Referendum Archive


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?


QLD referendum results map

Queenslanders yesterday voted in a referendum on whether the state Parliamentary terms should be extended from three to four years, and that election dates should be fixed on a date in October.

The result was close, but the referendum passed. At the time of writing, Yes has 53.15% of the vote.

Yes is currently winning a majority of the vote in 72 out of 89 districts, and has won in every region of Queensland.

The following clickable map shows the vote in each of the 89 state electoral districts:


QLD election night live

10:20pm – Alright I’ll call it a night. I’ll come back tomorrow and put together some maps of the results. In summary:

  • The Yes vote looks like winning the referendum. Not by a lot, but remarkably consistently across the state, including in Labor and LNP areas.
  • Labor has gained a large swing across most wards for the Brisbane lord mayoralty, with the LNP’s vote after preferences dropping from 68.5% to 58.4%. Such a result would put Labor within reach of winning in 2020.
  • Labor has made no progress towards winning back the city council. They have lost one of their seven wards (Northgate) to the LNP, and look like losing another (The Gabba) to the Greens. While they gained big swings in many safe LNP wards, the ALP actually lost votes in the only seriously marginal LNP ward (Doboy).

10:07pm – The Yes case is winning in both Labor and LNP areas. Yes is winning 54.5% in the 44 seats which Labor won in 2015, while Yes is winning 52.8% in the 42 LNP seats. No is winning in the three seats won by Katter’s Australian Party and independent Peter Wellington.

10:03pm – I’ve just run updated referendum figures. Yes is now winning in all regions, ranging from 50.5% in regional South-East Queensland to 58.3% on the Gold Coast. We have no figures from Stretton, but Yes is winning 67 other seats and No is winning 21 others. The vote count is still more progressed in No areas.

9:55pm – In 2012, Labor won the mayoral vote in only one ward: Richlands. The new ward replacing Richlands, Forest Lake, had a notional LNP majority, so going in to tonight Labor had a mayoral majority in no wards. At the moment it looks like Labor has gained a majority in Forest Lake, Deagon, Moorooka and the Gabba. Labor’s swing is averaging at 9.95%, with swings over 10% in fifteen wards, and a negative swing in only one: Morningside.

9:47pm – In the inner-city ward of The Gabba, it looks like the Greens might be winning off Labor, in a similar way to what happened in Balmain at the 2011 NSW state election. We currently have half the booths in, and the Greens are on 33.6%, the LNP on 33% and the ALP on 31%. However the Queensland Greens report an “unconfirmed scrutineers tally” which has the LNP in first narrowly, with the Greens well ahead of Labor. On either of those sets of numbers you’d expect Labor preferences to elect the Greens over the LNP. Labor’s only hope is to overtake the Greens on primary votes or with preferences from the only other candidate, but on the current numbers that fourth candidate wouldn’t have enough votes to overturn the gap.

9:41pm – It appears that the LNP has held on strongly in its marginal wards. In Doboy the LNP has currently increased their margin from 1.8% to 4.4%. Labor’s vote is up substantially in a whole bunch of safe LNP vote, with swings of over 10% in Coorparoo, Enoggera, Runcorn, The Gap and Marchant.

9:38pm – Looking at the Brisbane City Council results, Labor are leading in six of their current wards on two-party-preferred vote (although I’ll come back to the Gabba). In Northgate, where Labor councillor Kim Flesser retired after 19 years, Labor is currently down 2.6% on the two-party-preferred vote which leaves them on 47.8%.

9:30pm – Breaking up the results by region, “Yes” is winning in every region except for those parts of South-East Queensland outside of Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast. Even there, No only has 50.3%. We have 26.8% counted in the 11 seats in central Queensland, along with 15% in North Queensland and 22% in the remainder of SE Queensland but under 10% in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast.

9:28pm – We have referendum data from 74 out of 89 electorates. In 56 of those electorates, “yes” is winning, often not by very much. Yes is only winning over 60% in nine seats. In the other 18, “no” is winning.

