Blacktown council election – read the guide

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 9.20.09 am Blacktown City Council is the most populous NSW council to have an election this September. It was the largest council in NSW until the recent round of amalgamations, when Canterbury-Bankstown overtook Blacktown.

Blacktown is traditional Labor territory, but the last election produced a split result, with each major party winning seven seats and the last seat won by independent Russ Dickens, who sided with the Liberal Party.

This Liberal-independent alliance controlled the council for two years, but a Liberal defected to vote for Labor’s mayoral candidate Stephen Bali in a secret ballot in 2014, returning Labor to the mayoralty. Bali was re-elected in 2015 when a Liberal councillor defected to become an independent and join with the Labor councillors.

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NSW council elections – guides to the big councils

Council elections will be held in parts of New South Wales two weeks from now, on September 10. Voters will be able to start voting pre-poll as of today.

Not everyone in NSW gets to vote today. Any council which has either been amalgamated in the recent merger process, is proposed to be amalgamated, or has lost part of its territory to a boundary change, has had their election postponed until September 2017. Elections have been postponed across a majority of the Sydney region, as well as Newcastle, Wollongong, most of the central West and a bunch of other areas across the state.

In the Sydney region, most of the councils with elections are in Western Sydney, stretching from Blacktown and Hawkesbury in the north down to the Macarthur region in the south. Elections are also being held for the City of Sydney and Sutherland Shire, but the whole inner west, eastern suburbs and north shore regions, as well as Parramatta, Auburn and Bankstown, will have to wait another year.

For the first time I’ve decided to complete guides for some of the largest councils up for election.

There are eight councils in NSW with elections where the population is over 100,000 people. All eight are in urban areas, seven in Sydney. These eight councils are (in order of population) Blacktown, Sutherland, Fairfield, Lake Macquarie, Liverpool, Sydney, Penrith and Campbelltown.

So far I’ve completed guides for the first five of those councils, with Sydney, Penrith and Campbelltown to come in the next few days.

You can click through to the guides here:

I’ve also put together a map of the state showing the councils where guides have been prepared, and for the rest of the state indicates whether an election is due in 2016 or 2017.

It’s also worth noting that the election for Tweed council in the northeastern corner of the state has been postponed until October 29 due to the death of a candidate after nominations closed. Tweed was the tenth-most populous council due to have an election this year, after the eight listed above and Shoalhaven council, so if there’s demand I might do a guide for that special council election.

For each council I’ve tried to piece together the recent political history of each council but it can be difficult. Only a few councils have lists of former mayors, and council election results are only published as far back as 2004. If you have any insights or deeper knowledge of a particular council’s political history please comment and join the conversation.


NT election night live

9:32pm: The fourth booth has reported from Blain and Terry Mills has moved into second place. We don’t have a preference count between Labor and Mills, but he would need to pick up a lead of about 9% off the back of 27% of the vote for the CLP and 5.3% for another independent. If Mills can hold on to second place, I don’t think we’ll know the result in this seat tonight.

9:23pm: Three independents have won seats. Former CLP members Kezia Purick and Robyn Lambley have retained their respective seats of Goyder and Araluen, with Gerry Wood re-elected in Nelson. Terry Mills has fallen into third in Blain, and looks unlikely to win, while Delia Lawrie is narrowly behind Labor in Karama.

9:22pm: The Country Liberal Party is holding the new seat of Spillett and look likely to win Daly, but we’re still waiting for more votes. The CLP is narrowly ahead of Labor in Namatjira, but the ABC projects that Labor will gain this seat once more regional votes are reported.

9:19pm: Labor is currently leading in nineteen seats. Labor’s seven incumbent MLAs have all been re-elected. The party has definitely gained Arnhem, Drysdale, Fong Lim, Sanderson and Stuart, which gives them twelve seats. Labor is leading in Arafura, Brennan, Port Darwin and Blain but I’d want to wait for some more votes before calling. That brings Labor to sixteen seats. Labor is also narrowly ahead in Braitling, Katherine and Karama. The latter seat of Karama is a contest between Labor and their former leader Delia Lawrie, now an independent.

9:11pm: I’m not sure what’s happened in Blain. It now appears that Terry Mills has fallen into third place, which is confusing because there doesn’t appear to have been any more booths reported, and all three booths seem to have Mills in third, which doesn’t fit with him taking an early lead and falling behind. Will have to come back to this seat.

9:04pm: On the current numbers, I have Labor on track for 15 seats, CLP 3, independent 4, and there are three that are very close: Braitling, Karama and Katherine. So Labor could end up on 18 seats.

8:53pm: Labor has gained the lead in Arafura, and Karama is now a very close race between the Labor candidate and the ex-Labor independent Delia Lawrie.

