Local government Archive


NSW government moves to end random sampling in council elections

Last year I testified before the NSW state Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) about the issue of random sampling in NSW local government elections. You can read my submission, the transcript of the hearing, and the committee’s report.

TLDR: The random sampling system used to conduct NSW council elections is broken. The state government has accepted some great recommendations from the state JSCEM to fix this problem, and make some other improvements to instil more faith in our electronic counting systems, at least in NSW.

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Breaking down the Inner West Council results

I’ve been paying quite a bit of attention to the Inner West Council results. It’s my former council area, but it’s also one of the most interesting councils. The Labor, Liberal and Greens parties all feature prominently, along with a wide variety of independents.

I’ve also written a piece for the Parramatta Sun about the Parramatta and Cumberland council results which I’ll share here when it’s posted.

The overall result in Inner West is not quite clear. Labor and Greens have each won at least five seats, along with progressive independent Pauline Lockie and two Liberals. Two other seats are in play.

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NSW council elections – results rolling in

After a week of counting, we are starting to get final ward results declared in some of the fifteen big councils I’ve been covering. I’m going to use this post to update as we get waves of results over the next few days.

Saturday evening

We now have final results from nearly all of the councils I have been analysing – with the exception of the council results in Wollongong, where the mayoral results have been prioritised.

The Bexley ward of Bayside council has finished, producing a final result on the council of 7 Labor, 5 Liberal and 3 independents.

All five wards of Canterbury-Bankstown council were counted since the end of Thursday, producing a result of nine Labor, five Liberal and one Green.

All five wards of Central Coast council have been finalised. The final result is six Labor, four Liberal and five independents. The closest race was in Budgewoi, where independent Greg Best beat the Liberal candidate by 430 votes.

The remaining four wards of Cumberland council have now been decided, and Labor has won a majority on the council. Labor has won nine seats, along with five Liberals and Our Local Community’s Paul Garrard in South Granville.

Labor won their majority with very narrow margins. The second Labor candidate won in Greystanes by a 15-vote margin, and the second Labor candidate won in Regents Park by a 110-vote margin.

74.8% of voters in Cumberland have voted in favour of continuing to fund the five local pools in the council area.

The remaining four wards of Georges River council have now been decided. Labor has won six seats, the Liberal Party has won five seats, and four others won seats. Independent councillor Konjarski defeated the second Labor candidate in Mortdale by only 162 votes.

The final result has been reported in Hornsby. Philip Ruddock has been elected as mayor with a majority of the primary vote. The council includes four Liberals, two Greens, two Labor and one independent. All three wards had a close result for their final seat. Labor defeated the Greens for the final seat in A ward by only 301 votes. Labor also defeated Christine Berman in B ward by only 99 votes, while independent Vince Del Gallego defeated the second Liberal candidate by 88 votes.

Thanks to that 88-vote margin, Ruddock will need to use his casting vote to give the Liberal Party a majority on the council.

All five wards in the Inner West have been decided. The council consists of five Labor, five Greens and two Liberals, along with three independents: Macri, Stamolis and Lockie. Labor candidate Linda Kelly fell 356 votes behind the Liberal candidate at the key point in the Balmain count, and Stamolis defeated the Liberal candidate by 210 votes on the final count. Conservative independent Vic Macri defeated progressive independent Victoria Pye by 162 votes in the Marrickville ward. Stamolis and Lockie have been generally more willing to work with the Greens, so Pye’s defeat leaves the Greens one vote short of a working majority.

All wards in Newcastle have been decided, none of them ending up particularly close. The council consists of six Labor (plus a Labor mayor, giving them a majority), four conservative independents, and one each for the Liberal Party and the Greens. Liberal councillor Brad Luke defeated Greens candidate Therese Doyle by 781 votes in Ward 2.

All wards in Northern Beaches have been finalised. Michael Regan’s Your Northern Beaches won six seats, with the Liberal Party on five seats, alongside one Greens councillor and three independents. The only close race was in Pittwater, where Your Northern Beaches defeated the Greens by 116 votes for the third seat.

