Newcastle council election, 2021

The City of Newcastle covers the Newcastle city centre, and suburbs including Adamstown, Black Hill, Carrington, Cooks Hill, Islington, Kotara, Lambton, Merewether, Newcastle, New Lambton, Stockton, Tighes Hill, Wallsend and Waratah.

The council has a population of about 166,000 as of 2019.

Wards
The City of Newcastle is divided into four wards for the purpose of electing councillors:

  • First – Newcastle, Carrington, Stockton, Maryville, Tighes Hill, Mayfield and Warabrook.
  • Second – Adamstown, Hamilton and Merewether.
  • Third – Broadmeadow, Callaghan, Jesmond, Lambton, New Lambton and Waratah.
  • Fourth – Maryland, Sandgate, Shortland and Wallsend.

Redistribution
Changes were made to all four wards. Ward 1 lost Bar Beach to Ward 2. Ward 2 and Ward 3 swapped territory in both directions, with Ward 2 gaining part of Kotara and losing Broadmeadow and Hamilton North. Ward 3 took territory from Ward 4 including Birmingham Gardens and Callaghan.

Incumbent mayor
Nuatali Nelmes (Labor)

Incumbent councillors

Ward 1 John Church (Ind) John Mackenzie (Greens) Emma White (Labor)
Ward 2 Carol Duncan (Labor) Kath Elliott (Ind) Brad Luke (Liberal)
Ward 3 Peta Baartz (Labor) Declan Clausen (Labor) Andrea Rufo (Ind)
Ward 4 Matthew Byrne (Labor) Jason Dunn (Labor) Allan Robinson (Ind)

History
The City of Newcastle was created in its current form in 1938, when the City of Newcastle was merged with Adamstown, Carrington, Hamilton, Lambton, Merewether, New Lambton, Plattsburg, Stockton, Wallsend and Waratah councils.

Throughout the middle part of the 20th century, Newcastle council elections were primarily contested by Labor and the Citizens Group, a local right-wing grouping that largely existed to run for Newcastle municipal elections.

The Mayor of Newcastle’s title was changed to Lord Mayor in 1948, and was the first mayor of a city that was not a state capital to be given the title. For most of Newcastle’s history, the mayoralty was elected annually.

In the 1950s, the mayoralty was handed back and forth between Labor and the Citizens Group. Frank Purdue, seemingly linked to the Citizens Group, was elected Mayor in 1951, and for three successive years from 1953 to 1955. He was interrupted in 1952 by Labor mayor Tom Armstrong.

Armstrong was elected as an independent Labor candidate in Kahibah at a by-election in 1953, and was re-elected in 1956 before dying in 1957. Purdue was elected as an independent candidate in Waratah at the 1956 election, in part due to the split between Labor and the Democratic Labor Party. Purdue held Waratah for two terms until 1962.

When Purdue was elected in Waratah, the Citizens Group’s Douglas McDougall succeeded to the lord mayoralty, and he was elected Mayor in 1956 and again in 1958. In between, in 1957 the lord mayoralty went to Labor alderman Charles Jones. Jones held the mayoralty for one year, and stepped down in 1958 when he was elected to the federal seat of Newcastle. Jones held the seat from 1958 to 1983, and served as a minister in the Whitlam government from 1972 to 1975.

In 1959, the mayoralty shifted to Ernest Dunkley, who had previously held the mayoralty from 1943 to 1944. I haven’t been able to identify Dunkley’s political affiliation.

After Newcastle’s mayoralty changed hands almost every year throughout the 1950s, the role was held by only two people from 1960 to 1974, both affiliated with the Citizens Group, and having previously served as Mayor.

Frank Purdue returned to the lord mayoralty in 1960, while still serving as the state Member for Waratah. Purdue lost his seat in 1962, but was returned to Parliament when his successor died in 1964. He held the seat for one more year until 1965, when he stepped down both as Lord Mayor and as Member for Waratah.

Douglas McDougall, who had previously held the lord mayoralty for two non-consecutive annual terms, returned to the role in 1965. He held the mayoralty for the next eight years, stepping down in 1974. At the time, this made him the longest-serving Mayor of Newcastle in the City’s history.

