Directly electing mayors – a livestream discussion


Last month I wrote a post explaining why I oppose mayors being directly elected by the voters rather than elected by their fellow councillors, specifically in the context of New South Wales local government, and precisely in reference to a current consultation in my local council in Parramatta.

Today I’ll be joining a discussion about this topic hosted by local Parramatta councillor Kellie Darley, and joined by federal Labor MP Jerome Laxale. Jerome is a former mayor of the neighbouring Ryde council and was an advocate for the successful referendum switching that council to direct election at the 2021 council elections.

The discussion will take place at 4pm and will be livestreamed. You can watch it via this Facebook page.

Before I go, I wanted to post one more bit of analysis I’ve done on this topic, around the stability of council-elected mayors.

One of the arguments for direct election of mayors is about having a single stable mayor for a term, and objects to the way that some local councils tend to trade the job around.

I also object to this practice, and I have argued that it is partly up to voters to vote for parties that are willing to commit to a stable mayor, but I don’t think it justifies a directly elected mayor.

I had thought that I had noticed a trend in the more populous local councils that they have been moving away from a rotating mayoralty towards one person holding the job for a whole term (or at least as long as the party balance doesn’t shift). It has certainly been helped by many local councils switching from one-year terms to two-year terms.

So I went through Wikipedia, where a person or persons have very helpfully added in mostly-complete lists of mayors for each council, and compiled data on the number of distinct mayoral terms each council has had between council elections. I just looked at the 25 most populous councils and their pre-amalgamation predecessors dating back to the 1983 election, and of course did not include directly-elected mayors.

If a council had two people swap the mayoralty back each year of a four-year term, that would count as four distinct mayoral terms. If those two people each did two years in a row, that would count as just two distinct terms.

Now it’s not really fair to compare the current term, since most councils in this analysis have only had one mayoral term so far, and the full term will only be for 33 months compared to the standard 48 month term. The only council which has experienced a change was Ryde. Former Ryde mayor Jordan Lane stepped down in December 2022 before being elected to state parliament in March 2023. It’s not clear if that was the end of a one-year term, or if he resigned early due to his candidacy.

But even the previous term saw a noticeable decline in the number of distinct mayoral terms from almost three over the three previous terms down to 2.1.

Bear in mind the 2016/17-2021 term was a longer one. For councils that had been amalgamated or had been threatened with amalgamation, the term went for 51 months. For those unaffected by amalgamation, it was 61 months.

This is an encouraging sign for those of us who would like to see a bit more parliamentary-style accountability in local government. There are more cases where a party on council has a clear identifiable leader and voters know they will get that person if that party is in a position to put forward a mayor – for example Darcy Byrne in Inner West.

Now it’s up to voters if that is a feature they value. If they do value that, I am sure we will see more of it.

Liked it? Take a second to support the Tally Room on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!


  1. Ben,
    I disagree. I believe true democracy is to leave it in the hands of the people for sny elected position. The forced amalgamation of Canterbury Bankstown proved beyond a doubt how a one sided government use this rule to their advantage.
    The Labor controlled Frankenstein council despite residents overwhelmingly objecting to forced amalgamation was pushed through because it was politically advantageous to the Labor party.
    The mayor was elected with a majority labor vote and despite parliamentary investigations into his spending behaviour and links to developers he is still permitted to sit council and be the mayor.
    For his efforts in pushing through the mega council to help Labor he was elevated to a position in the NSW election of which he resigned because of allegations of impropriety.
    Canterbury Bankstown also changed it re-election of councillors so that residents can no longer go to a by election if a councillor resigns or is forced out it goes directly to the next person on the ballot. This always has favoured the Labor party and it’s not true democracy particularly if it’s a revolving door of dishonesty

  2. I would simply pose some questions and make a couple of points.

    1. Why do people want a popularly elected mayor? If in the affirmative – what is your unstated assumption in wanting this outcome? Is it some belief that s/he will do your bidding? I have my own inking as to why people want this outcome, but I want others to expressly state their reasonings why.

    2. What are the statutory powers ascribed to the Mayor in the NSW Local Government Act and does this allow him / her to act unilaterally on behalf of the people s/he was voted in by? My guess is not, and if it doesn’t match with Q1, then the legislation will also have to be changed to give force and effect to Q1.

    3. If the Mayor does not have any statutory authority to actually do anything without the expressed support of his/her fellow councillors – then is this just a recipe for creating internal conflict within Council and further frustration for people wanting to have their views heard and acted upon (i.e. the American Presidential system)?

    I have mentioned before that I worked in Queensland Local Government as a town planner and I’ve had my fair share of people poking me in the chest saying “you work for me”. Well sorry, I have to disagree – there is no unanimity across the community at any level of government. You can’t satisfy ALL the people ALL the time. I think people looking for a directly elected mayor are often bound to be disappointed. Sure you will get some gems who will provide genuine leadership and courage for change, but you also get some duds who are just puppets on a string doing their master’s bidding. I’ve seen more of the latter and very few of the former up close and personal. I just don’t think the proposed solution (directly elected mayors) solves the (often unstated) problem. I am not saying that having Councillors elect the Mayor is the panacea to the (unstated) problem, but on BALANCE it is a more preferable solution (provided you eliminate the horse trading and job swapping). Ultimately we are dealing with humans here, with all their human frailties and there will NEVER be a perfect system.

    I also don’t think people realise how little power and authority local governments have to act independently. Again, putting on my town planning hat, many of the decisions that people tend to hate about their local government (housing targets and density) tends to come down from above, but unless you have insider / expert knowledge on these subject matters, people just assume that it is a decision taken solely by the Local Government.

    I also know that my LG ran on the smell of an oily rag and there are plenty of things we recognise that our community wanted and needed, but we had neither the statutory power, nor the money to go out and do those things even if they were within our purvey.

  3. Cantward, I would argue the amalgamation pressures placed on many NSW councils was actually the fault of the then Coalition state government. I believe local councils themselves were pretty powerless and although a few launched court actions, they were ridiculed by MPs and the press.

    As a result, it was probably easier for councils like Canterbury-Bankstown to simply bow to the pressure and accept the outcome. Although you do have a good argument that maybe all councils could have launched the court action simultaneously which would have embarrassed the state government into backing down earlier.

  4. Thanks for your comment.
    The Mayor is the head of the governing body working closely with the General Manager, representing all Councillors, and is the spokesperson of Council.

    Where Councillors elect Mayor:
    Should Council not be in compliance with legislation, regulations or guidelines, the Mayor, overseeing the GM and his compliance with his employment contract and performance review committee can easily be held to account via a vote of no confidence by fellow Councillors.

    IF the Mayor is elected by the community: The community has no power to enforce compliance and technically the other Councillors should not interfere with the Mayoral vote by the community.

    Best Councillors vote their representative and ensure good governance on behalf of the community. The governance role of a Council is not a majority vote. ✔️

Comments are closed.