8:36pm: Braitling is a nailbiter. Labor’s candidate is leading outgoing chief minister Adam Giles by 21 votes. We’ve seen a small parcel of postal votes, although there are presumably more to come, but we now have all of the ordinary booths reporting.

8:24pm: We have a lot more votes in Arnhem, and Labor looks clearly on track to gain that seat from ex-CLP independent Larisa Lee, who is languishing on 4.3%.

8:07pm: Two in particular to look at are Katherine and Braitling. Both of these seats stayed with the CLP when they were destroyed in 2005. We have three booths in from Katherine. The CLP’s Willem Westra van Holthe is leading on primary votes but Labor’s Sandra Nelson narrowly leads after preferences are distributed. We have two booths in from Braitling. Sitting chief minister Adam Giles is leading on primary votes but Labor’s Dale Wakefield does quite well out of preferences and is leading.

8:02pm: As for Labor’s gains, most of these seats are very close or just based on small numbers, but Labor looks like they have a chance of gaining Arnhem, Braitling, Brennan, Drysdale, Fong Lim, Katherine, Namatjira, Port Darwin and Sanderson. If Labor won all these seats they would win a comfortable majority.

7:59pm: It’s a bit hard to keep up with all of the seats which are now in place. Independents have either won or are in a good position to win these seats:

  • Araluen
  • Blain
  • Goyder
  • Karama
  • Nelson

7:29pm: At the moment the CLP looks likely to lose Sanderson, Arnhem, Drysdale and Brennan to Labor and Blain, Goyder, and Araluen to ex-CLP independents, although some of these are based on small votes. We don’t know anything from Fong Lim, Arafura, Daly, Stuart, Port Darwin and Braitling. It’s too early to interpret the numbers in Katherine, Spillett or Namatjira, but we could be on track for a landslide defeat for the CLP.

7:27pm: Ex-CLP independent Kezia Purick is also looking good to win her seat of Goyder.

7:24pm: CLP is behind in another traditional Palmerston-area seat. In Brennan, Labor leads on primary votes off two booths.

7:23pm: In the Palmerston-area seat of Blain, independent candidate Terry Mills, who held the seat until 2014, is neck-and-neck with former federal Labor MP Damian Hale on primary votes from one booth. The CLP, who technically hold the seat, are in a distant third.

7:17pm: We have two booths in from Arnhem. The sitting MP Larisa Lee was elected for the CLP but left the party to become an independent. Lee is polling a very distant third, with Labor on over 60% of the vote. Looks like a Labor gain but too early to call.

7:16pm: I’ve already mentioned Sanderson and Drysdale as two seats where Labor is doing well. It looks fairly certain that they have gained these seats.

7:02pm: Labor is looking good in the CLP seat of Sanderson in northern Darwin. The picture is very fuzzy but we’re seeing a consistent trend of the CLP going backwards, and not by a little.

7:00pm: Still early numbers but former Labor leader (now independent) Delia Lawrie is leading on the primary vote in Karama, CLP-turned-independent Robyn Lambley is neck-and-neck with the CLP in Araluen, both of which suggest this could be a good night for independents.

6:55pm: In the Palmerston-area seat of Drysdale, held by the CLP’s Ben Hosking by an 11.5% margin, there is a large swing to Labor on primary votes off two small booths. Early sign of a Labor landslide?

6:48pm: We have some very small vote figures in Barkly which have independent Jack Green leading sitting Labor MP Gerry McCarthy – we are talking about only 124 formal votes from one of the remote booths.

6:24pm: There were some major changes to NT electoral law earlier this year which are coming into play for the first time in this election. Parties and campaigners are prohibited from being within 100m of any polling place, which has made it harder to hand out how-to-vote cards. The voting system has also switched from compulsory preferential voting to optional preferential voting, which means that voters are not required to number every box on their ballot paper.

6:11pm: 52,604 people had already voted before today – that’s pre-poll votes, postal votes and mobile votes. It accounts for 38.8% of the total enrolment. Considering likely turnout levels, that could be close to half of all votes cast before election day.

6:00pm (ACST): Polls have just closed in the Northern Territory. Stick with me as we analyse the results as they come in.


NT election day open thread

Voters are now at the polls in the Northern Territory to elect a new Legislative Assembly after four tumultuous years of Country Liberal Party rule. The limited polls we’ve seen suggest Labor will sweep back into power.

I’ll be doing a liveblog tonight. In the meantime you can read my recent article about the NT election at Guardian Australia, and read the Tally Room guide, which includes profiles of all 25 seats. You can click through to seat guides on the map below:


South Australian state redistribution update

This is a quick blog post about a story that I’ve missed up until now.

As they do every four years, the South Australian electoral boundaries are currently in the process of being redistributed. The draft boundaries are due to be released at 11am Adelaide time this morning. This follows a round of submissions earlier this year, which largely went under the radar due to the federal election.

