The council party trends across Sydney


The withdrawal of the Liberal Party from a number of large Sydney councils has unsurprisingly led to a decline in the Sydney-wide Liberal vote, while Labor and the Greens have produced their highest primary vote in Greater Sydney since 2004. It may well be a record high for Labor, but it’s definitely a record high for the Greens.

In this post I’ll map out the swings to and from each party across Greater Sydney and show how the total vote for each party has shifted over the last five election cycles.

I’ve previously analysed the extent of involvement of the larger political parties in local council politics in Greater Sydney. Most smaller regional councils remain dominated by independents (although there are some bigger councils with parties, including the Hunter and the Illawarra), but in Sydney parties now dominate. And most importantly I had already compiled data back to 2004 about how many votes each party received and where they ran across Greater Sydney.

I blogged about the spread of party politics up to 2017 here, and covered the Liberal withdrawal from some councils here.

First up, the Sydney-wide totals. This chart is an update of a previous chart and shows the proportion of the formal vote for Labor, Liberal, Greens and others since 2004. This data is current as of Tuesday morning, with thanks to Antony Green’s results service for making it easier to collect.

Labor’s vote in 2016-17 almost reached the 2004 level, and also almost overtook the vote for all others, which reached an all-time low. Labor did reach a new high in 2021, but the ‘others’ vote has started to climb back up with the withdrawal of the Liberal Party in 2021.

The Greens vote previously peaked at about 8.5% in 2008, but then dropped in 2012 and didn’t quite reach the previous high in 2016-17. It is now hovering at 9.7%.

The Liberal vote peaked at 30.8% in 2012, and is now down to under 25%, but is still higher than their vote in 2004 and 2008, despite running in fewer wards.

Next up, I’ve made a map with eight layers, showing the swings and percentage of the vote for the four blocs.

Highlights for Labor include Blue Mountains, where they are close to a majority of the vote, and Parramatta and Cumberland, where the Liberal Party withdrew. They also gained quite the swing in Lane Cove.

It’s worth noting that these swings are simplistic and do not factor in a party running in more wards of a council, or running in fewer. The Greens did gain a real swing in Randwick, but it looks much bigger because they did not run in the South ward in 2017.

Both Labor and Liberal picked up support in Camden, where the independent vote dropped precipitously.

The others vote was at 100% in four councils, and also very high in North Sydney where most candidates were independents. But it’s otherwise highest in Sydney and Fairfield, both councils where a strong mayor was elected with a big team behind them. The ‘others’ vote in Fairfield, which is mostly the Carbone and Le tickets, was up by 44.4% to almost 75%.

If you look at the ‘others’ swing, the biggest swings are in councils like Parramatta, Cumberland, Bayside and Blacktown where the Liberal Party withdrew and were replaced by conservative independents or local conservative parties.

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  1. Is there any logic in extrapolating swings in major party council votes within federal or state electorate boundaries, with federal or state party prospects in those electorates at forthcoming elections? For example, Labor did very well in Blue Mountains, but lost ground in Penrith-does that mean that Labor should be confident of holding Macquarie, but have little hope in Lindsay? Or is that bunkum because of all the obvious factors with independents, Libs competing or not competing, different issues and so on?

  2. Be interested in what people think about the (probably too-Machiavelian) postulation that the Liberals decided not to run hard in Council elections as a pre-Fed tactic. That is, giving up local ground as a way of seeding a certain degree of ‘balancing reaction’ into voter impulses next year. The decision has very probably helped the ALP regain control of IWC. And that may or may not actually be a positive for Albanese’s chances in adjacent seats (like Reid) next year. Especially if the de-amalgamation poll gets up – and especially especially, if only marginally – when the fun will begin over whether or not an ALP Council will actually pursue the ‘people’s wishes’.

    Are there other Councils where a similar effect might play out? Or am I being too conspiratorial…

  3. @Jack Robertson, I think you’re spot on.
    The other element is money too, Labor wasted a lot of cash on retaining Council seats when that could’ve been better spent on State and Federal campaigns. Sussex St is going through a massive fundraising drought at the moment, which has been compounded more by the fact that there was relatively unfavourable redistribution by the NSWEC to Labor.
    State Leader Chris Minns’ seat of Kogarah is now one of the most marginal in the state at 0.1%. He is in all sorts of trouble, especially if the Libs go with a very charismatic and energetic Scott Yung again. Labor will need to sandbag the seat, eating up resources that could’ve potentially been directed towards other marginal seats held by the Liberals like East Hills, Oatley and Parramatta
    I guess parallels can be drawn between Labor and the Canadian Conservatives, who often are accused of wasting too much money and resources in consolidating or increasing in margins in the safer Western provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, at the cost of not expanding into the eastern provinces of Quebec and the Maritimes.
    In other words, Labor has pissed away a lot of money and goodwill in what many would deem comparative to state and federal as insignificant elections, especially at a time when the pandemic is levelling somewhat.
    I do also think the anti-Liberal vote will run out of steam, especially as voter aggression was targeted towards Local Government rather than the bigger prizes. As you mentioned, Australian voters like to balance their governments which is why NSW had a relatively popular Labor state government under Bob Carr for 10 years, whilst also providing a significant support base for John Howard federally.

