Tweed council election, 2024

The Tweed Shire is a semi-rural council area in the north-eastern corner of New South Wales, bordering the Gold Coast to the north. It covers Tweed Heads, Bilambil, Banora Point, Chinderah, Kingscliff, Murwillumbah and Pottsville.

Tweed Shire had a population of approximately 98,000 as of 2022.

Tweed Shire has no wards.

Incumbent councillors

Rhiannon Brinsmead (Lib) Meredith Dennis (Ind) James Owen (Liberal)
Reece Byrnes (Labor) Nola Firth (Greens) Warren Polglase (Ind)
Chris Cherry (Independent)

Tweed Shire has been a changing area, including suburbs on the edge of a large urban area and rural areas, and this has been reflected in divides in the local politics.

Over the past two decades there has been a shift towards voting for partisan candidates and away from independents, but there has also been a fierce contest between progressive and conservative factions, each made up a mixture of independents and partisan candidates.

As far back as 1999, the Tweed Shire council elections were won by a group of independents known as the “Balance Team” who were pro-developer and pro-business. By the early 2000s, a division had emerged between a group of pro-business and pro-developer councillors which I will refer to as the conservative faction, and an opposition group who were more concerned about the environment and limiting the involvement of developers, sometimes called the “community faction” but I will call the progressive faction. The echoes of this division can still be seen on the council in the 2020s. At the time every member of the council was elected as an independent, but numerous members of the conservative faction had links (often formal membership and activity) in the National Party.

Max Boyd, who would later be identified as a member of the progressive faction, had served as Shire President and then as the council’s first Mayor for fifteen years from 1984 until 1999.

When the Balance Team won control in 1999, Lynne Beck took the mayoralty for two years, and was succeeded in 2001 by Warren Polglase. Beck was the wife of Don Beck, a former Tweed councillor who had been a National Party state MP from 1984 until 1999. Warren Polglase has been a member of the Nationals during his council career.

At the 2004 election, the conservative faction won six out of eleven seats on the council, with their sixth councillor defeating a potential sixth progressive councillor by less than ten votes. The pro-developer councillors were supported by finances from a group called Tweed Directions.

Polglase was re-elected mayor following the 2004 election, with Lynne Beck coming back as deputy mayor.

A public inquiry was called by the NSW government, which was damning in its criticism of the majority faction on the council and their close relationships with developers. This process ended up with the council being sacked in May 2005.

The council was left in administration for the next three years. Former progressive mayor Max Boyd was one of those administrators.

The council faced its next election in 2008, now reduced in size from eleven councillors to just seven.

Former mayor Warren Polglase was returned to the council, along with just one other member of the previous council, Dot Holdom. The Liberal Party’s Joan van Lieshout won her party’s first official seat on the council, as did Katie Milne for the Greens.

van Lieshout won the mayoralty unopposed in 2008, but the beginnings of a resurgent factional split can be seen in the deputy mayoral result. Three councillors – Katie Milne, Dot Holdom and Barry Longland – voted together as the beginning of a progressive faction, interestingly joined by Liberal councillor van Lieshout, to elect Longland as the deputy mayor. Polglase, Skinner and Youngblutt were in the minority.

van Lieshout’s term ended in 2009, and she dramatically refused to participate in the election and left the room. The remaining six councillors split 3-3, with the three progressives supporting Longland and the three conservatives supporting Polglase. The former mayor Polglase returned to the job for one more year thanks to his name being drawn from the hat. His ally Youngblutt likewise won the deputy mayoralty through the same method.

The progressive faction swung its support behind Kev Skinner in 2010, although Holdom insisted on voting for herself on the first ballot. Polglase managed only two votes, with the Liberal councillor voting informal. Skinner joined with the progressives to elect Longland as deputy mayor.

Skinner returned to the conservatives in 2011, but instead Phil Youngblutt defected to support the progressives in electing Longland for mayor and Youngblutt for deputy mayor. Polglase refused to support van Lieshout for deputy mayor, instead boosting Youngblutt’s support to a 5-2 margin.

The Liberal Party did not contest the 2012 election, but Labor entered the contest.

Three National-aligned independents were elected: Polglase, Youngblutt and Carolyn Byrne. On the other side of the chamber, the Greens’ Milne won a second term alongside Labor’s Michael Armstrong and progressive independents Barry Longland and Gary Bagnall.

This result produced a clear 4-3 progressive majority, at least for mayoral elections. Longland defeated Polglase for mayor in 2012 by a 4-3 margin, and Armstrong likewise won the deputy mayoralty. This result was repeatedly precisely in 2013.

In 2014, there were reports that Longland was unhappy to hand over the mayoralty to fellow progressive Bagnall as was supposedly the terms of a deal, but Longland ended up supporting Bagnall, and he won by the standard 4-3 margin. But he defected to support Youngblutt for deputy mayor.

Bear in mind that this analysis is based on mayoral votes, which are not the only votes of significance on a council. Indeed a news article in July 2015 referred to Longland voting more often with the conservative faction following his loss of the mayoralty in 2014.

Labor councillor Michael Armstrong quit the council in July 2015 after a leave of absence for personal reasons. The council refused to grant him a further period of leave. His resignation weakened the progressive side of the chamber.