South Australia conducts redistributions after every election. Unlike other jurisdictions around Australia, the boundaries commission is required to ensure that the result is “fair” – ie. that a majority of the two-party-preferred vote gives a majority of seats. I’m on the record as thinking that this is an impossible task. By definition a system of single-member electorates are not fair, it can’t handle multiparty politics, and is always undone by different swings across the state.

The 2010 election saw Labor hold on to its majority despite losing a majority of the two-party-preferred vote, despite the best efforts to draw boundaries which wouldn’t produce this result. After this election, the boundaries commission decided that the boundaries were not unfair and didn’t attempt to undertake major redrawing of the boundaries to undo Labor’s new advantage.

The following map shows how much each seat diverges from the average quota as of 2016. Seats marked in red are above average, those in blue below average. Those in pale yellow are within a range of 1% either above or below. Those in a darker colour are 5% above or below average.

Seats must fall within 10% of the average. Technically only two seats fall outside this band: Port Adelaide is over 10% above average, and the remote north-western seat of Giles is over 10% below average.

In practice a lot more seats will be redrawn. On a regional basis, seats in the northern suburbs of Adelaide are above average. There are four seats north of the Adelaide city centre which are more than 5% above quota. The nine seats at the northern end of Adelaide are collectively 17.6% above quota, while the fifteen seats in central Adelaide are 7.4% above quota, and the southern Adelaide seats are mostly sitting around the quota.

The five seats in northern South Australia are collectively 22.7% below their fifth quota. This suggests that we should expect one of these rural seats to be pulled further into the northern fringe of Adelaide, to absorb the surplus population in Adelaide. We’ll find out soon enough.

I should note that I’m not planning to immediately drop everything to construct a map of the new draft SA boundaries, as I am hoping to produce a guide to some of the biggest councils up for election in New South Wales in September. I’ll return to produce this map later in the year once other elections no longer monopolise my time.


Independents surge in NT election

Nominations closed on Friday for the Northern Territory election – to be held two weeks from today.

The number of independents running in the coming election has increased dramatically, with five sitting independent MPs running for election and a former chief minister running for his old seat as an independent.

86 candidates stood for the 25 Assembly electorates in 2012. That number has increased to 115, almost entirely due to a big surge in the number of independents on the ballot.

Thirteen independents ran in 2012. This year, forty independents are running.

Gerry Wood was the only independent to win a seat in 2012, winning a fourth term in his seat of Nelson. Since that election, six other MPs have become independents: five MPs elected as Country Liberal candidates have left the party, and one Labor MP (former leader Delia Lawrie) has also moved to the crossbench. Out of these seven independents, five of them are running for re-election.

Some of these ex-CLP candidates could well have a chance of winning their seat against the official CLP candidate, in seats like Araluen, Goyder and Arnhem.

The former CLP chief minister Terry Mills has also re-emerged as an independent candidate in his old seat of Blain. Mills resigned from Parliament in 2014 after he was removed as chief minister in 2013. The by-election was won by CLP candidate Nathan Barrett, whose ministerial career came unstuck in June this year thanks to a sex scandal. Barrett has since left the CLP, and is not running for re-election. Labor would have little to no chance of winning Blain, even in a landslide, but Mills has a real shot at winning his seat.

We haven’t seen much polling in the NT, but those we have seen suggests that the CLP is on track to be easily defeated by Labor. If this election goes badly, and the CLP loses as many as four of their seats to independents, they could well be reduced to a small rump.

Apart from independents, the number of candidates running for political parties has roughly stayed the same. As in 2012, Labor and the CLP are running in all 25 seats. The Greens are running only six candidates, down from ten in 2012. Another party, ‘1 Territory’, is running thirteen candidates. The Citizens Electoral Council is running four candidates, and the Shooters and Fishers are running two.

The increase in candidate nominations will be seen in the size of most ballot papers. The median ballot paper size in 2012 was only three candidates. There was more than four candidates in only three seats. This year, there are five or more candidates running in eleven seats, with eight candidates running in the seat of Daly.


NT election August 27 – check out the guide

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 1.51.46 pmVoters in the Northern Territory go to the polls on August 27 to elect a new Legislative Assembly.

The Country Liberal Party returned to power in 2012 after eleven years of Labor government, and the last three years have been tumultuous.

There has been one change of chief minister, another attempted leadership change, and multiple scandals and ministerial resignations. At least six CLP MPs have quit the party (with one returning to the party) along with one Labor MP, reducing Adam Giles’ Country Liberal government to a minority position.

There hasn’t been much polling in the Northern Territory, but the polls we have seen suggest a massive swing to Labor. Labor also gained a large swing in the NT in the recent federal elections.

