While New South Wales is currently undergoing a process of considering metropolitan council amalgamations, Western Australia has recently reached the unsuccessful conclusion of a similar process – which ended with a number of overwhelming ‘no’ votes in local referendums and an abandonment of the process in February 2015. New Zealand, which already has much larger councils than in most of Australia, is also currently considering a number of council mergers.
Local government Archive
Local councils across Sydney are currently going through a process of making submissions to the state government’s ‘Fit For The Future’ program, which is aimed at judging councils on a bunch of criteria, seemingly with the goal of consolidating the number of local councils, producing a smaller number of more populous councils.
In practice, the criteria are largely arbitrary, based on some vague concept of “big is better”, and attitudes of local councils towards amalgamation seem based on base politics, with various councils effectively promoting hostile takeovers of their neighbours in ways that will help their political party solidify its hold.
Through the course of this month, each council in the Sydney region is making a submission to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) about how their council meets the criteria set by the NSW government as to whether they are ‘fit for the future’. This process has involved many councils undertaking consultation, and coming to decisions about their recommendations, which have focused on whether councils support amalgamating with their neighbours.
The criteria cover the capability of the council, along with its efficiency, financial sustainability and management of infrastructure. The other criteria, ‘scale’, seems to be particularly arbitrary – the government has set a presumption that councils should have a substantially larger population than they have now, which necessitates significant amalgamations regardless of how a council performs on the other criteria. No number has been set for this criteria, with various figures suggesting different figures throughout the process.
While the process is requiring councils to produce public submissions, there is no such requirement for the state government to be transparent in their decisions – the IPART decisions will remain secret, and we won’t know whether any decisions by the state government to recommend amalgamations was made based on an IPART recommendation, or despite IPART’s recommendations.
There are undoubtedly some parts of Sydney which could do with local council amalgamations (hello, Burwood and Hunters Hill), but it is very unclear how much Sydney councils would be improved through amalgamations. While there may be some efficiencies, these in part could come from reductions in duplicated services, which may not be appreciated by their residents, and there will be a substantial cost to amalgamate different councils. Different councils provide different levels of service, and it remains unclear whether amalgamated councils would raise all parts of the council area to the highest standard, or lower services to the minimum.
Many councils are already benefiting from efficiencies created by cooperation between councils, sharing procurement and other parts of a council’s work, through the existence of regional organisations.
Looking at the list of councils who have expressed an openness to amalgamation, it has little to do with which councils are in most need of amalgamation, but more to do with politics – larger councils attempting to take over their smaller neighbours, and councils finding ways to design new boundaries that benefit the politically-dominant faction. In some cases, councils which are not considered to be in any need of merger have launched attempts to take over their neighbours.
In most of these cases, these councils are run by Liberals or Liberal-aligned independents.
Warringah Council, which is already well above the average population, has launched a bid to merge with its neighbours in Manly and Pittwater, neither of which support amalgamation.
In the north-west, The Hills, another large conservative council, is seeking to take over Hawkesbury Shire, which has about one third of the population but covers a large swathe of north-western Sydney. Hawkesbury, despite its small population, was not targeted for amalgamation because it covers such a large area. Hornsby Shire has also proposed a merger with Ku-ring-gai, who have refused the overtures.
In the inner west, most councils have opposed amalgamation, but in some cases councils have adopted ‘back-up options’. Leichhardt Council has proposed an amalgamation with Canada Bay and Ashfield councils, which would produce a strange Y-shaped area, but would conveniently weaken the Greens, who topped the poll in Leichhardt in 2012.
Further out in the inner west, Auburn and Burwood councils both agreed to a merger with Canada Bay council, but Canada Bay rejected the proposal. The three-council merger proposal was already strange, as it would leave Strathfield council alone (one of the smallest with a population of 37,000) surrounded by a new council on three sides which would include a population of over 190,000. It’s even more ridiculous without Canada Bay, because Burwood and Auburn do not share a boundary. Auburn intends to still push for the merger despite Canada Bay’s objections.
While Auburn is eager to merge with councils to its east, it has been resistant to joining an enlarged City of Parramatta with Holroyd (which is also anti-amalgamation) and Parramatta, which is generally supportive. One wonders whether this is linked to the political make-up of the councils, and where the centre of gravity would lie in an Auburn-Burwood-Canada Bay council compared to a City of Greater Parramatta.