    Just one side note, the de-amalgamation of Inner West Council will have little to no impact on Reid. IWC is primarily in Albanese’s seat of Grayndler, which is significantly different in many ways to Reid.
    Canada Bay Council saw a reduced vote in both Labor and Liberal, in favour of independents. This is particularly troubling for Labor who invested a lot in their mayoral candidate, whilst the Libs spent little to no money and recycled a Councillor whose tenure has been over 3 decades.
    The other 2 councils in Reid are Burwood and Strathfield, which have conflicting yet not overly positive lessons for Albanese.
    Burwood Council is a Labor stronghold, but this will be more impactful on state politics than Federal, as popularly elected Mayor John Faker is the likely heir apparent to Jodi McKay’s state seat of Strathfield.
    Strathfield Council’s saw Labor’s vote essentially stagnate, as even though the Liberals did not run any candidates that did not flow to Labor’s ticket, instead has been evenly spread across 3 Independent groups.

    Broadly speaking NSW Labor is in a lot of trouble, organisationally. This has a lot to do with the increasing influence of the RBTU and the TWU

  4. I think the reality is much simpler: ‘The left’, such as it is, did alright overall and the Liberals, overall, declined modestly (or were too afraid to even run, like in Strathfield). Compare Woollahra, a quintessentially blue-ribbon council, where the Greens vote collapsed and Labor, previously sitting on ~2% of the vote, didn’t even run. The Liberals barely got anything out of it. Nearly all the Lab/Grn votes went to another mickey-mouse Definitely Not Affiliated With The Majors independent outfit, and the Liberals are now staring at the prospect of governing by a very slim majority at best.

    That’s not to say that local factors didn’t influence council elections, or that NSW Labor doesn’t suck shit and have real problems in Western Sydney, or that this isn’t just a snapshot in time and the Liberals don’t have a wily scheme to weaponise vaccine mandates and ultimately win the Federal election or whathaveyou. But they’re not playing 12D chess by losing elections. It’s just that right now, they’re not doing so crash hot.

  5. The libs did not run candidates in Cumberland and Parramatta because of their internal problems…but these candidates ran as independents in Cumberland council…Mr Rahme stressed his.16 years as a.liberal party mp. The results of the council elections don’t mean s change at state level …Labor s vote in Revesby ward of Canterbury banstown council was very similar to that of 2017. IT appears to me that Minns I’d gaining traction. In nsw which means marginal.seats could come into play.. At a National level Mr Morrison’s govt is struggling and he will largely lose the election if that occurs …outside.nsw. There are 4 seats possible in nsw for.Labor to win…..even if.they
    Win any of.them there will be no. 5 to.6 seat bonus to.the.libs in.nsw. Labor.will retain.most if not all of.their marginal seats. At the state level the Mps for Kiama and Drummoyne are in serious trouble.
    Icac and the police..and by-elections may be forced.This could well impact on their corresponding federal seats of Gilmore and Reid respectively.

  6. Labor council candidates are expected to do their own fund raising and most candidates contribute significantly to their own campaigns. The idea that Sussex St has “wasted” lots of money on recent local government elections is ill-informed.

  7. @David not ill-informed at all, I was a member of the party for 9 years and the LGEC would do minimal fundraising yet there were cash injections to top up funds for new A-Frames and pamphlet handouts, directly from Sussex St.
    Campaign funds are also accessed by Sussex St directly at all levels, and can be deposited and withdrawn. As was the case with a former candidate for Bennelong in the last few years.
    Back to Council though, as an example in Canada Bay, Sussex St definitely contributes to Mayoral races, especially with the coordination and distribution of candidate print material. This is especially the case where they can recycle A-Frames and/or want to promote a candidate in the area for future elections, regardless of the level.
    In fact, I’d be surprised if they didn’t given it would be more cost effective to print bulk handouts rather than rely on local candidates to source their own funds and produce a poorer quality pamphlet. There used to be a central printing company they used in Marrickville- I still remember having to stock the backseat of my car with thousands of the leaflets for mailouts.
    If Local Government Candidates didn’t have H/O intervention, they wouldn’t be able to afford new A-Frames, election bunting, etc.. Yes branches make contributions to a central fund in either the LGEC, SEC or FEC but Sussex St, sometimes in concert with the Unions distributes funds centrally to either protect or win seats.
    Liberals are a different story, and often preselection success is contingent on them being able to fund their own campaign and fundraise. John Sidoti’s pre-selection victory over Scott Farlow in 2010 was in large part due to his capacity to fundraise and finance his own campaign.

  8. I really like Chris Minns, but I still think Labor’s brand is poison in NSW. One advantage for the Liberals in having a revolving door of Premiers has been a sense of renewal – each leader brought something very different which makes the government seem fresh.