The 2015 mayoral election ended up with a 3-3 tie, with Longland still voting with the progressives. Milne defeated Polglase after her name was drawn from the hat, as was her ally Bagnall as deputy mayor.

The 2016 election saw a solidified progressive bloc. Labor and Greens each retained one seat, along with progressive independent Chris Cherry. Ron Cooper, who had run on a platform of opposing high rise development in Kingscliff, won the final seat. Longland and Bagnall both missed out, with Longland losing to Cooper by 93 votes.

On the conservative side, the Liberal Party returned to the council represented by James Owen. Polglase was re-elected, and was joined by pro-business independent Pryce Allsop. Phil Youngblutt retired, and Carolyn Byrne lost her seat. Overall three councillors lost their seats and a fourth retired, with only two incumbents returning.

The four progressives remained solid on every leadership election in the 2016-21 term. Milne held the mayoralty until 2020. Cherry won the deputy mayoralty in 2016, 2018 and 2019, and Labor councillor Reece Byrnes won the job in 2017, 2020 and 2021. Cherry stepped up to the mayoralty in 2020.

The right-wing bloc was far less unified. They did not put up a candidate for three of the six deputy mayoral contests. While they all backed Polglase in 2016, his difficult relationship with Liberal councillors had returned by 2018, when Liberal councillor Owen voted for himself instead. In the 2020 mayoral election and 2021 deputy mayoral election, Owen chose to vote for the progressive candidate rather than Polglase or Allsop.

The 2021 election saw the Liberal Party win a second seat on the council, and conservative independent Pryce Allsop lost his seat. Labor and Greens both retained their single seat. Ron Cooper retired, but another progressive councillor Meredith Dennis was elected instead. Overall the progressive majority was maintained by an increased margin, with Greens candidate Nola Firth defeating Allsop by 1,355 votes.

At the January 2022 mayoral election, Cherry was re-elected by a 5-2 margin over Liberal councillor Owen. Polglase surprisingly voted for Cherry over his fellow conservative. Likewise he voted for Labor’s Reece Byrnes for deputy mayor instead of Owen.

Council control
The council is controlled by a progressive alliance of independents, Labor and Greens.

Candidate summary
No information.

Tweed is a very interesting council. While it has been dominated by independents, it isn’t hard to discern broad coalitions that face off in the chamber. At the moment the progressive side seems to be stronger but it wouldn’t take a lot for a fourth conservative to defeat one of the progressives.

It’s also worth watching whether the recent trend of independents losing ground to progressives continues. A decade ago, the council included three conservative independents all with affiliations to the Nationals, but two of them have now been replaced by councillors elected on an official Liberal ticket. It wouldn’t be shocking if Labor picked up a second seat at expense of a progressive independent, but a lot will depend on the popularity of specific independents.

It’s also unclear whether the different right-wing groups would be capable of working together if they could pull together a majority. Conservative independent Polglase chose to support progressives rather than support a Liberal mayoral candidate in 2022, and prior to that Liberal councillors refused to back Polglase in 2009, 2010, 2018 and 2020.

2021 results

Party Votes % Swing Seats won
Left independents 13,529 27.1 +9.2 2
Liberal 12,470 24.9 +13.3 2
Right independents 7,565 15.1 -13.9 1
Other independents 6,052 12.1 -3.6
Labor 5,777 11.6 +1.1 1
Greens 4,627 9.3 -6.1 1
Informal 3,380 6.3

Booth breakdown

Since there are no wards in Tweed Shire, booths have been split into four areas. The urban area in the north-eastern corner of the seat has been split between Tweed Heads in the north and Banora Point in the south. The remaining rural parts of the seat have been split into “West” and “South”.

About half of the vote was cast as a special vote, so these voter groups just represent the ordinary election day votes.

The vote for the Labor and Liberal parties was much higher in the urbanised parts of the shire, with 44% in Banora Point and 39% in Tweed Heads, compared to just 22.8% in the rural west of the shire.

The Liberal vote is particularly high in Banora Point, while in the rural west of the shire the vote for right-wing independents is significantly higher. The left-leaning independents generally do better in the less urban parts of the shire, as do the Greens.

Chris Cherry did best in the booths along the coast south of Tweed Heads from Chinderah to Pottsville. Meredith Dennis’ support is much higher around Murwillumbah.

Warren Polglase polled most strongly in the urban north-east of the shire, while Pryce Allsop’s base is around Murwillumbah.

Voter group LIB % ALP % GRN % L IND R IND % of votes
West 14.7 8.1 11.3 31.1 21.4 14.7
South 23.2 10.8 13.5 30.3 11.0 13.9
Banora Point 29.8 14.4 8.8 22.1 12.5 9.8
Tweed Heads 24.7 14.6 9.5 23.7 12.2 7.2
Pre-poll 27.5 11.7 7.1 26.5 16.0 44.5
Other votes 26.4 12.2 10.5 26.0 12.4 9.9

Election results at the 2021 Tweed Shire election
Toggle between primary votes for the Liberal Party, Labor, the Greens and independent candidates Chris Cherry, Meredith Dennis, Warren Polglase, Pryce Allsop and Letitia Kelly.

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  1. The Liberals should have a chance of picking up this council. The Nationals will retain control of the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council and the Mid Coast Council. Not sure how Coffs/Kempsey/Nambucca councillors are aligned.


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