The most ridiculous case comes in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. The original proposal from the independent panel was to merge the councils of Botany Bay, Randwick, Waverley and Woollahra into the City of Sydney, so that Sydney would cover the entire eastern peninsula. The other four councils all oppose this option, but their tactics to prevent it have varied.
Waverley and Randwick councils, which both have substantial numbers of Labor and Greens councillors but are currently dominated by conservatives, have both supported mergers with Woollahra and Botany Bay councils respectively, and possibly as a merger of all four councils. In Randwick, the Greens have come on board with the Liberal plans to launch a hostile takeover of Botany Bay council, which is dominated by Labor and strongly opposed to a merger.
Woollahra council, which is also dominated by the Liberal Party, also rejects amalgamation – unlike its neighbours to the south, the Liberal Party has a solid hold on Woollahra which is unlikely to change. It seems like those ‘marginal Liberal’ councils may see amalgamation as a way to solidify their hold on the east.
Of course, we have no idea how seriously these local council positions will be taken. Apart from Randwick and Waverley, no two other neighbouring councils support merging with each other. So any mergers will require the overriding of councils, at which point it seems far more rational to draw new boundaries where the government sees the most need, rather than drawing them according to the short-term political interests of sitting councillors.
We also don’t know what other reforms could come along – the independent review panel also recommended direct election of mayors, and possibly other structural reforms. I would personally like to see larger councils (including those large councils that already exist) given a larger number of councils than the current limit of 15 – but the trend seems to be in the other direction, treating councils as ‘boards of directors’ which are easier to manage with less representation.
While local government in New South Wales isn’t perfect, triggering a frenzy of amalgamation pushes across Sydney won’t do much to improve it – so much of the problems local councils have relate to the costs that have been imposed on them by other levels of government, and the ways in which they are restricted in finding funds to cover their work. Consolidating local councils into larger units won’t do much at all to fix that fundamental problem, but that’s a story for another day.
The deadline for local council submissions is next Tuesday, 30 June, so we may well see solid proposals for council amalgamations, likely forced, later this year, in time for council elections in 2016.
There was a story yesterday about plans by the NSW government to form a “Greater Sydney Commission”, which would take charge of planning for development across Sydney, and seemingly also have some kind of responsibility for infrastructure and transport.
Apparently the Commission was announced in 2014, although I missed it at the time. It appears to be linked to the government’s ongoing plans for local government reform (which I will cover later this week), with the Commission effectively including both council and state government representatives and would take control of setting housing targets and a variety of other Sydney-wide planning concerns.
The Sun-Herald described the Commission as ‘London-style’, but there’s a critical difference. In London, where there is a city-wide Greater London Authority alongside local borough councils, the Authority is a democratic organisation, run by a directly-elected Mayor and a 25-member Assembly, elected using proportional representation.
Instead, the proposed Commission would appear to have twelve members. The senior public servants covering roads, transport and planning for the NSW government would be represented, alongside three “independent members” (who knows what that means – just NSW government appointments?) as well as six representatives of local councils. It appears that six regional organisation of councils will each have a representative on the Commission.
So this body that would be taking over responsibilities from the democratically-elected state government, and from democratic local governments, would always be at least two steps removed from the will of the voters – voters elect councillors, who elect regional representatives, who elect Commissioners, while state government representatives are public servants appointed by the relevant ministers.
I can see a lot of value in a body that would look at planning issues for the whole of Sydney, in a way that is hard for either the state government or small local governments. But there’s no reason this can’t be democratically run.
There are two places in Australia where a democratically-elected government effectively covers an entire city, but no more – the City of Brisbane, which covers a large part of the Brisbane urban area, and the Australian Capital Territory, in which nearly all of the population lives in Canberra. In both cases we have ‘big city government’ that prioritises the city as a whole, rather than small parts of the city, or a bigger area of which the city is one part.
There’s a tendency amongst those pushing for local government reforms to push for any mechanism which takes the decision a step away from the voters: creating panels of mayors (thus excluding the vast majority of local representatives), or creating apolitical commissions. It’s almost like democracy is a necessary evil, and where possible it should be pushed into the corner.