The remaining four wards in Parramatta have been decided, producing a result of six Liberals, five Labor, one Green, two members of Our Local Community, along with independent Lorraine Wearne. There were three close ward results:

  • Our Local Community’s Michelle Garrard defeated the Local Independent Party candidate by 419 votes in Dundas.
  • Our Local Community’s Andrew Wilson defeated the Greens candidate by 246 votes in Dundas.
  • The Greens’ Phil Bradley defeated the Local Independent Party candidate by 135 votes.

The balance of power will be primarily held by Our Local Community, who have enough votes to form a majority with the Liberal Party. If they choose to work with Labor, they can form a majority with Wearne or Labor. It’s worth noting that Wearne and Wilson were elected on the same ticket in 2012, and worked with Michelle Garrard’s father Paul to form an alliance with the Liberal Party on the former council.

The four remaining wards on Randwick council have been finalised, producing a result of five Labor, four Liberal, three Greens, and three independents, including two on Noel D’Souza’s ticket.

A final result on Ryde council is four Labor, four Liberal, two Greens and two independents. Independent Jane Stott fell 308 votes short of defeating the second Liberal in the East ward, while independent Simon Zhou defeated the second Liberal in the West ward by 424 votes.

The Hills produced exactly the same result as in 2012: nine Liberals and three Labor. The Liberal Party also won the directly-elected mayor, which was only created for the first time at this election.

Independent lord mayor Gordon Bradbery was re-elected in Wollongong, with 54.2% of the vote after preferences, defeating Labor’s David Brown. We haven’t had any final council results, but all but one seat on the council is now clear. The council should include five Labor councillors, three Liberal councillors, two Greens and an ally of independent Bradbery. The last seat in Ward 2 is a close race between the second Labor candidate and the second Liberal candidate – Labor is leading by 452 votes before preferences are distributed. If Labor wins that seat they will end up with six out of thirteen seats, falling just short of a majority.

Thursday evening

Four of five wards have been declared in Bayside, including the only uncertain race. The Botany Bay and Rockdale wards each produced a result of one Labor, one Liberal and one independent (James Macdonald in Botany Bay and Andrew Tsounis in Rockdale). Mascot and Port Botany wards produced a result of two Labor and one Liberal. The second Labor candidate in Mascot defeated Greens candidate Greta Werner by only 119 votes. The Bexley ward has not yet been declared, but Labor, Liberal and independent Liz Barlow are all on track to win one seat each. This would produce a result of seven Labor, five Liberal and two independents.

Labor’s Glen Richardson defeated Our Local Community’s Eddy Sarkis by just fifteen votes in the Greystanes ward of Cumberland council, in addition to another Labor councillor and a Liberal councillor. This puts Labor on track for at least six, and possibly as many as nine seats, on the council.

Labor, Liberal and independent Nancy Liu were elected in the Hurstville ward of Georges River council. Labor has won at least five seats, with a chance of winning as many as seven seats, but the chance of either party forming a majority appears to have faded.

Labor has won two seats, and independent Allan Robinson one, in the fourth ward of Newcastle council. The mayoral election and the other three wards appear to be locked in, producing a result of seven Labor, four independents, one Green and one Liberal.

Independent Lorraine Wearne, Labor and Liberal have each won one seat in the Epping ward of Parramatta council. The council appears to be on track for six Liberals, five Labor councillors, Lorraine Wearne and three others yet to be decided. Two of those seats could go to the Greens, and two local parties are also in the race for those three seats.

Labor, Liberal and Anthony Andrews have each won a seat in the Central ward of Randwick council. The other four wards appear to be clear, leading to a result of five Labor, four Liberals, three Greens and three independents.


Swings and vote totals – NSW council elections

I’ve pulled together the primary vote totals as of this afternoon and calculated swings for each council and ward in urban NSW.

I’ve restricted my analysis to councils between Newcastle and Shellharbour, as councils outside this area are almost always dominated by independents.

