The federal by-election in the south-east Melbourne seat of Dunkley is set to be the big electoral event of February 2024. You can find my by-election guide here.
After that, the biggest election in the first half of 2024 will be the Brisbane City Council election on 16 March, one of the 77 local government elections held across Queensland that day. I’ve just published my ABC election guide for the election here.
The results of the Brisbane Lord Mayoral and City Council elections will attract more national attention than usual. With a Queensland state election set for 26 October, and a federal election due by May 2025, the Brisbane results will be dissected for their state and federal implications. Will the Greens’ breakthrough to win three Brisbane seats at the 2022 Federal election be repeated at the council election, and could this be a portent for the state election?
Brisbane is by far the nation’s largest and most powerful local government authority. The city has around 1.2 million residents and 850,000 electors, more than Tasmania, the ACT and Northern Territory combined. The Council is also responsible for capital works and public services that in other states would be the sole preserve of state government.
Brisbane is the only Queensland council where all candidates have party affiliations printed on the ballot paper. Hence why Brisbane is watched more closely than other councils to assess trends in party support.
LNP Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner is seeking re-election and hoping to take LNP control of the Council beyond two decades. Nineteen of the 26 wards are represented by LNP councillors, five by Labor, the balance being one Green and one Independent. LNP dominance of council at recent elections contrasts with Labor holding most of Brisbane’s seats in state parliament.
But the 2022 Federal election results left an overlapping swathe of green across central Brisbane. South of the Brisbane River the Greens snatched Kevin Rudd’s former seat of Griffith from Labor, and to the north gained Brisbane and Ryan from the LNP.
The Greens also hold two state seats in central Brisbane (Maiwar, South Brisbane) and came close to victory in two others at the 2020 state election (Cooper, McConnel). The Greens hold only The Gabba ward on council but will be strong challengers in half a dozen wards on March 16.
How the Greens perform will gauge the party’s possible impact on the state election in October. The Miles Labor government will be competing with the Greens for seats in inner-Brisbane, while also defending seats against the LNP in northern regional cities.
The Miles government will need to craft different messages for Brisbane and regional city contests, and the Albanese government could face a similar two-front squeeze come next year’s Federal election.
Which explains the interest in the BCC election result. The Greens are well positioned to win wards from both Labor and LNP, continuing the the trend of recent Queensland and Federal elections.
Since its high point in 2012, LNP first preference support in ward elections has declined from 57.1% to 45.9%, but Labor’s vote has risen less than a percentage point, up from 32.0% to 32.9%. In the same period Green support has more than doubled from 8.5% to 17.8%. In the Lord Mayoral contest, the loss of LNP support has been more evenly split between Labor and the Greens.
There was a 3% two-party swing against the LNP at the 2020 Brisbane election but it retained all 19 wards. The arrival of Covid curtailed in-person campaigning and limited the distribution of how-to-vote material. Restrictions on campaigning probably worked in favour of better known LNP incumbents.
Seven sitting Councillors face election for the first time in 2024, all three parties having used casual vacancy rules to replace retiring councillors with new incumbents.
Apart from one defection, the LNP hasn’t lost a ward since Campbell Newman was first elected Lord Mayor in 2004. Will the 2024 election see the LNP lose councillors? If so, will the beneficiaries be Labor or the Greens, and will this hint at what’s to come at October’s state election?
Or will the election be too local to examine for broader trends, being decided on how ‘Team Schrinner’ has run Brisbane for the last four years, and the LNP for the last 20 years? Will councillor incumbency favour the LNP, suppress Labor’s challenge and prevent the rise in Greens support seen at the 2022 Federal election? Will any rise in Green support be challenge just for Labor, or will it be test for both major parties?
In 2020 the Greens passed 20% in eight wards, easily retaining The Gabba ward with a primary vote of 45.9%, and again finishing second in Paddington, Pullenvale and Walter Taylor wards. The Greens also passed Labor to reach second place in inner-city Central and Coorparoo wards. It was no longer just ultra-safe LNP seats where the Greens were finishing second. Now the party was competitive in three-way marginal wards like Paddington, Coorparoo and Central. And mirroring the 2022 Federal result in Ryan, the LNP’s huge margins in Pullenvale and Walter Taylor were declining.
Rising Green support brings a new dynamic to the 2024 election. Success for the Greens at the Federal election overlaps wards where the party moved into second place at the 2020 BCC election. The map below shows winning parties by ward in 2020 but uses two colours for the LNP to highlight the party’s main opponent. Light blue is used to show LNP victories in wards where the Greens finished second, dark blue to show more traditional two-party preferred victories over Labor.