    More to the point, I don’t see where Labor will be winning the seats to gain majority government…maybe they’ll have JUST enough with the Greens, but even then it’s sketchy. I think it’s also time to forget the psephological norms pre-2011 in this state; years of realignment, change and incumbency has taken place since which means seats that were Labor “heartland” will not necessarily revert to their historical norm (e.g. Parramatta, East Hills, Oatley, Kiama, Drummoyne etc).

  9. Guess the changing demographic trends in Sydney mean Labor is overall losing support, with affluent inner suburban areas still strongly Liberal leaning. Melbourne and Brisbane (and to some extent Perth as well) both have inner suburban areas that are trending leftward to balance out the conservative swing in outer suburban areas.

  10. @LJDavidson, take your point on Reid, I suppose the potential leverage re: de-amalg – which looks like getting up around 60% – will turn on IWC division and squabbling. The Tele, Sydney talkback and various other pro-Lib groups take routine delight in over-amplifying ‘inner city nonsense’ and ruthlessly extrapolating into outwards into Western Sydney political debates/campaigns, and in a seat like Reid with its increasingly fertile prosperity gospel/social conservative turf, it might provide traction.

    Your points on funding of literature are pretty spot on, from an Indy candidate PoV. At my scale, I paid $40 per large (electricity post) campaign poster, and it cost about $3000 for a single ward leaflet print run/drop. I’m sure the bulk scale/party rates would be miles better but throw in a largely wasted first run – due to the delay/date changes – and you really start to rack up the costs. In IWC even the ‘non Lib’ liberal candidate who barely campaigned at all was able to relatively carpet-bomb the joint in branding. Makes a huge difference re: initial recognition at the pre-poll and election day booths.

  11. LJ Davidson. I agree with David Walsh. You are behind the times or speaking of specific instances and not the normal situation. I can tell you SEC’s by their own A’ Frames, ‘not head office. I can guarantee you there was no head office funding for the successful ALP local government campaigns in North Sydney and Lane Cove.

  12. @High Street- the designs for A-Frames are coordinated by Head Office, that’s why you see the same design, colour palette and candidate motto re-hashed across the board. Head Office put in multiple orders across the state because, come election day they have A-Frames for both candidate and the state/federal leader. They also want uniformity.
    Sussex St will top-up funding in races they think are winnable or are worried about losing. I never said they fund the whole thing entirely. At least this was the case when I was a member, and from my contacts in the party (granted who are in Western Sydney) this is still the case.
    There are also instances where they offer funds for generic posters for a candidate, so they can use these across multiple elections in order to save costs.
    The North Sydney and Lane Cove local funding may very well be the case as north of Ryde, as General Secretary Bob Nanva has given up on Northern Sydney in terms of both funds and resources. Something his predecessor Kaila Murnain was always willing to do.
    In fact some Labor members in Northern Beaches have proposed a special regional congress encompassing the electorates Mackellar, Warringah, North Sydney and Bradfield to radically propose a boycott of those seats at the next Federal election due to the lack of interest from Head Office. This is largely posturing but a lot of local members are unhappy with the leadership and allocation of funds.
    Given that the 2 examples you’ve provided of North Sydney and Lane Cove, where Labor would never have any chance of winning a State or Federal seat, it would make sense that Sussex St said you’re on your own.
    Funding is really tight at the moment, and coupled with the rise of the Greens/Independents in these areas, Labor has more or less turned off the tap when it comes to money.
    But move out West and funding does come from the top (adding to existing fundraising) for Local Government because it is essentially viewed as a long term investment- you promote a candidate from grass roots up. The areas out this way aren’t as affluent as your North Shore neighbours, and the capacity to generate money from members is far more difficult. That’s where Unions also come in, more so on the volunteer and resources side.

  13. I worked on the Labor campaign in the Blue Mountains. Sussex St did not fund us. We designed our own coreflutes.

    Now, maybe the Blue Mountains isn’t what you mean by “out West” but the more you narrow the goalposts the less meaningful the argument that Labor “wasted” money on this campaign becomes. If all you’re saying that there’s probably some LGA between the Parramatta and Nepean rivers where Labor probably spent state branch funds and probably did not realise a good return in terms of swing, you’ll forgive people for taking that with much more salt than a stronger claim that implies every Labor candidate was an expense on Sussex Street’s account.

  14. I saw the Labor corflutes for the mayor of Campbelltown. No way in hell they were designed by a professional.

    I also heard early in the campaign from someone who said that electoral finance laws mean each local LGA had to run its own campaign without support which seems strange to me.

    When I was involved in Greens campaigns the state party would often design and order materials but the bill would be paid for by a local campaign. The state party could theoretically do all that design work without shouldering the costs of actually printing and delivering the materials. That is a sensible efficiency. They could even bill a local campaign for the cost of the designer’s time if you really don’t want head office incurring a cost!

  15. Economies of scale count for a lot, I imagine. I doubt ‘local Labor’ was paying forty bucks a sign, etc.

    Not a whinge, just a significant relative financial factor.

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