McDougall was replaced in 1974 by Gordon Anderson, another Lord Mayor whose political affiliation was not clear. Anderson was mayor for one year, and then in 1975 was succeeded for two years by Labor’s Joy Cummings, who was Newcastle’s first female Lord Mayor.

Anderson was again elected Lord Mayor for one more year in 1977.

Somewhere around this time, Newcastle’s lord mayoralty became directly-elected once every three years by the voters of the City, rather than being elected annually by the aldermen of the Council. It appears that Cummings was the first Lord Mayor to be directly elected in 1978, when she returned to the mayoralty.

Joy Cummings’ second term as Lord Mayor lasted for six years from 1978 to 1984, and she was elected directly as the Lord Mayor in 1978, 1981 and 1984. Shortly after being elected to a third term, Cummings suffered a stroke and stepped down from the mayoralty.

In 1984, the Citizens Group was in a stronger position, and Deputy Lord Mayor Don Geddes, leader of the centre-right grouping, was considered to be in a strong position to win a Lord Mayoral election. That year, the state Labor government sacked Newcastle City Council, and the council was run by administrators until 1986.

Prior to the council sacking, the City Council was elected by a majoritarian electoral system using small wards. After the council was restored, the council was elected by proportional representation, with all councillors elected to represent the entire council.

John McNaughton, a member of the ALP’s right faction, was elected Lord Mayor in 1986. McNaughton led the council for a decade, and was re-elected twice.

In 1991, the voters of Newcastle approved a referendum that shifted the city to a ward-based electoral system. The council of the time consisted of eleven councillors elected by proportional representation as a single ward, as well as a directly-elected Lord Mayor. The new system, used for the first time in 1995, saw Newcastle split up into four wards, each of which electing three councillors, for a total of thirteen including the Lord Mayor. This system has remained in place ever since.

That 1991 council included the first Greens councillor on Newcastle City Council (and one of the first two in the country) as well as two Liberals. Three independent councillors also sat on the council, some of whom were former members of the Citizens Group, which had by then disbanded.

Prior to the 1995 election, McNaughton was defeated for Labor preselection by Greg Heys, a left-wing rival on the council. Heys was elected Lord Mayor, and served one term.

In 1999, Heys was defeated by independent councillor John Tate. Tate had served on the council since 1980, first as a member of the Citizens Group, and then as a broadly centre-right independent.

John Tate was elected to a record three terms as a directly-elected Lord Mayor, and is the longest-serving Mayor in Newcastle’s municipal history. When he was re-elected in 2004, the council included four Labor councillors, four Greens councillors and only four independents.

In 2007, Tate had come close to winning the state seat of Newcastle, with the Labor vote split between Labor candidate Jodi McKay, and sitting MP Bryce Gaudry, who had been elected to four terms as the Labor MP before being disendorsed and running as an independent.

In 2008, Tate was elected to a third term as Lord Mayor in a widely-dispersed field. Right-wing independent Aaron Buman, originally elected on Tate’s ticket, narrowly came second ahead of the Labor candidate, both on 18%, in an election where Labor did poorly across the state. Tate was elected with only 32% of the primary vote. The Greens’ council representation dropped from four to one, while Labor maintained their four seats. The number of independents increased from four to six, and one Liberal councillor was elected.

In 2012, John Tate did not run for re-election as Lord Mayor.

Independent candidate Jeff McCloy ran with the tacit backing of the Liberal Party. McCloy’s supporters handed out how-to-vote cards advising voters to vote for the Liberal candidates in three ward (and a conservative independent in the fourth) and vice versa. While Buman ran again, he did much less well. McCloy was elected, with Labor improving their vote to come second, and the Greens candidate coming third. Buman came in fourth place.

The 2012 council consists of four Labor councillors, four Liberal councillors, two Greens councillors, and two independent councillors (not including McCloy). In practice this has meant that a governing majority has been formed consisting of the four Liberals and the three independents, sometimes nicknamed the ‘McCloyals’.