17.4% of the roll has been counted in the No seats, while 13.9% has been counted in the Yes seats. This suggests that Yes is likely to increase its lead, although I haven’t been able to take account of any trends within each seat, and we have no idea about how the remaining 15 seats will break.

9:17pm – I’ve now gotten around to looking at the results. I’ll give some analysis on the referendum in a minute.


QLD election day open thread

Queenslanders are voting today in council elections, and on a referendum to change the constitution to have fixed four-year terms for the state Parliament.

I won’t be liveblogging results tonight as I’ll be out, but you can use this thread to discuss the results, and I might do occasional updates.

Antony Green will be covering the results at the ABC Elections website.

I’ll be doing post-election analysis, maybe late this evening or more likely tomorrow morning, so keep an eye out for that.

In the meantime, you can read through my guide to the Brisbane City Council election, which includes profiles of all 26 wards.


Ireland votes yes for marriage equality – results map

Ireland voted on Friday in a referendum on allowing same-sex marriage, and it passed overwhelmingly.

Since I have previously produced a Google map of Ireland’s parliamentary constituencies (download it here), I thought I would put together a quick map showing the shape of the vote by constituency.

The ‘no’ case won in only one constituency: Roscommon-South Leitrim.

The ‘yes’ case did particularly well in Dublin, winning over 70% in nine out of twelve constituencies. The worst ‘yes’ vote in Dublin was 66.4% in Dublin North-East.


Scottish independence takes the lead

A week from tomorrow, voters in Scotland will be voting in a historic referendum to decide if the country should become independent from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Earlier this week, the ‘Yes’ campaign took the lead in the polls for the first time in a year. Over fifty independence polls have been conducted this year, and the latest YouGov poll for the Sunday Times was the first to show a plurality of Scots supporting independence, with 47% Yes, 45% No and 6% undecided.

While this poll could well be an outlier, it follows a trend of a number of polls shifting towards Yes since the second debate between Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, representing the Yes campaign, and former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling, chair of the Better Together campaign.

This has included two polls showing No with a 48-42 lead, and another with No on a 48-44 lead, as well as another poll that had No ahead by one point, but with 23% of voters undecided. Neither side has polled a majority since mid-August.

All of this suggests that the referendum is still up in the air, with enough undecided voters to swing the result either way. No is still the likely winner, and has been ahead most of the time, but recent trends indicate a shift of support towards Yes, which could see Yes win if the trend continues.

What makes this referendum particularly difficult to predict is the lack of precedents in Scotland. Pollsters normally rely on previous voting trends to weight their electorate, but there has never been a similar referendum in Scotland before.

In addition, the electorate is made up of a different composition to Westminster elections, with all British, Commonwealth and EU citizens resident in Scotland eligible to vote, including anyone over the age of 16. Turnout is expected to be extremely high. The Electoral Commission is predicting turnout about 80%, compared to 50% at the last Scottish parliamentary election.

Because of this volatility, we have no idea if the polling is skewed one way or the other, and don’t have any yardstick to judge what would be expected to happen over the course of the next week. Most history of referendums suggests that support for the status quo increases as you approach election day, but the history of Quebec independence referendums in the 1990s (probably the closest parallel) suggested that the independence campaign gained ground near the end. If the current polling is correct, a spike in support for Yes in the next week would be enough for victory.

The campaign has covered a broad variety of issues, but has focused on a few key points. Two debates have been held between Salmond, the leader of the SNP government in Scotland, and Darling, a Labour politician and former senior minister in the Blair and Brown governments who is leading the No campaign.

In particular, there has been a big argument around what currency would be used by an independent Scotland. The Yes campaign insists that they are entitled to use the pound, and feel confident about securing a currency union which would ensure that both the UK and Scotland would have control over the currency. While the No campaign (including the UK government) accept that Scotland is free to use any currency it wishes, they insist that in the case of independence, the control of the currency would remain solely in the hands of the UK.

