the tech startup market, still in its infancy, should have a voice and that innovation should be celebrated.

I am launching our new initiative Silicon Paddock into BETA this week because I was inspired by the work regional-based tech startups were doing and ashamed that I wasn’t working harder to uncover the stories of startups outside of metro areas and connect those founders with opportunities.

And today, well today I am frustrated – because I have spent the last two months on a steep learning curve to learn that media and money are the key to successful election campaigns. It is a game of perception, it is about what a candidate chooses not to say, correct, or clarify as much as it is about their key messaging – in fact the prior plays a more important role. It is about the agenda of media companies, the bias (conscious or unconscious) of journalists, as well as the time pressure to produce content resulting in sub-par fact checking.

So I asked myself this question – if a startup like MetaPoll can analyse and give me accurate data / predictions on political polling, why can’t I easily identify which political parties and candidates in an election are focused on debating and critiquing policy, and also being decent human beings in the process?

There is actually no reason I can’t – my parents taught me at a young age that the word doesn’t exist. With the next election in 2017, I also have some time to build scalable tech that:

  • Scans social channels and media platforms and ranks political candidates and parties on what kind of campaign they are running: one focused on critiquing the competition’s policies or one focused on painting a negative view of individual competitor candidates
  • Scans social channels, hashtags and media platforms to identify whether the supporters of political candidates and parties are focusing on policy and behaviour vs the individual people and nasty remarks
  • Ranks media companies and journalists on how accurate their election reporting is as well as identifying whether particular media organisations demonstrate bias towards a particular candidate

This is information now I have been in the thick of things that I want to know. This is information that as members of the community we frankly deserve to know. I don’t see myself as a political candidate again any time in the future – as my mentor David Koch said to me before the campaign started, it takes a very special type of person to run for public office.

But I will never sit back or be blasé again when it comes to Australian politics, consider me activated. Last night I registered:


I invite anyone who feels as passionate about me when it comes to transparency to join me in creating the Jiminy Cricket of Australian politics. Both people and policy both should inform the way you vote on election day and the behaviour parties, candidates and their supporters display towards other people is a pretty good indicator of the type of character you are voting for.

It will make no money, be built as an open-source project where other people that feel as passionate about healthy politics as I do can leverage or extend the tech to create other tools and resources that align with my mission to make the term “That’s politics” redundant.

Because people that run for politics are people.

Featured Cartoon: Journo Shame | Illustrator : Ghada Sleiman