In 2014 Jeff McCloy was accused of having given donations despite his status as a property developer. Property developers are not permitted to give donations under New South Wales state law, and the ICAC accused McCloy of having donated to a number of Hunter-based Liberal candidates in the lead-up to the 2011 state election. In August 2014, McCloy resigned as Lord Mayor.

The November 2014 mayoral by-election was won by Labor’s Nuatali Nelmes. Her seat on council was then filled by another Labor candidate at a February 2015 by-election. This shift gave the centre-left a majority on the council.

Nelmes was re-elected in 2017, with a 14% swing to Labor compared to the 2012 election. There was also a 10.5% swing to Labor on the council, which was enough to win half of the council seats, giving them a majority with the mayor.

The Greens were reduced from two seats to one, and the Liberal Party dropped from four seats down to just one. The number of independents on council doubled from two to four.

Candidate summary
Watch this space.

Assessment
Labor is in a strong position on Newcastle council. While they are favourites to retain the mayoralty, they would need to do well retain their fifth and sixth seats – they polled under 45% in Ward 3. The Greens and Liberal Party both did poorly in 2017 and a resurgence in their support may take seats from Labor.

2017 council election result

PartyVotes%SwingSeats won
Labor 36,25640.39+10.56
Independents23,58926.28+17.24
Liberal 14,74916.43-13.11
Greens 14,26015.88+1.01
Socialist Alliance9371.04+1.0
Informal5,7205.99

2017 mayoral election result

CandidatePartyVotes%Swing
Nuatali Nelmes Labor 38,69842.57+14.2
Kath ElliottIndependent18,92520.82+20.8
Therese Doyle The Greens 12,12313.34+1.5
David Compton Liberal 11,77012.95+13.0
Rod HoldingIndependent4,1204.53+4.5
Ron BrownIndependent3,3543.69+3.7
Steve O’BrienSocialist Alliance1,9092.10+2.1
Informal4,6164.83

2017 mayoral election distribution of preferences

CandidatePartyVotes%
Nuatali Nelmes Labor 40,02751.85
Kath ElliottIndependent23,37430.28
Therese Doyle The Greens 13,80117.88
Exhausted13,697

Vote breakdown by ward
The following tables show the vote in each ward before and after the recent redistribution, for council and for mayor.

Labor topped the primary vote across all four wards. The council vote in 2017 ranged from 34% in Ward 2 to 47.3% in Ward 4.

The Liberal vote varied between 13% in Ward 4 and 22.7% in Ward 2. The Greens vote ranged from 10.3% in Ward 4 to 21.6% in Ward 1. About a quarter of the vote went to other candidates – mostly independents along with a small Socialist Alliance vote in Ward 1.

The redistribution did not dramatically shift this political balance, although it made wards 1, 3 and 4 better for Labor and wards 1 and 3 worse for the Liberal Party.

The mayoral vote pattern was similar, although the Liberal and Greens vote was lower and the Labor vote was higher in three wards. Kath Elliott’s vote ranged from 18.5% in Ward 1 to 24.8% in Ward 2.

Council results by 2017 ward

WardALP %LIB %GRN%Others %
Ward 135.114.621.628.7
Ward 234.022.717.226.1
Ward 344.616.015.024.5
Ward 447.313.010.329.4

Mayoral results by 2017 ward

WardALP %Elliott %GRN %LIB %
Ward 140.018.517.112.3
Ward 236.824.815.015.3
Ward 343.621.013.012.4
Ward 449.119.28.712.0

Council results by 2021 ward

WardALP %LIB %GRN%Others %
Ward 136.014.021.328.7
Ward 233.322.717.426.6
Ward 344.915.415.024.7
Ward 447.513.010.129.4

Mayoral results by 2021 ward

WardALP %Elliott %GRN %LIB %
Ward 140.717.817.112.0
Ward 236.125.414.815.5
Ward 344.220.613.012.1
Ward 449.518.98.612.0

Election results at the 2017 City of Newcastle election
Toggle between primary votes for Labor, independent candidates, the Liberal Party and the Greens.

Election results at the 2017 City of Newcastle mayoral election
Toggle between primary votes for Nuatali Nelmes, Kath Elliott, Therese Doyle and David Compton.

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