During the independence campaign, all three of the main UK political parties (Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats) have proposed various plans to expand the powers of the Scottish Parliament in the event of a ‘no’ vote. Initially the SNP sought to include a third option on the ballot – “Devolution-Max”, which would give the Scottish Parliament powers over taxation and welfare. This was blocked by the UK government, but it seems clear now that more powers will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, even if the referendum fails.

This week, George Osborne suggested that plans for more powers to the Scottish Parliament in the case of a ‘no’ vote will be revealed before the referendum, with the support of the three UK major parties.

If the referendum passes, it will cause huge constitutional headaches for the UK. An election for the UK Parliament is due in May 2015. Negotiations for independence are expected to take two years, so Scotland will still be electing 59 MPs at an election in 2015, whilst being aware that those MPs will cease to sit in Parliament upon independence. This could cause particular problems if Labour wins a narrow majority, as Labour would have a majority in the Parliament as it exists, but would lose approximately 40 seats upon Scottish independence, which could result in the government falling and an early election being necessitated.

There have been regular claims that the removal of Scotland from UK elections would make it impossible for Labour to form government, but this simply isn’t true. In recent decades, there have been two slim Labour majority parliaments that would have been hung parliaments without Scottish MPs, and the current Parliament would have been majority Conservative without Scotland. But Labour won three terms from 1997 to 2010 with large enough majorities that they didn’t rely on Scottish seats, and it could happen again. It’s certainly true that in a close election Labour would be worse off without Scotland, but there’s no reason to think that Scottish independence will lead to permanent Tory government.

Either way, this referendum will have significant impacts on the United Kingdom’s constitution.

If Scotland votes for independence, there will be a complicated process of negotiation as Scotland is untangled from the nations it has been united with since 1707. While the current government plans to keep the monarchy in an independent Scotland (similar to the monarchy’s role in Australia, Canada and New Zealand), who knows if nascent republican tendencies will emerge as an independent Scotland

If Scotland votes ‘no’, we will still see a Scottish Parliament with additional powers devolved from Westminster. This will worsen the current contradiction where Scottish MPs at Westminster have the right to vote on issues which do not effect Scots (a similar contradiction exists to a lesser extent for MPs from Wales and Northern Ireland), as those powers devolved to Scotland remain held at Westminster for most of England.

Shortly after the creation of devolved assemblies for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London in 1999-2000, the Labour government attempted to create elected assemblies for the regions of England, beginning with North-East England in 2004. The plan was dropped after voters overwhelmingly rejected a referendum to create a North-East England Assembly. The pressure for a federal United Kingdom, with powers devolved evenly across the union, will continue to grow.


Wales headed to devolution referendum

Wales looks set to hold a referendum in the next to devolve substantially more powers from the Parliament in Westminster to the Welsh Assembly.

Wales voted to establish a devolved Assembly in a 1997 referendum, and the Assembly was created in 1999 at the same time as the Scottish Parliament. Although the Scottish Parliament was given wide powers to make law and vary taxes, the Welsh Assembly was much more limited in its powers, effectively only having the capacity to make secondary legislation and not set tax rates. Indeed, the UK government originally named the executive members of the Assembly as “secretaries” rather than “ministers” (although this related to the fact that “First Minister” has the same translation as “Prime Minister” in Welsh).

While the UK has seemingly moved towards a federal structure in the last decade, this has been a spotty and unequal process. The Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly and Welsh Assembly were all granted different amounts of powers with different governmental structures. In addition, plans for elected assemblies in England have not been fulfilled outside of London, meaning that the UK Parliament has uneven powers in different parts of the Union and allows MPs from the three smaller countries to vote on solely English issues.