Across this region, here were the total votes for the three large parties:

Labor 350,04328.34+5.62
Liberal 348,98328.26-3.54
Greens 124,15410.05+1.45

Labor and Liberal have polled pretty much exactly the same vote.

The Liberal swing would’ve been worse if not for the Northern Beaches council, where the Liberal Party ran for the first time in the former Pittwater and Warringah councils.

The Liberal Party polled almost 63% in the Hills, which is the only place where they polled a majority of the primary vote. Labor’s vote peaked at 49.75% in Burwood. The Greens polled 29.7% in the Inner West, as well as over 20% in Waverley and Woollahra.

Labor’s largest swing was in Ryde, where their vote increased by almost 14%. They also gained a swing of over 13% in the new Cumberland council, and swings of over 10% in both Wollongong and Newcastle.

The biggest drop in the Liberal vote came in Newcastle. The Liberal primary vote crashed from 29.5% to 15.6% after a number of the party’s lead candidates were disendorsed after nominations closed.

The Greens vote rose in most councils. The party gained a swing of 9.7% in Woollahra, 7.9% in Waverley and 6% in Hornsby. The Greens vote only rose slightly in the Inner West (arguably the Greens most important council), with swings ranging from 13% in Ashfield ward to -10% in Balmain.

I’ve uploaded the spreadsheet listing my estimates of vote totals and swings for each LGA and ward in the urban area and you can download it here.

I’ve also made this map where you can toggle between layers showing the swings for Labor, Liberal and Greens in this region (you can zoom out to see Newcastle and Wollongong/Shellharbour).


Run of the board – NSW council elections

In this post I will quickly summarise the state of play in the 14 most populous councils I have analysed (excluding Ku-ring-gai, where no tickets are standing across multiple wards). I’ll be back later today with some analysis of the swings across the councils and over the coming days I’ll do deeper analysis of some of the more interesting councils.

Labor has won a majority in Canterbury-Bankstown and Newcastle, with a chance in Cumberland, Georges River and Wollongong.

The Liberal Party has won a majority in the Hills, and a majority in Hornsby with the casting vote of new mayor Philip Ruddock.

Independents or Greens hold the balance of power in the remaining councils.


Labor has won at least six seats, with the Liberal Party on five, along with three independents. Greens candidate Greta Werner is leading Labor for the final seat in Mascot. If Labor win that seat they will hold seven seats. Labor is likely to run the council, with the support of Greens and independents.


Labor has won at least eight seats, and is leading in a ninth seat. The Liberal Party has won five seats.

Greens candidate Linda Eisler is currently leading Our Local Community for the third seat in Canterbury ward, while Labor’s second candidate is leading Our Local Community for the third seat in Revesby. Regardless of these results, Labor will hold an absolute majority.

Central Coast

Labor has won six seats on the Central Coast, with the Liberal Party on at least four. Five independents are currently on track to win, but two of these independents could potentially lose to the Liberal Party. So the best case scenario for the Liberals would put them even with Labor, with independents holding the balance of power regardless.


Labor has a real shot at a majority here. They have won at least six seats, with chances of three more, while the Liberal Party has won four. Our Local Community’s Paul Garrard has won a seat in South Granville. The Liberal Party will likely win a fifth council seat in South Granville, where they lead former Auburn councillor Hicham Zraika.

Labor’s second candidate is leading in Greystanes ahead of Our Local Community, while the second Labor candidate is leading a wide field of candidates with a shot in Wentworthville. The Residents Action Group Cumberland is leading the second Labor candidate in Regents Park. If Labor wins two of these three contests, they will hold a majority.

Georges River

Labor has won at least six seats, with a chance of two more which would give them a majority. The Liberal Party has won five, along with at least one independent and the Kogarah Residents Association.

A second independent is leading the second Labor candidate in Mortdale, while the Greens candidate is leading the second Labor candidate in Peakhurst. If Labor pulls ahead in both these races they will win a majority.


