NSW Local Government Elections Website

I’ve published a new election website for the ABC.

It’s a site covering the twice delayed NSW Local Government Elections to be held on 4 December. You can find the site it at this link.

I assure you this is not the most riveting election site I’ve published. It’s more public service than news. Given that the NSW Electoral Commission’s website is difficult to navigate, I hope my more simple display of candidates and results will prove useful for voters and political tragics. I hope to add more content on the political composition of councils over the next week and a half.

In the rest of this post I’ll summarise some statistics on the elections and point to one or two oddities produced by the elections.

Basic Statistics

There are 128 councils in NSW and elections will take place in 121 on 4 December. Four Councils are currently under administration and will not hold elections. (Balranald, Central Coast, Central Darling, Wingecarribee). Three others did not attract enough nominations to hold an election. (Bourke, Cobar, Narromine)

Murray River Council in the state’s south has attracted only seven nominations for the nine vacancies across three wards and all seven nominees have been declared elected. However, an election will still be held as the Council had agreed to hold a referendum on moving from wards to an undivided council. Thanks to compulsory voting, Murray River Council voters will need to vote in the referendum to avoid being fined.

There are also seven councils where not all positions will be contested. Dungog has an uncontested Mayoral contest (see weird consequence below) and Kyogle (1 ward), Lachlan (4), Lockhart (1), Shellharbour (1), Tenterfield (4) and Walcha (2) have uncontested wards.

In 36 Councils, voters directly elect the Mayor. Eight councils will hold referendums to change their structure and one will hold a non-binding poll.

Bega Valley, Ryde and Wagga Wagga are holding referendums to introduce a directly elected Mayor. Dubbo, Murray River and Walcha are holding referendums to abolish internal wards. Armadale is proposing to reduce the number of Councillors from 11 to nine, while Griffith is proposing to reduce the number of Councillors from 12 to nine and to abolish the directly elected Mayor. If passed, the new council structures will be put in place at the next round of local government elections in 2024.

Inner West is holding a poll on whether voters want to de-amalgamate the council and re-establish the former Ashfield, Leichhardt and Marrickville councils. This is an advisory poll as de-amalgamation can only occur if the state government agrees.

According to my calculations, excluding the suspended councils, there are 1,225 Councillor positions and 36 Mayoral spots up for grabs, and around 3,900 candidates have nominated.

The size of councils ranges from seven to 15 and ward sizes from two to 15. The most common council sizes are nine, usually rural councils and elected at large, or 15, usually urban and normally elected from five three-councillor wards.

All council positions are elected by proportional representation. There are two main types of ballot paper.

  • Simple lists of candidates, with or without party labels, where voters must number preferences equal to half of the number of vacancies rounded up.
  • Upper house style ballot papers with above and below the line voting, with optional preferential voting above the line (the NSW Legislative Council system) or below the line preferences equal to half the number of vacancies rounded up.

Double Nomination

Having covered the last four rounds of Brisbane City Council elections, I have long held the view that Queensland local government has a fault in its structure.

In Queensland, candidates must run for either the Council or for Mayor.

At Brisbane City Council elections since 2008, Labor has consistently nominated candidates who do not serve on Council. The reason was that few sitting Councillors thought Labor could win, so nominating for Mayor meant giving up their Council seat and therefore being forced off council.

NSW allows candidates to nominate for both Mayor and Councillor positions. If they are elected Mayor, they are excluded from the Council vote, their preferences distributed as the first step of the count, before a usual distribution of preferences takes place.

For example, at Sydney City Council’s election, Lord Mayor Clover Moore is re-contesting the Lord Mayoral election, and heads her team’s ticket for the Council. If (as expected) Clover Moore is re-elected Lord Mayor, her Council votes will be distributed as preferences. So if Moore’s team has the votes to elect five Councillors, candidates 2 to 6 on the ticket will be elected in addition to Moore being elected Lord Mayor.

I think this is preferable to the Queensland system as it allows a council leader of the opposition to contest the Mayoral race without risk of losing their seat on Council.

This can happen in NSW because the state uses proportional representation while Brisbane City Council uses single member wards.

But there can be oddities produced by the system.

Problems with Dungog Council’s Election

Dungog Council has a direct Mayoral election. At the close of nominations, incumbent Mayor John Connors was the only nominee and was declared elected unopposed.

Which creates a problem in the Council’s A Ward. Connors is one of the four candidates who have nominated for two-seat A Ward. Two seats means that only one preference is required for a formal vote.

Any voters who turns up to vote and marks a single preference for Connors in A Ward will be wasting their time. As Connor is already elected, the first step for the count in A Ward will be to exclude Connors and distribute all his votes to the next available preference. Anyone who votes 1 for Connors with no preferences will have their vote set aside as exhausted an play no part in determining who wins the ward’s two seats.

In my opinion, the NSW Local Government Act shouldn’t allow two-person wards. Proportional representation in a two-person word is pretty meaningless, and most candidates know it is a waste of time nominating which is why so few candidates nominate in two-vacancy wards.

If two-person Wards are retained, the obvious solution is to insist that two preferences be required for two-vacancy elections. That will avoid the problem that will occur in A Ward where voters will follow the ballot paper instructions, complete only a single ‘1’ against John Connors, and have their vote exhaust because Connors is already elected.