Sydney council election, 2021

The City of Sydney covers the central suburbs of Sydney, including Pyrmont, Ultimo, Glebe, Forest Lodge, Erskineville, Surry Hills, Chippendale, Darlinghurst, the Rocks, Woolloomooloo, Potts Point, Elizabeth Bay, Redfern, Alexandria, Waterloo, Zetland and Rosebery, as well as parts of Paddington, Newtown, Camperdown.

The City of Sydney has a population of approximately 246,000 people as of 2019.

The City of Sydney has no wards.

Incumbent mayor
Clover Moore (Clover Moore Team)

Incumbent councillors

Craig Chung (Liberal) Jess Miller (Moore Team) Jess Scully (Moore Team)
Christine Forster (Liberal) Kerryn Phelps (Ind)1 Philip Thalis (Moore Team)
Robert Kok (Moore Team) Linda Scott (Labor) Angela Vithoulkas (Ind)

1Kerryn Phelps was elected as part of the Clover Moore Team but quit the team in June 2017.

The City of Sydney has been a key political prize since its creation in the 1840s, but has taken on different shapes over time. Since it was dramatically expanded in the late 1940s, the council has regularly been redrawn, taking in larger and smaller areas based on the self-interest of state governments.

The original council covered the northern half of the current council, including Pyrmont, Ultimo, Surry Hills and Kings Cross, but not much more. In 1909, the council expanded to take in the Camperdown council area.

For most of the twentieth century, the City of Sydney was a contest primarily between the Labor Party and Civic Reform, a local political party opposed to Labor control of the council.

Labor held the lord mayoralty for the majority of the time from 1916 until 1927, but the council was run by a panel of commissioners from 1928 until 1930.

Civic Reform dominated the lord mayoralty from 1930 until 1948. No Labor lord mayors served during this time, and Civic Reform only lost the lord mayoralty to independents for four years in the late 1930s.

The City of Sydney was expanded to cover its largest expanse in 1949, when a number of small councils bordering the City of Sydney were absorbed into a single council. These councils were Paddington, Glebe, Alexandria, Darlington, Erskineville, Newtown, Redfern and Waterloo. This version of the council covered all of the current boundaries, as well as the remainders of Newtown and Paddington.

This change was made by the state Labor government, and it improved the political fortunes of Labor in the City. Labor held the lord mayoralty continuously from 1949 until 1967.

The Liberal Party under Robin Askin returned to power in New South Wales in 1965, and quickly acted to rid the City of Labor rule. The council was sacked in 1967, and in 1968 was split into two halves. The City of Sydney lost Glebe to Leichhardt council, most of Paddington to Woollahra council and half of Newtown to Marrickville council. The remainder south of Camperdown, Chippendale and Surry Hills was formed into a new council which eventually took the name South Sydney. These suburbs took most of the Labor-voting areas with them, strengthening conservative forces in the shrunken City.

Civic Reform won power in 1969, holding town hall until 1980, when Labor won the lord mayoralty. Labor had also won state government in 1976, and in 1982 they merged South Sydney council into the City of Sydney, restoring the council to something close to maximum size from 1949 until 1967.

Labor’s Doug Sutherland served as Lord Mayor over this expanded council until 1987, when the council was sacked. The City of Sydney retracted to its smallest ever size in 1989, only covering the CBD, Pyrmont and Ultimo. The remainder of territory was handed over to another South Sydney council, again ruled by Labor.

Labor was not competitive in this tiny council. Jeremy Bingham became the last Civic Reform lord mayor from 1989 until 1991, when he was succeeded by independent Frank Sartor. Sartor was re-elected in 1995 and 1999. In 2003, he resigned as lord mayor to run as the Labor candidate for the seat of Rockdale. Sartor went on to serve as Member for Rockdale until his retirement in 2011.

Sartor was replaced as lord mayor for the remainder of his term by Lucy Turnbull. In early 2003, the council expanded to take in Glebe from Leichhardt council.

In early 2004, the state Labor government decided to merge the City of Sydney with the traditionally Labor-voting City of South Sydney to create a larger City of Sydney, covering similar areas to the 1949-67 council and 1982-89 council. Labor had ambitions of taking control of the new council, and ran former Keating government minister Michael Lee for lord mayor, but these ambitions came undone when independent state MP Clover Moore announced plans to run for lord mayor.