There are real political issues to be debated across Sydney – which areas should receive the brunt of the new housing needed for current and future population growth, and how much investment should go into public transport or roads. But they should be debated in democratic forums.
I don’t see a good reason why such a body couldn’t be democratically elected. It could be elected at the same time as the next local government elections in September 2016. You could elect it using the same voting system, with a number of large ‘wards’ or electorates covering a number of local government areas.
Sure, such an elected Greater Sydney Assembly would be likely dominated by members of the political parties, but that’s democracy, and such an election would have different dynamics to state and council elections, and would focus attention on the needs of Sydney as a city, in a way that doesn’t happen in NSW state elections.
It appears this Commission will have a lot of power over planning Sydney’s future – and that power should go to a body that represents the people of Sydney. If things work out well, such a body could then go on to take on other responsibilities currently sitting with state or local government.
The City of Brisbane is unlike any other council in Australia. With a population of over one million people, the council is much larger than metropolitan councils in other Australian cities.
The election for Lord Mayor of Brisbane is the largest single-member election in Australia, with over 550,000 people voting in the 2012 election. This is much more than in a federal electorate. The council consists of 26 councillors, each elected from their own ward. Those 26 wards are also quite large – almost as large as Queensland state seats.
Considering all this, elections for the City of Brisbane are more like a small state election than any other local council election around Australia. With this in mind, I’m planning to cover the March 2016 Brisbane election in the same way I have done for recent state elections, with a guide for each ward.
In the meantime, the Electoral Commission of Queensland is currently undertaking a redistribution of Brisbane’s wards for the 2016 and 2020 elections. The last redistribution took place before the 2008 election, and the current wards have been used for two elections.
In this post, I’m looking at what changes may need to be made to the existing ward boundaries.
At the last redistribution before the 2008 election, the ward of Grange was abolished in the north of Brisbane, and was effectively replaced by a southern ward. In exchange, the seat of Walter Taylor lost the one third of its territory on the southern side of the river. This effectively cut the number of wards north of the river from 12.7 to 12. It seems likely that some of these trends will be reversed in this redistribution.
The ECQ has released enrolment figures for each ward as of 2014, as well as projects for 2016 and 2018. All wards must be within 10% of the quota in 2014, and it’s a good idea to also try and draw boundaries that keep wards within that quota by 2018.
For my analysis I have split Brisbane into four quarters. There are twelve wards north of the river and fourteen south of the river. For the wards south of the river, I have split them into two quarters of seven wards each. The south-east covers The Gabba ward in South Brisbane and all those wards to the east of the M3, while the south-west covers the remaining wards south of the river.
The north-west covers Central ward (covering the Brisbane CBD) and wards further west covering areas like Indooroopilly, Ashgrove and Moggill. The north-east covers areas to the north and east of the CBD.
|Region||Enrolment||Wards||2014 variation||2016 variation||2018 variation|
Overall, the north-west and south-east are close to quota. There are some seats over quota – Central is 10.2% over quota already, and The Gabba is expected to be more than 10% over quota by 2018 – but theoretically these issues could be resolved by minor changes between neighbouring wards rather than major structural changes to the whole city.
However the north-east is well over quota and the south-west is well under quota. By 2018, the north-east will have enough extra voters for 28% of an extra ward. By 2018, the south-west’s population will fall 31.8% short of justifying a seventh ward.
In order to resolve these differences, wards will need to shift north from the south-west to the north-east. Since these two regions don’t border each other, it will require significant changes to some wards in one of the regions where the population is on quota.
In particular, it will be necessary for one of the wards to cross the river. At the moment, there is no ward crossing the river. In the past, the Walter Taylor ward (covering the Indooroopilly area) has included areas on the south side of Brisbane, and the Indooroopilly state seat is currently the only Brisbane seat to cross the river. Because of this, it seems likely that a ward will cross the river in this area.
So the most likely trend seems to be:
- Seats in the south-east undergo minor changes, with the Gabba shrinking and giving territory to Holland Park, and Holland Park and three of its neighbours all expanding slightly to absorb the growth from the Gabba. The surplus from Doboy will bring Wynnum-Manly up to quota relatively simply.
- In the south-west, Parkinson will shrink, but all of its neighbours will have to grow, in particular Jamboree and Macgregor. This will require one of these wards, probably Tennyson, to jump the river and take in about 8000 voters.
