New South Wales Archive

3

Council mergers string out NSW elections for four more years

The NSW state government has written to councils laying out the timetable for council elections for those councils which have not yet been amalgamated. This timetable could well see council elections held in every one of the next four years, with the possibility of some new councils not facing election until the next regular council election in 2020.

There are eleven new councils which have been proposed but have not yet been implemented, mostly because of pending court cases. This is in addition to twenty new councils which have already been proclaimed.

The proclaimed councils will have their elections held in September 2017, and the NSW Electoral Commission will be planning to hold elections in September 2017 for those unmerged councils if their mergers haven’t been implemented before the 2017 election.

But for those councils which are amalgamated any later than this month, their election will be postponed until March 2018 or September 2019. The government has even flagged the possibility of elections being postponed until September 2020, when most council elections are due.

Thanks to this announcement and the ongoing legal conflicts, it now appears likely that the newly-created councils will face their first elections gradually over the course of multiple years.

In other council amalgamation news, I had missed the state government’s amalgamation of Rockdale and Botany Bay councils into Bayside council in September. I believe it’s the only council to be amalgamated since the first wave of amalgamations earlier this year.

It’s also quite possibly the most outrageous of all of the new councils.

The two old councils are on either side of Sydney airport, and have very little in the way of community of interest or transport corridors. The absurdity of the boundaries become more obvious when you look at the new ward boundaries. The new Mascot ward stretches across the airport, covering the suburb of Mascot along with the suburbs of Arncliffe, Turella and Wolli Creek.

The Bexley ward also has ridiculous boundaries. The pre-existing boundary between the old Kogarah and Rockdale councils wasn’t the most logical boundary, and it would’ve made sense to erase it by merging Rockdale, Kogarah and Hurstville into a single St George council. But instead that boundary has been kept while inexplicably creating a council which crosses the airport, and it produces a very messed-up ward on that boundary.

In other news, two of the newly-merged councils have already changed their names. Western Plains has reverted to be Dubbo, and the merged Gundagai council has been renamed Cootamundra-Gundagai.

The relevant maps on the maps page have been updated to include the new Bayside wards and these updated council names.

11

NSW council amalgamations – the never-ending election

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 4.52.05 pmYesterday I posted a quick summary of the NSW government’s council amalgamation announcement.

Today I wanted to run through the partisan impact of the councils being created, and the impacts on the next NSW council elections.

In December, I assessed the proposed council amalgamations by calculating the federal two-party-preferred vote in each area.

There is a lot of variation in council elections – strong independents can mask the political bent of an area, and in some areas major parties don’t contest the election. While there is some personal vote effects in federal election results, I thought using the 2013 election would be useful in estimating the underlying political trend of each area. Basically I estimated the 2013 Coalition two-party-preferred vote in each council and then subtracted 3.5% from that figure to get a figure which would produce a statewide 50/50 result.

Some of the trends we saw in the draft proposals can be seen in the final decisions announced yesterday:

  • The new Parramatta is more Liberal-leaning than the old Parramatta, while neighbouring Cumberland is strongly Labor-leaning.
  • Pro-Labor Randwick has been absorbed into an overall Liberal-leaning eastern suburbs council.
  • Including Botany Bay in the eastern suburbs and Rockdale in Georges River would have made both councils more Labor-friendly. Instead a bizarre council has been created in the middle.
  • Greater Ryde (as I’ve called it – no name has been released as the decision is pending court action) is substantially more friendly to the Liberal Party than the old Ryde, which was more of a marginal council.

Kiama, which was expected to be absorbed by the larger and more conservative Shoalhaven council, has been spared.

I’ve updated the map to include the rest of the state – a series of new councils have been created in south-western and south-eastern NSW, and the three big towns in central west NSW, Dubbo, Orange and Bathurst, have been brought into bigger regional councils.

Now I want to address the major democratic deficit in yesterday’s announcement.

I’m not going to go over the whole question of whether council amalgamations are a good idea in this form, or whether bigger councils are better or worst, but instead address how the ward boundaries have been drawn, and the absurdly long period that so much of New South Wales will go without elected representatives.

It’s very unclear when elections will be held for most NSW councils. My best guess at the moment is that there will be three council election dates in 2016-17:

  • Councils unaffected by mergers (eg. Blacktown, Fairfield) – September 2016
  • Councils which were considered for amalgamation but were spared (eg. Hawkesbury, Kiama) – March 2017
  • New councils – September 2017

It’s also unclear how soon amalgamations will happen in the case of councils where the minister has given “in principle” support for amalgamations pending court action, or for those where no decision has been made (eg. Newcastle/Port Stephens). Will they be ready by September 2017, or will we have to wait longer?

It firstly seems ridiculous to scatter NSW council elections over such a long period.

More importantly, it’s an absurd amount of time to go without an elected council. I understand that you need some interregnum when replacing an outgoing council with a merged council, but fifteen months is ridiculous.