Former federal Liberal minister Philip Ruddock should easily win the mayoralty, with 47% of the primary vote. His party will win at least four out of nine seats on the council. His vote, plus a mayoral casting vote, should allow the Liberals to run the council.

The Greens have won at least two seats, while they are leading Labor for a third seat. Two other Liberals have a chance, but are currently trailing a Labor candidate and an independent in the B and C wards respectively.

Inner West

Labor and the Greens have each won at least five seats.

The Liberal Party has also won two seats, in Ashfield and Leichhardt. Progressive independent Pauline Lockie has also won in Stanmore ward.

Two seats remain outstanding. #2 Labor candidate Linda Kelly has taken the lead ahead of independent John Stamolis and the Liberal candidate for the final seat in Balmain, while progressive independent Victoria Pye is narrowly leading conservative independent Victor Macri in Marrickville.

If Stamolis and Pye were to both win, it would allow Greens and independents to form a majority. If Kelly wins in Balmain, Labor would have a choice of working with Liberals or the progressive independents. If Stamolis and Macri win, Labor would need one of the independents and both Liberals to run the council. If Kelly and Macri win, Labor will have a wide range of options.


Labor has won a majority on Newcastle council. They will win the mayoralty, and second seats in Wards 3 and 4, giving them a total of seven out of 13 on the council.

The independents look set to win four seats. The Greens have won a seat in Ward 1. The Greens and Liberals are competing for the final seat in Ward 2. The Liberals have a substantial lead, but there is a large Labor surplus that could be enough to re-elect Greens councillor Therese Doyle.

Northern Beaches

No party will hold a majority here. Your Northern Beaches, led by former Warringah mayor Michael Regan, have won at least four seats and are leading in two others. The Liberal Party has won five seats. At least one other independent has won a seat.

The Greens are leading Labor for the final seat in Curl Curl. Your Northern Beaches are leading the Greens in Manly. The final two seats are a mess in Pittwater. Right now former mayor Alex McTaggart and Your Northern Beaches look set to win these two seats, but the Greens, and former Greens councillor (now independent) Selena Griffith are in with a shot.

Overall there are two blocks, and they will need to work with other independents and Greens to run the council.


Overall control of the council is still in play. The Liberal Party have won six seats, while Labor has won five. There are four wards where Greens and independents are competing for seats, and these races will determine the balance of power.

Michelle Garrard (daughter of former mayor Paul, who has been elected to Cumberland Council) is in the lead for the Our Local Community (OLC) party in Dundas, narrowly ahead of the Local Independent Party (LIP).

Independent Lorraine Wearne is in the lead in Epping, trailed by LIP and the Greens.

The Greens are leading for the final seat in Parramatta, ahead of LIP and OLC. Our Local Community is narrowly ahead of the Greens in Rosehill ward.

If the Greens win all three of the races they are contesting (very unlikely) they would be able to form a stable majority with Labor. The Our Local Community team has received preferences from the Liberals, which suggests something about how they might side on the next council. If they hold both of theirs, they’d be able to work with the Liberal Party. The Local Independent Party received preferences from Labor: if they did well then they could, together with the Greens, support a Labor-led majority.


It appears that Randwick will elect five Labor, four Liberals, three Greens and three independents, including two on former mayor Noel D’Souza’s ticket. This is a shift away from the major parties, who each won six seats in 2012. A number of options will be available to form a majority.


No party will win a majority in Ryde.

On current numbers, Labor and Liberal are winning four seats, along with two Greens and two independents. It is possible the second Liberal in Central ward could fall behind an independent, and it’s also possible the Greens could lose one of their two seats to the Liberals.

The Hills

No change in the Hills. The Liberal Party is on track to hold their nine seats, alongside three Labor. In addition, the Liberals will win the newly created directly-elected mayor.


There appears to be a close race between independent Gordon Bradbery (33.6%) and Labor’s David Brown 28.0%. The Liberal candidate is on 16.6% and the Greens are on 11%, so their preferences will be decisive.