- The wards of Walter Taylor, The Gap and Toowong all will require substantial more population, which will probably result in significant redrawing of their borders and a general shift to the north-east. This will include taking in substantial parts of Central ward, which is well over quota.
- Bracken Ridge will likely give some of its territory to Deagon to bring them both into quota, and McDowall will take population from Marchant to bring them into quota. No changes are necessary to Northgate.
- Hamilton is due to be way over quota, and with Northgate not needing changes, most of this population growth will need to be discharged into Central ward. With Central giving up some of its territory to Toowong, this will result in Central shifting towards the north-east.
You can find out more about the redistribution at the ECQ website, and submissions close on December 22.
A large swing of 14% to Labor has delivered the party the Lord Mayoralty for the first time in 15 years. Labor lost the lord mayoralty to independent John Tate in 1999. Tate was re-elected in 2004 and 2008, and replaced by Jeff McCloy in 2012.
On current numbers, Labor’s Nuatali Nelmes is sitting on 42.5% of the primary vote, followed by Brad Luke on 23.6%. Luke is the acting lord mayor, and was a Liberal Party member until recently, when he decided to run as an independent for Lord Mayor. The Greens’ Therese Doyle is coming third on 14%, followed by conservative independent Aaron Buman, a former councillor who ran for lord mayor in 2008 and 2012.
For the purposes of analysis, I have broken up votes between the four wards of Newcastle City Council, with special votes such as prepoll and postal votes grouped as ‘other votes’. It’s worth comparing the following table to the pre-election table.
|Voter group||ALP %||Luke %||GRN %||Buman %||ALP swing||Total votes||% of votes|
Labor topped the poll in all four areas, but did substantially better in the fourth ward and substantially worse in the second ward. The second ward was the best area for Luke.
For the Greens, their vote was highest in the first ward, and worst in the fourth ward. The party gained swings of between 3% and 3.6% in three wards, but actually suffered a tiny negative swing in the fourth ward.
Aaron Buman gained a 4% swing compared to his 2012 result, but still came fourth, and only managed to outpoll the Greens in the fourth ward.
Below the fold, I have included booth maps showing the primary vote for the four leading candidates, and the Labor swing compared to 2012. Please note these maps exclude two booths at the edge of the City of Newcastle: Beresfield and Minmi. Read the rest of this entry »
City of Newcastle lord mayoral by-election results
|Joe Ferguson||Australia First||1,236||1.58||+1.58||1.58|
9:57pm – I’ve just added prepoll figures to the count.
9:50pm – Final post for tonight – I’ve broken down the figures by each ward of Newcastle council. Labor’s vote ranged from 36.3% in the second ward to 48.1% in the fourth ward. The Labor swing was clustered around 12-13% in three out of four wards, but was 17.7% in the fourth ward. The vote for conservative candidate Brad Luke ranged from 19% in the first and fourth wards, up to 31% in the second ward. The Greens vote ranged from 9% in the fourth ward to 19.8% in the first ward. The Greens vote increased by 3-4% in three out of four wards, but actually suffered a -0.1% swing in the fourth ward.
9:39pm – We now have results from all 47 ordinary vote polling places, and the result is reasonably clear, and similar to the figures from earlier tonight.
8:48pm – We now have almost two thirds of booths reporting, and we are still looking at Labor in the low 40s, Brad Luke second with just over 20%, and the Greens’ Therese Doyle around 14%.
8:22pm – Newcastle results still trickling in, with 19 booths now reporting, but no significant change in the picture.
8:00pm – In the Second Ward, which covers Wentworth Falls and other mid-mountains towns, the Greens councillor resigned from council most recently. At the moment the Greens vote is down from 22.7% to 17.7%, and the Labor vote is down from 36.9% to 27.3%. The Liberal Party polled 40.4% in 2012, but is not running this time. At the moment Labor is leading, followed by two independents on 23% and 20.2% each.
7:56pm – A quick detour to look at the Blue Mountains. In the First Ward (Katoomba, Leura and areas further up the mountains), Labor, Liberal and independent Robert Stock all won a seat in 2012. Stock resigned earlier this year. The Liberal vote has dropped 5.1% from 26.5% to 21.4%. The Labor vote has increased from 23% to 29.8%, and the Greens vote has increased from 22.1% to 28.9%. At the moment, it looks like either Labor or the Greens will gain a seat, depending on preferences from the Liberal Party and two independents. I should note that I haven’t built a booth-matching model, so I am comparing the result so far off 9/10 booths and no special votes to the total vote from 2012.