Moore had previously served on South Sydney council and then the City of Sydney in the 1980s, and ran for Parliament in 1988 after her plans for the local council were defeated by the council’s sacking.

Clover Moore easily defeated Lee for the lord mayoralty in 2004, and her independent team also won four out of nine seats on the council, giving Moore five out of ten seats, which was enough to govern with her casting vote. Labor won three seats, with the Greens and Liberal Party each winning one.

Moore’s team won a second term in 2008, and won an additional seat on the council. The opposition consisted of two Greens councillors, and one each from Labor and the Liberal Party.

Moore won a third term as lord mayor in 2012, despite a swing against her team. Moore’s team held four out of nine council seats, alongside two Liberals, one Labor councillor, one Green and one from the Living Sydney party, which had previously been led by Frank Sartor.

Moore was forced to resign from state parliament to run again in 2012, due to a law change prohibiting sitting state MPs from running for local council. Her state seat of Sydney was easily won by her independent ally Alex Greenwich.

The election law covering the City of Sydney was changed following the 2012 election. Local businesses were already entitled to vote in council elections, but only had one vote and were not required to enrol or vote. The law was changed to make voting for businesses compulsory, and to give each business two votes. This was seen as an obvious strategy to remove Moore from town hall.

Clover Moore strengthened her position at the 2016 election, gaining a 6.55% swing on the mayoral primary vote and a 9% swing on the council primary vote, and gaining a fifth council seat in addition to her mayoral vote.

The Greens vote crashed and they lost their single seat, while all the other parties kept the same numbers: two Liberals, one Labor and Angela Vithoulkas re-elected for Sydney Matters.

The 2016 deputy mayoral election was won by Kerryn Phelps, who had been second to Moore on the party ticket. But Phelps broke with Moore in mid 2017 and left the party.

The Clover Moore Team has retained a working majority since 2017, particularly with the help of Labor’s Linda Scott. Jess Miller won the deputy lord mayoralty in 2017, followed by Linda Scott in 2018 and Jess Scully in 2019 and 2020, although the 2020 vote was a tie vote, with all of the non-Moore councillors voting for Angela Vithoulkas.

Candidate summary

There are six candidates for Lord Mayor, each of which also heads up a group running for council. There are no grouped candidates not affiliated to a mayoral candidate.

Four out of five members of Clover Moore’s team are seriously running for re-election, but Cr Jess Miller is retiring by running in tenth spot on their ticket.

Labor councillor Linda Scott and independent councillor Angela Vithoulkas are running for re-election. Both Liberal councillors and independent councillor Kerryn Phelps are retiring.

In addition to Clover Moore’s team, the Labor, Liberal and Greens parties are all running. Yvonne Weldon is heading up a ticket called “Unite for Sydney” and sitting independent councillor Angela Vithoulkas is running for the Small Business Party.

Clover Moore is very strong in the City of Sydney. It looked like Kerryn Phelps may have chipped away at her support, but she has now withdrawn from the race.

It’s always a tough ask for the Moore Team to win five seats on council – they’ve only achieved it in two out of four elections.

The Greens will also be hoping to bounce back from their low in 2016, at least enough to win back a single seat.

2016 council election result

Party Votes % Swing Seats won
Clover Moore Team 45,224 54.93 +8.9 5
Liberal 16,219 19.70 +1.4 2
Labor 9,573 11.63 -0.6 1
Sydney Matters 6,051 7.35 +7.4 1
Greens 4,921 5.98 -3.4
Other independents 344 0.42 +0.4
Informal 2,457 2.90

2016 mayoral election result

Candidate Party Votes % Swing
Clover Moore Independent 48,068 57.83 +6.6
Christine Forster Liberal 15,753 18.95 +3.0
Linda Scott Labor 8,673 10.43 +0.1
Angela Vithoulkas Sydney Matters 6,432 7.74 -2.0
Lindsay Johnston The Greens 4,200 5.05 -1.5
Informal 1,361 1.61

Booth breakdown
Since there are no wards in the City of Sydney, I have split booths into four arbitrary divisions:

  • North-East – CBD, Surry Hills, Wooloomoolloo, Kings Cross, Darlinghurst
  • North-West – Glebe, Pyrmont, Ultimo
  • South-East – Redfern, Waterloo, Rosebery, Zetland
  • South-West – Newtown, Erskineville

Clover Moore’s council team won a solid majority of the primary vote in every area, except for the non-pre-poll special votes, where they won 47%. Her team’s vote peaked at 64% in the south-west.

