After a short hiatus due to the Council elections it is good to be writing the ‘Helicopter View’ again. After poring over results from across the state, I found some interesting comparisons that demonstrate just how different Local Government Areas (LGAs) are. I must warn that if you suffer from sleepstatitis (the condition of falling asleep after seeing too many stats), you should stop reading as I will be quoting several statistics from here on in.
There are 152 LGAs in NSW and all but two held elections on 8 September 2012. The NSW Electoral Commission (NSWEC) conducted the elections for 136 LGAs while 14 conducted their own. In addition to the elections, the NSWEC conducted eight referendums, six polls and held the elections for 26 popularly-elected Mayors.
One item that both astounds and disappoints me is the number of informal votes recorded in electoral issues. I understand many informal votes are by people making a statement. The problem is only a handful of people ever see the election paper, so a vote has been thrown away for nothing. In the referendums, the required response was a simple yes or no. The lowest informal rate in this process was in Walcha with 1.38% but in Wyong the rate was 8.03%. In two of the referendums, the informal votes could have changed the result. In Narrabri the referendum result was a yes to reducing the number of Councillors from 12 to nine, but the yes only won by 82 votes. There, 441 (5.90%) of the votes were informal. In The Hills, the people said they wanted a popularly-elected Mayor. Although the 5,316 vote margin seems relatively safe, there were 7,955 informal votes (7.90%). Remember, this is for a simple yes or no.
The six polls conducted showed similar results. A poll is not legally binding but is a way for a Council to gain the full opinion of the public. The polls revolved around name changes, amalgamations, and coal seam gas. Again, on a simple yes/no vote, the informal rate was as high as 7.32% in Burwood and 6.07% in Strathfield.
I found some data from the actual elections fascinating. The differences in the size of Councils is one stark contrast. At one end of the spectrum you have very small LGAs such as Brewarrina (651 votes lodged), Jerilderie (908), and Balranald (1,209). At the other end are places like Gosford (97,704 votes lodged), Campbelltown (82,081), and Sydney City (70,355). Dubbo sits towards the larger end of the spectrum with 23,834 votes lodged. Dubbo had an excellent voter turnout, which I believe is a sign of an engaged community that cares about the electoral process. We had 87.76% of our population turn up to vote, only beaten by Weddin (89.11%) and Lithgow (87.92%). The lowest numbers in this category were Walgett with 68.76%, Sydney City (69.08%) and Byron (75.81%). Where Dubbo didn’t fare as well was in the informal rate of those who turned up. The confusing scenario of above and below the line didn’t help, but ultimately, 8.68% of votes in Dubbo counted for nothing. The Upper Hunter fared the worst in this category with 13.80% followed by Goulburn (12.25%) and Singleton (12.15%). Hay was the outstanding performer with 2.17% of informal votes followed by Coonamble (2.21%) and Temora (2.40%). Admittedly the top 17 performers in this category have low voter numbers (average of 2,643). Interestingly though, of the top 17 only one (Weddin) had any groups, with all other elections made up of just individuals standing. I believe this makes it easier for a formal vote. In fact, this top 17 had an average of 12 people standing for eight positions. In contrast, Dubbo had 53 people standing across eight groups plus four individuals for 11 positions.
Dubbo was at the upper end with candidate numbers. Campbelltown cracked the ton with 102 candidates followed by Albury (63) and Hawkesbury (62). The number of groups on the ballot paper was also interesting, with Albury and Tweed both having 12 groups on the ballot paper followed by Campbelltown with 11. Many of the LGAs with high candidate numbers and high group numbers had limited numbers of individuals standing – or in some cases nil. Mosman, Canada Bay, Broken Hill and Burwood all had nil individual candidates. Of all LGAs with more than three groups, Dubbo was only second to Armidale (five) with the number of individuals elected to Council.
Individual voting patterns also varied greatly. Katrina Humphries from Moree Plains would be incredibly pleased with herself for securing 47.02% of the primary vote from 13 candidates, but Bob Stewart from Bombala also made it over 40% of the primary vote. Another eight candidates all received over 30% of the individual primary vote. In group voting terms, Clover Moore’s group in Sydney City secured 43.81% of the vote and another five group votes made it over 40%.
All in all the data from the elections makes fascinating reading. The current review of local government being undertaken by the three-person review panel should look at some of the data from the elections to gain a small insight into just how different each LGA is. Every town, city and shire has its own quirks, personalities, and character and I hope they are all seriously considered in the review process.
Clr Mathew Dickerson
Mayor of the City of Dubbo
*The statistics quoted here only include NSWEC data from undivided LGAs.