7:55pm – With about 1/3 of ordinary votes reporting, Labor is still on track for 43% of the primary vote in Newcastle.
7:44pm – We now have twelve booths reporting in Newcastle, and the picture is largely the same – Labor with a huge primary vote lead, followed by a conservative independent and the Greens.
7:32pm – We now have seven booths reporting, and Labor is still on track to lead by a long way on primary votes, and should be able to win with Greens preferences. The Greens on raw numbers are down 1%, but when you match booths this flips to a +2.93% swing.
7:22pm – I should also note that in Newcastle I am comparing Brad Luke’s vote to the vote for Jeff McCloy in 2012, as the leading conservative independent, which explains the 20% swing against Luke.
7:17pm – We have the first two booths reporting from Newcastle, and Labor is projected to end up on about 45.6% of the primary vote – which should be easily enough to win with Greens preferences. In Marrickville West Ward, the Labor vote and Greens vote are both up, with the Liberal vote down, so Labor should retain the seat.
6:00pm – Polls have just closed in Newcastle’s lord mayoral by-election, as well as in three other council by-elections in Marrickville and the Blue Mountains. I’ll mostly be covering the results from the City of Newcastle this evening. The lord mayoralty of Newcastle was held by Jeff McCloy from the 2012 council election until he resigned earlier this year after he was exposed as giving donations to a number of Liberal candidates despite being a property developer, prior to winning the mayoralty.
You can also check out the Tally Room guide to this by-election, which includes analysis of the 2012 election result and the history of Newcastle’s lord mayoralty.
McCloy won the lord mayoralty in 2012 with 43% of the primary vote, with Labor coming second with 28%. The main candidates are considered to be Labor’s Nuatali Nelmes, and independent candidate Brad Luke, who was elected to Newcastle City Council in 2012 as a Liberal councillor.
Results will be coming in tonight from 47 polling places, and I will be attempting to match results to 2012 booth results to produce a predicted final result. However we will not be experiencing a two-candidate-preferred count tonight, so the projections will only produce estimates of the final primary vote.
Two Australian states are in the process of electing their local councils for the next four years. Unfortunately due to the large volume of state elections currently taking place, I won’t be able to provide any coverage of these elections, but others have produced some useful coverage elsewhere.
South Australian elections take place every four years. All SA council elections are conducted by postal ballot – ballot papers will be sent out over the week of 20-24 October, and voting closes on November 7. SA councils are elected by a mixture of single-member and multi-member wards, as well as directly-elected Mayors in most (or possibly all?) councils.
Until this year, half of each Tasmanian council was elected every two years for a four year term. This year is the first time that entire councils have been up for election at the same time. Tasmanian councils have no wards – so this means that all councils are proportionally elected, and the quotas will drop significantly. Mayors in Tasmania tend to be directly-elected. Tasmanian ballot papers will be posted between the 14th and the 17th of October, and must be returned by the 28th of October.
The shift in Tasmania towards conducting all council elections on one day every four years means that only one Australian state now conducts staggered council elections. In Western Australia, councillors are elected every two years for four year terms. The next WA council elections are due in late 2015.
Queensland’s next council elections are due in early 2016, while both New South Wales and Victoria are both due around the time of the next federal election in late 2016.
Tasmanian psephologist Kevin Bonham has completed an in-depth profile of the Hobart City Council election, including analysis of how sitting councillors’ have voted and lists of candidates. I recommend it for those eager for more elections news.
Radio Adelaide program The Scrutineers, by Casey Briggs and Dianne Janes, has produced a special episode focusing on South Australia’s local government elections. You can listen to the show online, as well as subscribe to the podcast and download old episodes of the show.
Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post about the Independent Local Government Electoral Review Panel in Victoria, chaired by former federal Liberal MP Petro Georgiou. In particular I focused on recommendations to modify the local government franchise, by extending the right to vote to all permanent residents (ie. non-citizens) living in the local government area, removing the second vote for businesses in the City of Melbourne, and generally simplifying and clarifying the process for non-residents to gain the right to vote in all council elections.