The Liberal vote ranged from 9.1% in the south-west to 18.3% in the north-east. Labor’s primary vote ranged from 8% in the north-east to 15.8% in the south-east.

The pattern for the mayoral vote was similar, although Moore outpolled her council team.

Council results breakdown

Voter group CMT % LIB % ALP % VIT % Formal votes %
North-East 62.7 18.3 8.0 5.6 18,513
North-West 56.6 14.6 12.4 8.3 11,475
South-East 52.1 16.5 15.8 9.3 12,856
South-West 64.1 9.1 12.7 5.0 8,409
Other votes 47.1 29.4 10.4 7.6 24,038
Pre-poll 52.8 17.5 15.0 8.8 7,041

Mayoral results breakdown

Voter group CMT % LIB % ALP % VIT % Formal votes %
North-East 65.1 17.8 6.9 5.8 18,780
North-West 59.5 14.1 11.4 8.6 11,594
South-East 54.6 15.7 14.5 10.0 13,130
South-West 67.3 8.7 11.4 5.1 8,470
Other votes 50.2 28.3 9.4 8.0 24,014
Pre-poll 56.3 16.5 13.0 9.4 7,138

Election results at the 2016 City of Sydney election
Toggle between primary votes for the Clover Moore Team, Liberal Party, Labor and Sydney Matters.

Election results at the 2016 City of Sydney mayoral election
Toggle between primary votes for Clover Moore, Christine Forster, Linda Scott and Angela Vithoulkas.

Candidates – Mayor

Candidates – Council

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  1. “Election results at the 2016 City of Sydney election
    Toggle between primary votes for the Clover Moore Team, Liberal Party, Labor and the Greens.”

    But then the toggle isn’t the Greens, it’s Sydney Matters.

    The only thing of contention in this council is if the Moore team have an outright majority or a minority administration.

  2. I’m necro’ing this thread purely to express absolute dismay that non-resident businesses and property owners are allowed votes in allegedly democratic Australian elections. What the absolute f. Imagine if the unions or NGOs were allowed to veto conservative politicians in any constituency whatsoever.

  3. It is a copy of the same thing in the City of Melbourne. City businesses and state governments not wanting a progressive central city government to be a thorn in their sides.

    Hung state parliaments with pro-central city political grouping crossbenchers (Alex Greenwich and/or the Greens in NSW, the Greens in Victoria) are the likely solution, particularly if they get referendum entrenched protection for resident voter power in local government elections. Work From Home likely decreases the political weight of city business argument for special vote weighting provisions as fewer voters and businesses will be in the central city and many of those that do will be proportionately less effected by CBD matters.

  4. Excellent analysis, provided in the public interest. Seems fair to me, and shows some of the naked politicking by State Govts (in fact Council first sacked in 1840’s soon after its establishment!) who have too often treated Council & local democracy with contempt.
    Strongly agree about the disgraceful gerrymander that is the current business voting arrangement-an obscene fabrication of the Shooters Party with Lib/Nat State Govt

  5. I partly own one single commercial property in the zone and do not really keep abreast of the City of Sydney political scene. I am now expected to determine who deserves my vote. Surely true locals should have their say not me.

  6. Why shouldnt non-residents be allowed to vote. They pay rates which fund the operations of the council and therefore should have a say in the management of that council. I think you will find that business and property owners dont get a double vote, they are registered as a resident or a non-resident, but not both. So, saying that business owners getting a vote is a disgrace is way off the mark. They have rights just like non rate-paying residents.

  7. “I guess it’s a question of whether you believe in democracy or plutocracy”

    Precisely. You don’t buy the right to vote by paying taxes. And you don’t buy the right for a second vote by paying taxes via a business.

    Unless you think it ought to be one dollar, one vote (plutocracy), which is all too often the (corrupt) reality.


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