About 27% of the NSW population lives in one of the nineteen new councils created yesterday. Another 21% lives in the nine proposed councils which will be created once the current court action is resolved. If Newcastle is also merged and its council sacked, that will be a majority of the NSW population living in an area with no elected local representation.

Finally, it is appalling the way that the state government has gone about drawing the ward boundaries for those new councils with wards.

If this were a federal or state election, the process of drawing electoral boundaries is delegated to an independent commission. That commission takes submissions, takes comments on those submissions, makes a draft map, and then takes objections and comments on those objections. If their second map is significantly different to the first map, they can sometimes provide a third round of objections.

In Victoria and Queensland, a centralised authority uses a similar process to draw up boundaries, with rounds for objections and comments.

We don’t get that in NSW. A referendum or ministerial approval is needed to change the number of councillors, create wards, abolish wards or change the mayoral election method, but the council itself can draw its own wards. Having said that, such a process is still open, with draft boundaries being put out for consultation before being decided by the council.

We got none of that for these new councils. There was some discussion about how many councillors each council should have, and whether there should be wards. But there was no hint that the wards would be decided unilaterally without any consultation at the same times as the councils were being created. The elections have been delayed by a year, there’s plenty of time to do it properly.

Having said that, we now know the wards for a bunch of new councils across Sydney. Once the federal election is over, I’ll move over to preparing ward maps for the upcoming Victorian and NSW council elections (all of them). Until then, this is my last post about this issue, and I’ll soon resume posting about the federal election.

14

Federal electorate map of NSW finalised

The AEC has released the final maps for the NSW federal redistribution today, after the decisions were first announced in January.

I had made a Google Earth map of my best estimates of the electoral boundaries in January, and these are largely accurate.

The only spots where I was incorrect were:

  • Hume/Eden-Monaro border
  • Grayndler/Reid
  • Hume/Werriwa
  • Fowler/McMahon

You can download the final map here.

3

NSW and WA redistributions – updated maps

We are now nearing the end of the federal redistribution process which precedes the next federal election.

We had redistributions in New South Wales, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.

The AEC has a curious process where they announce the final boundaries but do not provide the maps and data which allow people to see the precise boundaries. This extra information is usually provided about a month later.

In the ACT, the final boundaries were identical to the draft boundaries, so no further maps are necessary (although the final data is expected next week). In Western Australia, the final maps were released yesterday, and I’ll post them further down in this post.

In New South Wales, the final boundaries were announced last Friday, without any maps. In most places it’s reasonably clear what boundaries they were using (although a few were confusing). I’ve done my best to put together a new map – I think it’s likely to be accurate but there may be a few errors (in particular the Hume/Whitlam boundary and the Parkes/New England boundary) and I will update it when the official data is released in late February.

Download the NSW final-ish electoral map.

Download the WA final electoral map.

Download the ACT final electoral map.

Below the fold you can see interactive maps for NSW and WA, although I haven’t added any other data to the maps, just the boundaries.

Read the rest of this entry »

27

NSW council amalgamations – proposals released

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 5.09.31 pmThe NSW government has released its plans for council amalgamations following a lengthy of period of reviews and submissions by local councils.

The government is proposing cutting the number of councils in the Sydney region from 43 to 25, as well as merging other councils in rural NSW.

In this post I’m going to focus on the changes to the region stretching from Port Stephens to Shoalhaven, covering the vast bulk of New South Wales, including about 6 million residents.

This region includes 53 councils, and the NSW government proposes reducing this to 32 councils, with only 14 councils unaffected.

I’ve done some analysis of the political make-up of each new local government area, examining allegations of gerrymandering, and posting some maps showing the stats for each proposed new council.

You can download the Google Earth map of the proposed boundaries here. (link broken)

You can also download the dataset I used here.

My map does not cover rural areas – it only stretches from Port Stephens to Shoalhaven.

Read the rest of this entry »

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NSW redistribution – map complete

I’ve now completed the Google Earth map of the draft federal electoral boundaries for New South Wales.

Download the map here.

I’ve also produced a fusion table combining the map with the notional estimates of the two-party-preferred margin and primary votes for Labor, Coalition, Greens and others in the 47 new electorates.

8

IPART declares NSW councils “unfit”, set for merger fight

The NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) has today released its report into the “Fit for the Future” process, which has been the program whereby the NSW Government has been pushing for wide-scale council amalgamations across New South Wales. Despite the rhetoric, the report tells us nothing about the sustainability of local government, while giving us an insight into the state government’s amalgamation agenda. Despite the sheen of objectivity, IPART’s assessment works on the basis that local councils must be bigger, and for those councils which fail to meet the size criteria set by the government, their financial position is largely irrelevant.

The NSW government set a variety of criteria which it expected councils to meet. One of these criteria was the vague concept of “scale and capacity”, which seemed to be code for “bigger”. Today IPART, following the very much non-independent criteria set by the state government, has declared a majority of the state’s councils as “unfit” – most of those declared unfit were because they failed to meet the arbitrary “scale and capacity” criteria, which appears to have been applied to different councils of similar sizes.

