Newcastle council election, 2017

The City of Newcastle covers the Newcastle city centre, and suburbs including Adamstown, Black Hill, Carrington, Cooks Hill, Islington, Kotara, Lambton, Merewether, Newcastle, New Lambton, Stockton, Tighes Hill, Wallsend and Waratah.

Wards
The City of Newcastle is divided into four wards for the purpose of electing councillors:

  • First – Newcastle, Carrington, Stockton, Maryville, Tighes Hill, Mayfield and Warabrook.
  • Second – Adamstown, Broadmeadow, Hamilton and Merewether.
  • Third – Callaghan, Jesmond, Lambton, New Lambton and Waratah.
  • Fourth – Maryland, Sandgate, Shortland and Wallsend.

Incumbent mayor
Nuatali Nelmes (Labor)

Incumbent councillors

Ward 1 Michael Osborne (Greens) Stephanie Posniak (Labor) Vacant (Liberal)1
Ward 2 Therese Doyle (Greens) Brad Luke (Independent) Vacant (Labor)2
Ward 3 Declan Clausen (Labor)3 Andrea Rufo (Independent) Sharon Waterhouse (Liberal)
Ward 4 David Compton (Liberal) Jason Dunn (Labor) Allan Robinson (Independent)

1Liberal councillor Lisa Tierney resigned in March 2017.
2Labor councillor Tim Crakanthorp was elected to state parliament at the Charlestown by-election in November 2014, and stepped down from the council in October 2016, as required under state legislation restricting the right of sitting MPs to sit on councils for more than two years after election to parliament.
3Declan Clausen was elected at a by-election in February 2015, triggered by Labor councillor Nuatali Nelmes winning the November 2014 lord mayoral by-election and thus vacating her ward 3 council seat.

History
The City of Newcastle was created in its current form in 1938, when the City of Newcastle was merged with Adamstown, Carrington, Hamilton, Lambton, Merewether, New Lambton, Plattsburg, Stockton, Wallsend and Waratah councils.

Throughout the middle part of the 20th century, Newcastle council elections were primarily contested by Labor and the Citizens Group, a local right-wing grouping that largely existed to run for Newcastle municipal elections.

The Mayor of Newcastle’s title was changed to Lord Mayor in 1948, and was the first mayor of a city that was not a state capital to be given the title. For most of Newcastle’s history, the mayoralty was elected annually.

In the 1950s, the mayoralty was handed back and forth between Labor and the Citizens Group. Frank Purdue, seemingly linked to the Citizens Group, was elected Mayor in 1951, and for three successive years from 1953 to 1955. He was interrupted in 1952 by Labor mayor Tom Armstrong.

Armstrong was elected as an independent Labor candidate in Kahibah at a by-election in 1953, and was re-elected in 1956 before dying in 1957. Purdue was elected as an independent candidate in Waratah at the 1956 election, in part due to the split between Labor and the Democratic Labor Party. Purdue held Waratah for two terms until 1962.

When Purdue was elected in Waratah, the Citizens Group’s Douglas McDougall succeeded to the lord mayoralty, and he was elected Mayor in 1956 and again in 1958. In between, in 1957 the lord mayoralty went to Labor alderman Charles Jones. Jones held the mayoralty for one year, and stepped down in 1958 when he was elected to the federal seat of Newcastle. Jones held the seat from 1958 to 1983, and served as a minister in the Whitlam government from 1972 to 1975.

In 1959, the mayoralty shifted to Ernest Dunkley, who had previously held the mayoralty from 1943 to 1944. I haven’t been able to identify Dunkley’s political affiliation.

After Newcastle’s mayoralty changed hands almost every year throughout the 1950s, the role was held by only two people from 1960 to 1974, both affiliated with the Citizens Group, and having previously served as Mayor.

Frank Purdue returned to the lord mayoralty in 1960, while still serving as the state Member for Waratah. Purdue lost his seat in 1962, but was returned to Parliament when his successor died in 1964. He held the seat for one more year until 1965, when he stepped down both as Lord Mayor and as Member for Waratah.

Douglas McDougall, who had previously held the lord mayoralty for two non-consecutive annual terms, returned to the role in 1965. He held the mayoralty for the next eight years, stepping down in 1974. At the time, this made him the longest-serving Mayor of Newcastle in the City’s history.

McDougall was replaced in 1974 by Gordon Anderson, another Lord Mayor whose political affiliation was not clear. Anderson was mayor for one year, and then in 1975 was succeeded for two years by Labor’s Joy Cummings, who was Newcastle’s first female Lord Mayor.