The review’s reports, however, covered much more than the franchise, so I thought I would return to the topic and summarise some of the most interesting recommendations, below the fold.
There are two reports – stage 1 and stage 2. I have listed the recommendation number for those recommendations I have discussed.
While the NSW Governments and the Shooters and Fishers push ahead with legislation to institute the “Melbourne model” of two votes for each business and corporation paying rates and owning property in the city, an independent review of Victorian local government has recommended an end to the very same practice.
The independent Local Government Electoral Review Panel, chaired by former federal MP Petro Georgiou, has released two lengthy reports after a year of consultations and discussion papers. The panel’s two reports cover a wide variety of issues, and I will return at a later date to consider the report in full, but the report is particularly interesting in recommending significant changes to voting rights for local council elections.
The report is recommending that all permanent residents be given the right to vote in the local council where they live, even if they are not a citizen, and is recommending a significant simplification of the process by which non-residents gain the right to vote.
The report points out that the current process of enrolment fails tests for equity and transparency, for example:
The right to vote can be transferred from one party to another. Under section 15 of the Local Government Act 1989, other than those commercial tenants who are on the council’s rate records, if a commercial tenant wants to apply to vote as a ratepayer, they need the landlord’s consent. The
landlord can then choose whether or not to transfer their vote to a tenant. This is inequitable and anachronistic.
The potential for chaos has also been exposed under the proposed bill for the City of Sydney, as revealed by Sean Nicholls in the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday:
The information provided was it would mean any landholder who pays rates in the City of Sydney will get a maximum of two votes, regardless of the number of businesses operating in the building they own.
Those businesses would not be entitled to vote unless the ratepayer nominates them as one of the two eligible voters.
Currently all business owners who pay more than $5,000 a year in rent have the right to vote but are not automatically enrolled.
As a result, thousands of business owners who meet the rent threshold and are eligible to vote would lose the right under Mr Borsak’s bill.
Giving certain individuals or corporations the power to choose which of their tenants is given the right to vote opens the process up for further abuse.
Currently the City of Melbourne is the only council in Victoria where businesses are given two votes, but the process is needlessly complicated across the state, as seen in this diagram produced by the Review’s secretariat (right).
The Review’s report has significant implications for the political debate in New South Wales around voting rights for the City of Sydney.
The fact that a committee led by a former Liberal MP, and appointed by a Liberal state government, is so sceptical of double voting for businesses should demonstrate the folly of extending the experiment to NSW.
If these reforms are implemented, the business vote will be significantly reduced in City of Melbourne elections. At the moment, non-resident voters make up almost 60% of the electoral roll for the City of Melbourne.
In addition, the enfranchisement of permanent residents in council elections would be a significant step forward, and I think a positive step towards voting rights being extended to all those who a permanent members of a community, not just those who have achieved citizenship.
Following on from the announcement earlier this week that the NSW state government will support a bill from the Shooters and Fishers that will radically expand business voting for the City of Sydney, today the bill was introduced in the Legislative Council, after previously not being advertised or being presented for any consultation.
The legislation confirms that property owners, ratepaying lessees or occupiers are entitled to vote: corporations are entitled to two votes, and otherwise the number of property owners, ratepaying lessees, and occupiers who get to vote are capped at two.
The other key part of the law will automatically enrol voters for all those who are eligible to vote. This creates the effect of massively expanding the number of non-resident voters in the City of Sydney, possibly threatening Clover Moore’s hold on the position.
The bill does not limit voting rights to non-residents who actually pay rates, regardless of the absurd ‘taxation without representation’ argument from supporters of business voting. The proposal isn’t about giving voting rights to ratepayers, but giving voting rights to one particular sector that has a history of having a large amount of influence over most councils.
Outrageously, the law gives the government the power to expand these new rules to any other local council in New South Wales, seemingly on an arbitrary basis. The NSW government has refused to say which other councils could also see massive expansions in business voting, but there have been suggestions that Parramatta, Newcastle and Wollongong could see a similar imposition.
Some might say that the latest news at ICAC regarding the Lord Mayor of Newcastle suggests that business interests don’t need any more influence over councils, but it hasn’t stopped the NSW government.