Wagga Wagga’s very close referendum


As my last blog post of the year, I thought I would focus on the closest of all the referendums held alongside the council elections. Wagga Wagga held a referendum about switching to directly electing the mayor. Similar referendums in Bega Valley and Ryde passed by wide margins, while a referendum proposing the opposite change in Griffith didn’t come close to passing. No other referendum or poll was won with less than 60%, but the No case in Wagga won with just 50.82%, winning by 614 votes.

It’s worth noting the unusual question asked of Wagga voters:

The Mayor of Wagga Wagga is currently elected every two (2) years by the nine (9) Councillors. Do you approve of the direct election of the Mayor by the voters of Wagga Wagga, for a four (4) year term, noting this will result in increased election costs each and every election?

The last twelve words in particular are very leading, and I suspect contributed to the defeat for the Yes case.

There’s no particular reason to think there’s a strong geographic basis to the voting patterns for this result, but since it’s the closest result I thought I would plot it out anyway.

Most of the rural booths outside of the Wagga Wagga urban area voted No, but not strongly so. In the southern suburbs of Wagga Wagga, a cluster of eight booths all voted Yes, but by slim margins – no booth was more than 57% Yes.

I decided to investigate a bit more about how that question wording came about.

It turns out the motion to hold the referendum passed by a margin of 5-4 in 2020. Then in 2021, a motion was brought to the council for the words of the referendum question. The final question wording passed by a 5-4 margin, with those in the minority voting for an alternative wording that did not mention the additional cost of a mayoral election. Only one councillor was in the majority on both occasions: Labor’s Dan Hayes. I spoke to Hayes and he clarified that he had supported holding a referendum without necessarily supporting the issue on its merits, and then wanted the question to include a reference to the funding.

That’s it for this quick post, and for 2021. I’ll be back with a few more bits of analysis of the NSW council elections in January and then we’ll be diving into the elections of 2022.

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  1. Hayes is a double-dealing scumbag. If he supported holding a referendum as a matter of democratic principle, then it should have been asked fairly without inherent bias. He can’t reasonably claim a democratic mandate on this basis.

  2. The thing against a popular mayor is that if they are a dud you are stick with them – though the alternative system can do the same.

    More significantly though, is that it can set up an executive form of governance where the mayor / gm and perhaps the deputy mayor can effectively dictate policy on a partisan basis.

    Again, the benevolent dictator/ mayoral mover and shaker doer has advantages over a dilly dallying council.

  3. In the top 1000 issues I care about, whether or not a Mayor is directly elected would probably come in somewhere around 5672nd. But on balance I think it’s better for the Mayor not to be directly elected.

    But this question wording was so obviously disgraceful and biased that I would have voted yes on principle. I don’t know how it was even legal, but it’s laughable to waste money on a referendum they so obviously poisoned by using wording complaining (falsely) about increased costs.

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