Anderson was again elected Lord Mayor for one more year in 1977.

Somewhere around this time, Newcastle’s lord mayoralty became directly-elected once every three years by the voters of the City, rather than being elected annually by the aldermen of the Council. It appears that Cummings was the first Lord Mayor to be directly elected in 1978, when she returned to the mayoralty.

Joy Cummings’ second term as Lord Mayor lasted for six years from 1978 to 1984, and she was elected directly as the Lord Mayor in 1978, 1981 and 1984. Shortly after being elected to a third term, Cummings suffered a stroke and stepped down from the mayoralty.

In 1984, the Citizens Group was in a stronger position, and Deputy Lord Mayor Don Geddes, leader of the centre-right grouping, was considered to be in a strong position to win a Lord Mayoral election. That year, the state Labor government sacked Newcastle City Council, and the council was run by administrators until 1986.

Prior to the council sacking, the City Council was elected by a majoritarian electoral system using small wards. After the council was restored, the council was elected by proportional representation, with all councillors elected to represent the entire council.

John McNaughton, a member of the ALP’s right faction, was elected Lord Mayor in 1986. McNaughton led the council for a decade, and was re-elected twice.

In 1991, the voters of Newcastle approved a referendum that shifted the city to a ward-based electoral system. The council of the time consisted of eleven councillors elected by proportional representation as a single ward, as well as a directly-elected Lord Mayor. The new system, used for the first time in 1995, saw Newcastle split up into four wards, each of which electing three councillors, for a total of thirteen including the Lord Mayor. This system has remained in place ever since.

That 1991 council included the first Greens councillor on Newcastle City Council (and one of the first two in the country) as well as two Liberals. Three independent councillors also sat on the council, some of whom were former members of the Citizens Group, which had by then disbanded.

Prior to the 1995 election, McNaughton was defeated for Labor preselection by Greg Heys, a left-wing rival on the council. Heys was elected Lord Mayor, and served one term.

In 1999, Heys was defeated by independent councillor John Tate. Tate had served on the council since 1980, first as a member of the Citizens Group, and then as a broadly centre-right independent.

John Tate was elected to a record three terms as a directly-elected Lord Mayor, and is the longest-serving Mayor in Newcastle’s municipal history. When he was re-elected in 2004, the council included four Labor councillors, four Greens councillors and only four independents.

In 2007, Tate had come close to winning the state seat of Newcastle, with the Labor vote split between Labor candidate Jodi McKay, and sitting MP Bryce Gaudry, who had been elected to four terms as the Labor MP before being disendorsed and running as an independent.

In 2008, Tate was elected to a third term as Lord Mayor in a widely-dispersed field. Right-wing independent Aaron Buman, originally elected on Tate’s ticket, narrowly came second ahead of the Labor candidate, both on 18%, in an election where Labor did poorly across the state. Tate was elected with only 32% of the primary vote. The Greens’ council representation dropped from four to one, while Labor maintained their four seats. The number of independents increased from four to six, and one Liberal councillor was elected.

In 2012, John Tate did not run for re-election as Lord Mayor.

Independent candidate Jeff McCloy ran with the tacit backing of the Liberal Party. McCloy’s supporters handed out how-to-vote cards advising voters to vote for the Liberal candidates in three ward (and a conservative independent in the fourth) and vice versa. While Buman ran again, he did much less well. McCloy was elected, with Labor improving their vote to come second, and the Greens candidate coming third. Buman came in fourth place.

The 2012 council consists of four Labor councillors, four Liberal councillors, two Greens councillors, and two independent councillors (not including McCloy). In practice this has meant that a governing majority has been formed consisting of the four Liberals and the three independents, sometimes nicknamed the ‘McCloyals’.

In 2014 Jeff McCloy was accused of having given donations despite his status as a property developer. Property developers are not permitted to give donations under New South Wales state law, and the ICAC accused McCloy of having donated to a number of Hunter-based Liberal candidates in the lead-up to the 2011 state election. In August 2014, McCloy resigned as Lord Mayor.

The November 2014 mayoral by-election was won by Labor’s Nuatali Nelmes. Her seat on council was then filled by another Labor candidate at a February 2015 by-election. This shift gave the centre-left a majority on the council.

Candidate summary
Labor is running Nuatali Nelmes for Lord Mayor and the following candidates as lead candidates in each ward:

  • Ward 1 – Emma White
  • Ward 2 – Carol Duncan
  • Ward 3 – Declan Clausen
  • Ward 4 – Jason Dunn

Former lord mayor Jeff McCloy is holding out the possibility of running for his former office.