The Welsh Assembly has gathered more powers over the last few years, particularly since the 2007 election, when the Labour Party went into coalition with Plaid Cymru. The UK Parliament has now defined twenty areas where the Welsh Assembly has gradually gathered specific powers within those areas of legislation.

The “All Wales Convention”, set up following the last Welsh election, has just brought down a report recommending that a referendum be held before the next Welsh Assembly election in May 2011. Such a referendum would give the Assembly law-making powers in the twenty areas of primary responsibilities, substantially expanding its independent power.

The All Wales Convention has recommended that such a referendum could not be held within three months of another election, suggesting such an election would take place in late 2010 or very early in 2011. The Labour Party is currently going through a process to choose a new Welsh First Minister, and all three leadership contenders support a referendum, only after the UK general election, expected in the northern spring of 2010. Leaders of the opposition Liberal Democrats and Conservatives support a referendum, and it can be assumed Plaid Cymru likewise supports a referendum. The current Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain, has previously dismissed the need for a referendum during the current Assembly term, although it’s unclear if he would block a referendum if supported by a Welsh Labour government. David Cameron has vowed to not block any referendum request if he becomes Prime Minister.

Recent polls have indicated support for more powers for the Welsh Assembly, although never by large margins. Most recently a YouGov poll in late October showed that 42% would vote ‘yes’ and 37% would vote ‘no’, although another question showed 63% support equivalent powers to the Scottish Parliament, which shows a lack of understanding of the current powers of the Assembly and the options on the table. A ‘yes’ vote in a referendum is no foregone conclusion, considering past Welsh referendums. In 1997, the ‘yes’ vote only passed by 6700 votes, with many local government areas voting ‘no’, while a similar referendum in 1979 saw almost 80% vote against devolution.


Maine same-sex marriage vote down to the wire

US election results today have seen Republicans win Democratic governorships in New Jersey and Virginia, and independent Mike Bloomberg reelected as Mayor of New York by a surprisingly narrow margin.

Two races remain close and worth watching. In Maine, “Question 1” is asking voters whether they support a new law on same-sex marriage. As it stands the “no” position (in favour of same-sex marriage) has a very slight lead.

No – 112,421
Yes – 112,245

38% reporting

Meanwhile, in New York’s 23rd congressional district, Democrat Bill Owens is leading ahead of Conservative Doug Hoffman:

Bill Owens (D) – 47,826 – 49.1%
Doug Hoffman (C) – 44,349 – 45.5%
Dede Scozzafava (R) – 5,294 – 5.4%

67% reporting

You can follow both votes, and a bunch of other votes around the US, at the New York Times website.


Ireland votes Yes

The Republic of Ireland has voted decisively to overturn the result of the June 2008 referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, with a 20% swing to ‘yes’ producing a two-thirds majority for the ‘yes’ side.

The Lisbon treaty, which updates the structures of the European Union, required approval by referendum for Ireland to ratify, and the treaty could not come into force without all member states ratifying. The June 2008 referendum saw a 53% vote against the treaty. Pressure from Europe and the continuing support of Ireland’s major parties saw Lisbon remain on the agenda, and Ireland’s economic collapse in late 2008 saw support for the treaty increase markedly.

Yesterday’s referendum produced a result of 67% in favour of the treaty, a swing of 20.5% on the previous referendum. While only ten of Ireland’s 43 constituencies voted ‘yes’ in 2008, all but two voted ‘yes’ yesterday. The two remaining constituencies, Donegal North East and Donegal South West, saw the smallest swings towards ‘yes’ (only about 13% each), while all other constituencie produced swings from 16% to 22%, indicating a remarkable consistency in the shift in favour of the Lisbon treaty.

In addition, there was an increase in turnout from about 53% to 58%, and a 5% increase in turnout was fairly consistent across the country.

I have created maps showing results and turnout levels for the two referendums, and posted them below the fold. Remember, you can download the Google Earth maps of both current Irish constituencies and proposed constituencies for the next election from the Tally Room maps page.

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