There is one council seat in play – Labor is leading the Liberal for the last seat in Ward 2. If Labor wins both of these races they will hold a majority of 7 out of 13 seats.


Election night coverage – NSW council elections 2017

10:21pm – Let’s look at Bayside. Labor is on six seats (thanks to a massive vote in the Port Botany ward), the Liberal Party is on five, there are three independents, and one seat is still in play. Greens candidate Greta Werner has a solid lead over the second Labor candidate.

9:58pm – Labor has a chance of a majority in Georges River. They are currently leading for seven seats. Their second candidate in Peakhurst ward is in danger of falling behind Greens candidate Anne Wagstaff. If they can hold on in Peakhurst, and overtake the independent in Mortdale, they will win 8/15 seats.

9:35pm – Let’s talk about Wollongong. It looks reasonably clear that Labor has won five seats, the Liberal Party has won three, the Greens have won two, and sitting mayor Gordon Bradbery has won an ordinary council seat (which will go to his running mate if he wins the mayoralty). The fourth seat in Ward 2 is a close race between Labor and Liberal. If Labor win that seat, that will give them six out of twelve ordinary seats.

In terms of the mayoralty, Gordon Bradbery leads on 32%, followed by 28.1% for Labor’s David Brown, 16.7% for Liberal candidate John Dorahy and 12% for Greens candidate Mithra Cox. Liberal and Greens preferences will be crucial, and if they swing the mayoralty to Labor it could give the party a majority.

9:31pm – Labor is currently on track for a majority on Cumberland council but that’s on the basis of three close races. Labor is narrowly ahead of Our Local Community in Granville, and even more narrowly ahead of the same party in Greystanes, while Labor is the clear leader in a wide-open race for the final seat in Wentworthville. Wins in those three races would give them eight out of fifteen seats.

9:24pm – I’m calling a Labor majority for Newcastle council. On the basis of six and five booths respectively, Labor’s second candidate has a healthy lead in both Wards 3 and 4, which would give them seven seats including the lord mayor. The second Labor candidate is narrowly ahead of Greens councillor Therese Doyle in Ward 2.

9:19pm – Bayside council: current figures are 6 Labor, 5 Liberal, 3 independents and 1 Green, but Labor has a chance of winning a majority if their vote improves slightly in the Mascot and Rockdale wards.

9:09pm – The Greens are now leading for two seats on Parramatta council – with over 13% in Parramatta ward and 12.7% in Rosehill ward. At the moment this would produce a result of 7 Liberals, 5 Labor, 2 Greens and the last seat in Epping going either to Lorraine Wearne or the Local Independent Party, with that person effectively holding the balance of power.

9:02pm – In Balmain ward of the Inner West, John Stamolis has moved into third place. Labor’s vote is so high that their second candidate, immediate former councillor Linda Kelly, is in the hunt. Kelly is ranked fourth, with the Liberal candidate dropping to fifth.

8:48pm – Labor appears to be on track for a majority on Newcastle council. To achieve this they need to win a second seat in two wards, plus the mayoralty. They are well out in front for lord mayor, and are currently on track for a second seat in three out of four wards, which would give them eight out of 13 seats. I’ll wait for a few more booths, but it won’t be long before I’ll consider calling Newcastle.

8:42pm – On current figures in Georges River – Labor is on seven seats, Liberal 5, and three for independents.

8:31pm – The Cumberland administrator put up a question to the voters asking if they wished to maintain the council’s five pools – over 75% are voting Yes. Meanwhile Labor has a real shot at winning a majority on that council. They are currently leading for six seats and we have no real figures from Regents Park, so that would give them at least seven. They are also almost winning a second seat in Granville ward. A second Labor councillor in Granville or Regents Park (along with the second in Greystanes and Wentworthville where they are leading) would give them a majority.

8:24pm – The new Central Coast council looks set to be dominated by independents. On current primary votes the council would include 5 Labor, 3 Liberals and seven independents, although a small shift could see four of those independents lose, producing a result of 6 Labor, 5 Liberal, one Green and three independents.