The NSW government has used rhetoric that implies that there is no alternative but to merge for these councils, and that they need to do so to be sustainable. Yet most councils declared “unfit” cleared the financial criteria set down, and instead were declared “unfit” because of a big-council political agenda being pursued by the government. It is laughable to call this process “independent” when you consider how the criteria have been framed. Read the rest of this entry »

51

NSW redistribution – notional vote figures

I’ve been getting a bunch of questions about the relative strength of parties in the proposed new federal electorates which were released by the AEC yesterday.

William Bowe at Poll Bludger released notional two-party-preferred figures yesterday, and my calculations are pretty close to his, but I’ve also added primary vote figures for Labor, Coalition, Greens and “other”.

The AEC has released data on which ABS Statistical Area 1 units (the smallest analytic unit available) are in which seats, both on the existing boundaries and on the draft boundaries. I then mashed this up with Parliamentary Library data on how the primary vote and the two-party-preferred vote is estimated to have been split up by SA1 at the 2013 election to produce estimates.

The following table provides the 2PP for Labor at the 2013 election (you can derive the Coalition figure by subtracting the percentage from 100), the change in that 2PP due to the redistribution the primary vote for Labor, Coalition, Greens and other, and the proportion of the new electorate which was not in the existing electorate.

The table is below the fold. Enjoy!

Read the rest of this entry »

31

NSW redistribution, council amalgamations and SA reform

There’s been a lot of electoral news this morning! I’ll try to run through it all really quickly. I’ll be putting together the new NSW electoral map over the next week and I’ll try to find some time to cover the other issues.

NSW redistribution

The Australian Electoral Commission has released the draft map of the new New South Wales federal electoral boundaries.

The federal seats of Hunter and Charlton in the Hunter region have effectively been merged. The seat takes in more voters from Charlton, but has maintained the federation seat name of Hunter.

The seat of Throsby (covering the Southern Highlands and southern Illawarra) has been renamed Whitlam after the former prime minister. The seat of Parkes has taken in Broken Hill, while Farrer and Riverina have consolidated into southern NSW.

In inner Sydney, Grayndler has shifted north, losing Labor areas in southern Marrickville and Ashfield and gaining Balmain, Annandale and Drummoyne. The seat of Barton (currently held by the Liberal Party on a slim margin) has shifted into that gap, and presumably will become a notional Labor seat. The seat of Cook, which covers Cronulla, has jumped the Georges River to take in parts of the St George region.

I’ll be working on my map of the boundaries, which is likely to take most of the next week.

We would normally expect Antony Green to calculate the seat margins for the redistribution, but he’s currently in Canada for Monday’s Canadian federal election. I’m not currently equipped to do the calculations for such a large state but will look into it if we haven’t heard from Antony by the end of next week.

NSW local government amalgamations

We’re still waiting to hear from the NSW government about it’s plans for council amalgamations across Sydney but we’ve gotten a seemingly well-placed report in today’s Daily Telegraph with some details about the proposal, although they are in part contradictory.

In one part, it suggests that Sydney’s councils will be cut from the current 42 to about 20, and that about one third of the state’s 152 councils will be cut. But in the article and on the map there are seven council mergers proposed, which would cut the number of councils by eight – a long way short of cutting 22 councils from Sydney.

It also talks about “as many as 30 rural and regional councils” being abolished, but also suggests a reluctance to touch rural councils – 30 rural councils being abolished is a lot.

The mergers proposed are:

  • Manly and Warringah
  • Canada Bay, Burwood and Strathfield
  • North Sydney and Mosman
  • Hornsby and Ku-ring-gai
  • Bankstown and Canterbury
  • Randwick and Waverley
  • Auburn, Holroyd and southern parts of Parramatta (Granville mostly)

There’s an interesting mix here. Some very small councils such as Mosman, Burwood and Strathfield are on the chopping block, but other small councils such as Hunters Hill and Woollahra appear to be saved. Large councils like Warringah, Randwick, Bankstown and Hornsby are also set to merge, sometimes with reasonably large neighbours.

Considering these discrepancies, it appears these might only be some of the mergers planned.

The report also suggests a delay in council elections until March 2017, although it’s unclear if this would only be for affected councils, or the whole state.

Watch this space.

South Australian electoral reform

The South Australian government has announced plans for a raft of electoral changes, including introducing the possibility of double dissolution elections to resolve deadlocks.

Interestingly, it also involves the abolition of preference voting for the Legislative Council, moving instead to a party list system using the Saint-Lague counting method. This is very similar to how most proportional systems work in Europe.

There won’t be any preferences, with only primary votes used to distribute seats, according to a method which involves dividing the number of votes by a party by the number of seats they have won.

It’s quite a good system to use for list elections, as it is much much simpler than the way we elect our proportional houses in Australia, but it is problematic if it’s used in elections where not that many candidates are to be elected. It would work much better in SA if they also moved to four-year terms for the upper house, and thus elected 22 candidates instead of 11, but I can’t work out if that’s part of the package.

The reforms will be put to a referendum in 2018.

6

NSW government pushing for council mergers

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.