NSW council referendums update

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The pace of counting for many of the referendums and polls has been frustratingly slow, being stuck in the queue behind election counting.

Some councils made a decent amount of progress on election night, with most others only now getting some figures. I thought I would do a quick update running through what we know. For some of these I want to do proper dedicated posts with maps once the results are finalised.

Four councils were voting on changing their mayoral voting system: Griffith switching back to council-elected mayor, and Bega Valley, Ryde and Wagga Wagga switching to a directly-elected mayor.

We only have results in Griffith from the iVote, but that is overwhelmingly against the change, 73-27%.

It’s interesting to compare the three referendums to create directly-elected mayoralties. The three all used different language for the question. The proposal was slightly different in Ryde, which has wards and thus was adding an extra councillor, while Wagga Wagga and Bega Valley would instead reduce the number of councillors elected by one to offset the new mayoral election.

The Bega Valley and Ryde questions were fair and neutral, but the Wagga question concluded with “noting this will result in increased election costs each and every election”, a pretty clear signal of opposition to the question. I’m curious about who was in a position to craft a defeatist question but wasn’t able to prevent the referendum from being held.

We have most results from Ryde and Wagga Wagga, and a handful of booths from Bega Valley. Ryde and Bega Valley are overwhelmingly in favour of the change, with 72.6% in Bega Valley and 76.4% in Ryde voting ‘yes’. But in Wagga Wagga, ‘no’ is narrowly winning with 50.6%, with only postal and declaration votes yet to report. I suspect that question made a difference.

Personally I’m opposed to direct mayoral elections, but the cost objection is nonsense. What are the extra costs? Printing a few more ballots? Some more staff hours to count the ballots? It’s minor in the scheme of a council’s budget and shouldn’t be a consideration in deciding on the best electoral system for a community.

Three councils had a vote on abolishing their wards and switching to election of the council from one electorate (at large).

In Murray River, which currently has three wards electing three councillors each, ‘no’ has won decisively with 65.4%, with most votes now counted.

Walcha and Dubbo councils both have the terrible 2-member ward system, and these referendums performed better.

We only have the iVote results from Walcha’s referendum, but 59.5% voted ‘yes’.

Dubbo is probably the most interesting referendum of the lot.

Dubbo was amalgamated with its much smaller neighbour Wellington in 2016, and the new council was formed with five two-member wards, so that Wellington could have its own dedicated ward. The proposal to hold a referendum was fiercely opposed by the Wellington councillors when it came before the amalgamated council.

This dichotomy can be seen in the results, although not every booth has reported. Overall ‘yes’ has won 74.7%, but has lost the Wellington pre-poll booth, Wellington High, and other booths in the Wellington area. I’ll be sure to come back to this when the final results are in. It’s an open-and-shut case of a less populous area, which once had its own council, being straight up outvoted by its more populous neighbour.

Two other councils held votes on reducing councillor numbers: over 70% of voters in Armidale voted in favour of reducing the council size from eleven to nine. We only have iVote results from Griffith, but almost 80% of those counted were ‘yes’ votes for reducing the council size from twelve to nine.

Finally, the non-binding Inner West deamalgamation poll, which probably had the highest profile. We still have no official numbers for any election day booths, but we do have pre-poll and iVote results, and they are all solid wins for the ‘yes’ campaign. I’ve also seen reports of similar figures from election day booths, according to scrutineers. I’ll be interested to see if there are noticeable geographic patterns once we have the full results, but it looks likely to be a solid 60%+ win for yes. This will be interesting if Labor gets a majority on council, since they were opposed to the poll, and will need to act on the poll if it is to go anywhere.

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