8:12pm – The Greens and Labor will each win five seats on the Inner West council. It also seems likely that progressive independent Pauline Lockie will win a seat in Stanmore and that Liberal councillor Julie Passas will be re-elected in Ashfield. The other three seats will decide whether a bloc of progressive independents or Liberals will hold the balance of power. Currently left-leaning Victoria Pye is leading right-leaning Vic Macri in Marrickville, along with a big Greens surplus to help her along. The Liberal Party is over a quota in Leichhardt.

So the control of council will come down to Balmain, where the Greens are underperforming compared to their other wards, and progressive independent John Stamolis is just behind Liberal candidate Stephen Meates. Labor is polling very well so their preferences will be crucial in deciding that race.

8:08pm – Your Northern Beaches seem to have the edge on the Liberal Party in the Northern Beaches. On current figures the council will be 6 YNB, 5 LIB, 2 GRN and two other independents.

7:54pm – Looks like Labor has locked in a majority on Canterbury-Bankstown. They’re polling about 60% in Bankstown, Bass Hill and Roselands, giving them six seats, plus one each in Revesby and Roselands (although they have a chance of a ninth seat in Roselands).

7:44pm – I’m finding the Marrickville ward of Inner West interesting. Former independent mayor Victor Macri is trailing in a distant fourth behind newcomer progressive independent Victoria Pye – 20.7% to 12%. Meanwhile the Greens’ Col Hesse has a substantial surplus with Labor’s Sam Iskandar 23.5% – the Greens’ surplus will improve Pye’s position. If Pye defeats Macri it will strengthen the chance of the Greens forming a governing majority, rather than Labor.

7:41pm – Gordon Bradbery is now leading with 31.8%, ahead of Labor’s David Brown on 26.3%, Liberal John Dorahy on 18.6% and Greens Mithra Cox on 11.5%.

7:19pm – We’re getting small numbers of results from the Inner West, but I won’t make predictions yet.

7:18pm – Things are much less clear in Wollongong. Sitting lord mayor Gordon Bradbery (an independent) is in third place on 18.7% off two booths, trailing the Labor and Liberal candidates.

7:15pm – Labor lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes is looking good to win re-election in Newcastle – she’s on 43% off five booths, with her two closest rivals on about 18%.

7:10pm – Very small vote in all five wards in Northern Beaches currently has Your Northern Beaches on track for 6 seats, Liberal 5, Greens 2, and two other independents. The Liberals look unlikely to be able to stitch together a majority.

6:40pm – Polls have closed forty minutes in councils across New South Wales. Join me as I track the results. We should start to see some data after 7pm.


NSW council elections – read the Tally Room guides

Voters in 46 NSW local councils will be voting on September 9 to elect new councils.

The rest of the state voted last September, but elections were postponed in all of those councils which had either been amalgamated or had an amalgamation pending.

Amalgamations have been cancelled in a series of regional councils, so these existing councils will hold regular elections in September.

There are twenty newly-amalgamated councils which will hold their first elections: eleven in Sydney and nine in regional NSW.

The state government is planning to amalgamated fourteen Sydney councils into five new councils, but these plans have been delayed by various court cases. Unless these amalgamations take place in the next few months, the unamalgamated councils are due to hold elections this year.

I’ve prepared guides for eleven of the biggest councils holding elections. These are the eleven councils with populations over 100,000 which are not still facing amalgamations.

Eight of these councils are new creations. Newcastle and Wollongong survived amalgamation plans, while the Hills had its election delayed after losing its southern tip to the City of Parramatta, but has mostly survived intact.

There are four councils which are still under the threat of amalgamation which have a population of over 100,000: Hornsby, Ku-ring-gai, Randwick and Ryde. I would normally write profiles for these councils, but have held off due to amalgamation plans. I may add profiles of these four councils if I have time before September.

