Camden Council’s population transformation

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On Monday, I posted about the trends in population growth across Sydney as seen in the NSWEC enrolment data, with a particular focus on Camden, which has more than doubled in size over the last fourteen years.

This growth in population has not been even, but has rather been concentrated at the northern end of the council, totally transforming the political geography of the area.

First up, this map shows the change in the ward boundaries from 2012 until 2021. The Camden ward boundaries were changed before the 2012, 2016 and 2021 elections (ignore the 2008 layer – it’s the same as 2012).

The trend has been consistent: the South and Central wards have shifted north, with the North ward retracting to cover a smaller area, as the centre of population in the council has shifted north.

When I grew up in Campbelltown, most of the population in the Camden Council area was around Camden and Narellan, right at the southern end, while the northern end of the council contained very few people, as a semi-rural remnant in south-western Sydney covering parts of the Camden, Liverpool and Penrith council areas.

This next chart shows why those ward redistributions have taken place. It shows the number of enrolled voters in each ward over time. The NSWEC updates the roll to match the new ward boundaries a few months before each election (or at least when the election was due to be held, in 2020), so at that point you see a sudden shift in the numbers per ward.

The 2008 redistribution was relatively minor, slightly increasing enrolment in the South ward at the expense of the other two. The three wards remained roughly equal at the time of the 2012 election, but the North ward started to move ahead of the other two in 2013, so the North ward had one-third more voters than the other two wards as of mid-2016.

The 2016 redistribution shrunk the North ward, but it had already overtaken the other wards by the time the NSWEC updated the wards on the roll, and it continued shooting ahead of the other wards.

Redistribution calculations for the upcoming election were based on enrolment data as of May 2019, with the expectation of a September 2020. There doesn’t appear to be any requirement that wards should meet future projections of population growth.

The Central ward’s growth had completely stalled out after the 2016 election. The ward had 12 more voters in April 2020 than it did in May 2016. The enrolment number was a flat line. Meanwhile the North was 75% more populous than Central by May 2019, with the South somewhere in between.

But those numbers were quickly out of date. The North ward grew another 9% between May 2019 and April 2020.

The new ward boundaries added a chunk of new-growth territory to Central ward. The new Central started with a larger population, but has also started to grow again, with the South ward left behind.

If the election had been held on time in September 2020, the North ward roll would have been 19% bigger than the South ward roll. Now, in September 2021, that gap is 26%.

Of course it’s hard to project what will happen in the future, and the errors in those projections are more of a problem for local government wards which cover smaller areas than state or federal electorates. But I really wish a council like Camden would have drawn its fastest-growing ward to be smaller, so that the future growth would bring the wards closer to equality, rather than pushing them apart.

There is no doubt that another redistribution will be required prior to the 2024 council election, which will be the fourth redistribution in four terms. They should at least consider drawing the high-growth parts of the council with a smaller roll, but they could also consider a total redraw of the wards to spread out the high-growth areas between the wards.

I’ve made a few other maps and charts that can illustrate what is happening in Camden. I have attempted to match up the older enrolment data to the newer data, although this is complicated by having to convert the Census Collection Districts used for the 2006 census to the Statistical Area 1 for the 2011 census and the slightly modified SA1 for the 2016 census. Once I did this, I could apply all four sets of ward boundaries (2004, 2012, 2016 and 2021) to the entire 14 years of data.

First up, this chart shows enrolment data based on the 2016 ward boundaries. You can see that the 2016 version of the Central ward ceased growing in 2015 and has flatlined ever since. Meanwhile, the 2016 North ward has gone from being a quarter smaller than the other wards in 2007, to including almost half of all electors as of 2021.

In contrast, the next chart shows the same data by the 2021 wards. The area covered by the new North ward covered less than a quarter of the council’s voters in 2007, but is now the most populous area.

It’s worth noting that the point when the new North ward became the most populous ward in June 2019, just one month after the data used to calculate the redistribution. This implies the council chose to redraw the North to just barely bring it into numerical equality with the Central ward, in such a way that the wards were doomed to fall out of equality before any elections would be held on those boundaries.

Next up, this map shows the population density (voters per square kilometre) for the month of each of the last three council elections, along with September 2021. The data is mapped using SA1s for the 2016 and 2021 elections, and with CCDs for the 2008 and 2012 elections. You’ll see that CCDs are generally larger and less detailed than SA1s.

In 2008, there are two main centres of population: Camden and Narellan-Mount Annan. Over the next decade these population centres expand, and the Narellan-Mount Annan urban area expands to the north, heading towards Oran Park and Leppington, although those SA1s cover much larger areas so the map is less detailed there.

And to see it from a different perspective, I grouped all the enrolment data by suburb to show how much enrolment has increased for each suburb in the council (in this case, looking at change since 2012).

The old heart of Camden in the south-western corner of the council has been largely stagnant over the last decade. Newer but established suburbs like Mount Annan and Narellan have seen substantial growth, but the biggest growth has been in the northern half of the council. Suburbs like Gregory Hills, Oran Park and Gledswood Hills have increased enrolment five to ten times over.

Today I’ve just focused on describing the growth, but this is bound to have an impact on the politics of the area. Camden has gone over five years without an election, and total enrolment has increased by almost 50%. Once you factor in people moving away, at least one third of the Camden electorate didn’t vote in the 2016 election. So there is only so much value in looking at booth results, and you can’t expect too much stability.

That’s about it for today. I think there’s a serious point about how redistributions take into account future growth, rather than just catching up on past growth, but I hope you’ve also learnt something about how rapid population growth is affecting an outer suburban council like Camden. It’s the most extreme example, but not the only one.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. The boundary between Camden and Campbelltown LGAs cut straight through the Willowdale estate, splitting some houses. They have since rectified this, but I’m not thrilled with the solution – the boundary just criss-crosses around cadastral boundaries to approximate the old boundary.

    On another matter – Is there an argument to be made that a new LGA should be established centred on Badgery’s Creek? From parts of Camden and Liverpool, and perhaps also smaller areas from Campbelltown, Fairfield, and Penrith.

  2. I may come at it from a different angle, and that some of the deferred/failed NSW council mergers should have proceeded. Having larger councils would be the first step of a major transformation to change the political structure of Australia, reducing the tiers of government from 3 to 2. Effectively a new constitution should be written up abolishing the states and relying on larger local government areas to provide hybrid state/local functions.

    Although I come at this from a new Queensland perspective, which has larger local councils.

  3. My view is perhaps a compromise yet also more radical – abolish local government, but reorganise the states. For instance, Greater Sydney would become its own state.

  4. In effect smaller states centred on major regions, that then have hybrid state and local government functions. Pretty much like the current situation with ACT, it functions as a city state.

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