Greens councillor Michael Osborne is not running for re-election. Fellow Greens councillor Therese Doyle appears to have been prevented from winning preselection by internal party rules, but the result of the preselection is not entirely clear.

Assessment
Newcastle is a traditionally Labor-leaning council, although various conservative lord mayors governed the council from 1999 until 2014. The 2014 by-election result suggests Labor is likely to surge in support, and we’ll likely see the Labor team forming a working majority alongside Greens councillors.

2012 council result

Party Votes % % where contested Swing
Labor 24,186 29.9 29.9 +1.7
Liberal 23,923 29.5 29.5 +25.1
Greens 12,076 14.9 14.9 -4.3
Allan Robinson 3,884 4.8 17.7 +4.8
Andrea Rufo 2,228 2.8 11.4 +2.8
Bob Cook 1,948 2.4 8.9 +2.4
Clarice Hamling 1,752 2.2 8.0 +2.2
Aaron Buman 1,568 1.9 8.0 -4.1
Helene O’Neill 1,377 1.7 6.9 +1.7
Rick Prosser 1,376 1.7 7.1 +1.7
Christian Democratic Party 1,069 1.3 4.9 +1.3
Joel Curry 1,004 1.2 5.2 +1.2
Others 4,623 5.7 11.7

2012 mayoral result – primary votes

Candidate Party Votes % Swing
Jeff McCloy Independent 36,663 43.1 +43.1
Nuatali Nelmes Labor 24,128 28.4 +10.5
John Sutton Greens 10,021 11.8 -2.2
Aaron Buman Independent 6,226 7.3 -10.9
Jacqueline Haines Independent 4,186 4.9 +4.9
Bryan Havenhand Independent 2,298 2.7 +2.7
Col Peebles Independent 1,497 1.8 +1.8

2012 mayoral result – after distribution of preferences

Candidate Party Votes % Swing
Jeff McCloy Independent 38,321 50.6
Nuatali Nelmes Labor 26,009 34.6
John Sutton Greens 10,883 14.5
Exhausted votes 9,806

2014 mayoral by-election result – primary votes

Candidate Party Votes % Swing
Nuatali Nelmes Labor 35,198 42.30 +13.92
Brad Luke Independent 19,635 23.60 +23.60
Therese Doyle Greens 11,664 14.02 +2.23
Aaron Buman Independent 9,570 11.50 +4.18
David Chapman Independent 4,240 5.10 +5.10
Rod Holding Independent 1,560 1.87 +1.87
Joe Ferguson Australia First 1,341 1.61 +1.61

2014 mayoral by-election result – after distribution of preferences

Candidate Party Votes % Swing
Nuatali Nelmes Labor 26,009 50.77 +16.19
Brad Luke Independent 22,892 31.89  -19.06
Therese Doyle Greens 10,883 17.34 +2.87
Exhausted votes 11,419

Ward breakdown – 2012 council results
At the 2012 council election, Labor narrowly outpolled the Liberal Party, with both parties polling just below 30%.

Labor topped the poll in wards 3 and 4, while the Liberal Party topped the poll in wards 1 and 2, with the Liberal Party doing very well in ward 2 and very badly in ward 4, while Labor polled between 27% and 33% across the wards.

The Greens vote ranged from 11% in ward 4 to 21% in ward 1. The vote for other candidates ranged from 16% in ward 2 to almost 40% in ward 4.

Ward ALP % LIB % GRN % OTH %
Ward 1 28.3 28.5 21.3 22.0
Ward 2 27.0 41.0 15.8 16.3
Ward 3 33.0 31.2 12.1 23.6
Ward 4 31.1 18.6 10.9 39.5

Election results at the 2012 Newcastle council election
Click on the ‘visible layers’ box to toggle between primary votes for the Labor, Liberal and Greens parties.

Election results at the 2012 Newcastle mayoral election
Click on the ‘visible layers’ box to toggle between primary votes for leading candidates Jeff McCloy (IND), Nuatali Nelmes (ALP) and John Sutton (GRN).

Election results at the 2014 Newcastle mayoral by-election
Click on the ‘visible layers’ box to toggle between primary votes for leading candidates Nuatali Nelmes (ALP), Brad Luke (IND) and Therese Doyle (GRN).

About the Author

Ben Raue is the founder and author of the Tally Room. If you like this post, please consider donating to support the Tally Room.