Each profile contains information on the history of each constituent council, the council wards, and recent election results. I will gradually be updating each profile with candidate information as we get closer to election day.

You can also use this map to see which councils are facing election, and to click through to the guide for the eleven councils listed above:

One last note: of the fourteen councils which are still facing potential amalgamation, thirteen will use the same wards as in 2012. The only exception is Hornsby, which was required to redraw its wards after it lost a large area to Parramatta. I have now added in the updated Hornsby wards and uploaded a complete version of the ward map for the 2016-2017 council elections. You can download it at the maps page.


Yet another by-election coming up on Saturday

In addition to three state by-elections which will be held on Saturday in New South Wales, there will also be two council by-elections: for Ward 2 of Blacktown council, and for Lithgow council.

I profiled Blacktown council for last September’s election so I figured it would be good to produce a guide to this by-election. I’m going to try and keep on top of council elections for the larger councils in metro NSW going into the future. Sorry Lithgow, but I’m limiting my focus to the bigger councils.

Click here to read the guides to Saturday’s by-elections.

The by-election was triggered by the death of longstanding Labor councillor Leo Kelly. Labor should easily win the by-election without Liberal opposition. Labor currently holds nine out of fifteen seats on the council, which will return to ten if they retain this seat, so there isn’t any risk of Labor losing control of the council.

There was actually a bigger and more consequential council by-election in my hometown of Campbelltown last month, but unfortunately I was busy moving house and didn’t get to cover it. Campbelltown has no wards, so the by-election took place across the entire council (an area roughly as populous as a federal electorate).

The result solidified Labor’s control over Campbelltown. Labor held seven seats on the council, along with one Green and two members of Fred Borg’s independent ticket, giving Labor-friendly councillors ten out of fifteen seats on the council. The by-election was triggered by Borg’s death, and the contest was primarily between a member of Borg’s independent party and Labor. Labor’s win gives them a majority in their own right, without relying on Greens or independents to command a majority.

Click here to read the guides to Saturday’s by-elections.

Anyway, I’ve now got guides to all three state by-elections due this Saturday, along with Blacktown Ward 2. I’m having wisdom teeth surgery on Thursday so I don’t know yet whether I’ll be in a position to conduct a liveblog on Saturday – I’ll let you know.


NSW council mergers hit a wall – and may go backwards

After multiple years of making plans and implementing them, the NSW government is now on the verge of announcing something which should have come much sooner. For councils that have already been amalgamated, there will be plebiscites where voters will be asked to decide on whether the amalgamation should be wound back and the former councils restored. In addition, all of those amalgamations which have yet to be implemented appear likely to be cancelled. That means no amalgamations for the eastern suburbs of Sydney, the north shore, Newcastle or Wollongong, along with a scattering of other council areas.

This decision leaves the NSW government’s amalgamation plans in a complete mess. Councils that were facing mergers have been divided into two classes based on whether lawsuits were launched by those councils delaying the amalgamations. Regardless of their merits, amalgamations won’t go ahead where they haven’t yet been implemented, meaning in some cases we will see tiny councils like Hunters Hill and Burwood surviving alongside much larger neighbours.

I’ve made no secret that I am supportive of some enlarging of councils in the eastern half of Sydney, although many of the proposed amalgamations were unnecessary or unwise, but it was always problematic to implement the decision without a democratic mandate. It’s not surprising that elected councils would oppose amalgamation: I don’t think it should be necessary for the council to support a proposal. But a proposal agreed to by the state government should go to a plebiscite of the people in that community before being implemented.

I suspect quite a few of the mergers would have been successful if plebiscites had been held, at least in Sydney. Now we face the possibility that unwise mergers will be undone after a lengthy period of pain and after the spending of large amounts of money on the amalgamations.

We have recent experience of multiple local councils in Queensland de-merging following overwhelming plebiscite results, but all of these cases were in regional areas. I do expect that most of the regional council mergers will be undone by plebiscites, although some may survive.