I have prepared a guide to the Northern Territory election, which includes an overall analysis of the situation and guides to all 25 electorates.

At the time of writing, I’ve only completed 22 of the 25 guides, with the other three coming in the next few days.

Each guide includes a list of candidates (to be updated after today’s declaration of nominations), the history of the seat, the geography, what changes were made in the redistribution, the 2012 results and a breakdown of results by booth.

Northern Territory electorates are much smaller than other electorates I have profiled – most seats only have a handful of polling places – some only have one. So instead of doing a map showing the booth results, I have included each booth’s key results in a table and then used a map to show where those booths lie.

As usual, you are welcome to comment on each seat, and you can use this post for general discussion about the election.

You can use the following map to click through to each seat’s guide – just remember that there are seven seats which don’t yet have guides. They should be up in the next few days.


Don’t like senators winning with 77 primary votes? Here’s how to fix it

There’s been a lot of attention over the last few days on the newly elected One Nation senator from Queensland, Malcolm Roberts. His election was a bit of a surprise, whereas we were confident that Pauline Hanson would win her seat, and her two other Senate colleagues were predicted as likely to win since election night.

There’s a lot to pick over about Roberts’ record, but a lot of the focus has been on the fact that he received only 77 primary votes – less than any other successful candidate.

I actually think there is a real problem with our Senate voting system which is exposed by Roberts’ tiny primary vote, but it’s not the one that most media has focused on. This problem isn’t unique to Malcolm Roberts. The reality is most senators, from major and minor parties, receive very few personal votes, and rely almost entirely on voters preferencing according to their party’s ticket to win a seat.

It is remarkable that someone won a seat off only 77 personal primary votes, but I would argue that it isn’t significantly different to the many major party candidates elected on a few thousand votes in large states.

The phenomenon of unpopular candidates winning seats with no public profile is not limited to One Nation – the major parties have a history of gifting Senate seats to party hacks who couldn’t win a seat in the House of Representatives. It doesn’t have to be this way.

In this article, I’ll explain the broader issue, and what I think can solve it.

Read the rest of this entry »


ACT 2016 – the guide

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 9.11.40 amVoters in the Australian Capital Territory go to the polls on October 15 to elect a new Legislative Assembly.

The current 17-member assembly will be replaced by an enlarged 25-member assembly. To achieve this, two new electorates called Murrumbidgee and Yerrabi have been added, and the central electorate of Molonglo has been shrunk and renamed Kurrajong.

I have completed a full guide for each of the five electorates.

Read the guide here

As usual, you can comment on each seat’s guide.


Senate preferences – unpacking the data

One of the exciting things about the new Senate voting system is that we are on the verge of gaining a lot of new data on how people preference. The AEC has released the full dataset of Senate preferences for the last few elections, but the vast majority of preferences followed pre-registered tickets, so the data was less interesting.

This time, everyone chooses their own preferences, and it appears that the vast majority of voters have marked their own preferences. Using this massive dataset we can do a lot of things to learn more about how voters preference, how many follow how-to-vote cards, and how they preference if they don’t. We can also see how these trends vary between seats, states and booths.

I haven’t had time to do any of this at the moment, but some others have done some cool things with the data. I just wanted to shout out to these people, and then address a possible problem with the method of deciding which senators get six-year terms.

David Barry, who does a lot of cool things with election data at his website, has put together a preference explorer. For voters who voted above the line (most of whom numbered six boxes), you can see how many people followed any particular preference flow.

Grahame Bowland has made his own software which takes the AEC preference data and runs his own count, to verify the accuracy of the AEC count. So far the Tasmanian count has passed the test. His page shows how the count progressed in a more user-friendly way than the official AEC PDF file.

Finally, there was some discussion last night around the interpretation of the section of the electoral act which deals with the special count to identify the top-six senators in each state (section 282).

Under section 282, a special count is conducted between the twelve candidates who have been elected from each state. Any votes which give a first preference for anyone other than these twelve candidates is distributed to one of them, and if there is no preference for an elected candidate, the vote is treated as informal. A new quota is struck as 1/7 of the remaining votes, and a new count is conducted. The Senate is then free to use the results of this count, if they choose, to determine who gets a six-year term and who gets a three-year term.

Grahame Bowland and Dean Ashley (who has built his own version of the counting software) both attempted to do a special recount as specified under section 282, but have discovered an ambiguity which makes it unclear who gets elected.

Dean goes into much more detail at his blog, but the short explanation is that it is unclear whether a below-the-line vote which is originally formal, and has a preference for at least one of the elected candidates, but has less than six preferences for elected candidates, is treated as formal in the recount.

It seems likely to me that any vote that was formal stays formal, as long as there is someone to receive the preference – but I can’t say the definitively from my reading of the legislation.