We have no real sense of how plebiscites will go in Sydney, or how unpopular the amalgamations have been. There are some that on their face merge councils that are already quite large (Canterbury-Bankstown, Hornsby-Ku-ring-gai) or combine areas with no common interest (Bayside council) but I suspect that a lot of local voters are happy with the new councils in Parramatta, Inner West and Georges River, to take some examples. We will never find out if voters in the eastern suburbs or north shore would have supported amalgamating their councils – such a plebiscite could have decided the issue and saved a lot of political pain a few years ago.

The results of the plebiscite could end up being messy. What if Ashfield votes to stay in the Inner West but Marrickville votes to leave? Things will be particularly messy in the Parramatta-Cumberland area, where pieces of each council were broken up. I live in Parramatta and the new council is not much larger than the old council: it just covers different areas.

What if the voters in the heartland of Parramatta vote to reject the amalgamations, but the new additions from the Hills, Hornsby and Auburn councils vote to stay? What if Granville votes to return to Parramatta council, but the former Holroyd and Auburn councils (which don’t share a border) want to stay as Cumberland?

Whatever happens, this should produce some interesting electoral contests. Up until now, the campaign against council amalgamations was focused on the forced nature of the mergers. Will there now be room to debate the merits of particular council sizes and boundaries in the context of a fair democratic fight?


NSW council elections – turnout drops statewide

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-10-51-27-pmIt’s taken some time to pull together the data, but I’ve now got a complete set of booth-level data from the 2012 and 2016 local council elections.

The most interesting stat from the elections is that turnout dropped across almost all councils which held elections in September 2016, with turnout dropping the most in metropolitan NSW.

For the purpose of analysis, I have analysed 76 councils which held contested elections in both 2012 and 2016, plus Tweed council, which held a delayed election at the end of October. I excluded the results in Cobar, Leeton, Narrandera and Warren councils, as well as certain wards of Greater Hume and Lockhart, all of which held uncontested elections in 2012, thus making it impossible to make a comparison of voting data.

Out of those 76 councils, turnout dropped in 74. Turnout increased in Balranald council, in the far south-west, and in the City of Sydney. The increase was small in both cases.

It turns out that turnout dropped in 75 out of 76 councils – unfortunately I made an error in calculating the total turnout in the City of Sydney, as there was a big change between the full enrolment and the numbers in a similar dataset. Balranald is the only council which increased turnout.

Turnout increased by 5.6% in Tweed when the election was held at the end of October, almost two months after the rest of the election was held.

The drop in turnout was significantly worse in metropolitan NSW (including the Sydney region and the lower Hunter). Those metropolitan councils make up 58% of those enrolled to vote in the recent elections. While turnout dropped by 2.4% in regional areas, the drop was well over 4% in metropolitan councils.

PartyFormalInformalEnrolmentTurnout (%)Turnout change

This map shows turnout for each council, and shows a more nuanced picture. Turnout was particularly poor in western NSW, dropping by over 8% in Wedding and over 11% in Bourke. Turnout also dropped by over 9% in the City of Sydney, almost 8% in the City of Blacktown and by 6.5% in Liverpool.

So why did turnout drop? I can think of two possibilities. Firstly, the election was held within months of a federal election, whereas no election had been held closer than 18 months before the 2012 council election. This could explain why Tweed, which was delayed by more than a month, had a higher turnout.

I find it more plausible that turnout was hit by confusion due to only some councils holding elections. Particularly if you live in Sydney or the lower Hunter, communities, media markets and social networks stretch over numerous councils. Friends and colleagues would not have had elections, breeding confusion about whether any individual voter was required to vote. I heard this confusion myself from family members in Campbelltown and Blacktown councils.

This would explain why turnout dropped more severely in councils in western Sydney than in regional areas, where communities fit more neatly within council boundaries.

I’ve used the same dataset to calculate the vote and seat numbers for each party. Since most non-metropolitan councils are dominated by independents, I’ve split the vote up to give a better picture of the partisan split in the metropolitan half of the state where parties are much more prominent.

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