NSW local government elections were held in 46 local government areas in NSW on September 9. Elections were held for 20 existing councils and 26 forcibly amalgamated new councils with new boundaries. The councils that were not slated for amalgamation — City of Sydney, Sutherland — had their elections in 2016.
As had been expected there was an overall swing against the governing Liberal-National Coalition of 6-8%. They were punished for the forced amalgamations as well as other unpopular policies — WestConnex, tolls, bus privatisation, changes in planning laws, overdevelopment, housing affordability and power prices.
Labor’s vote increased at the expense of the Liberals in Ryde, Randwick and Parramatta. The first Green councillor was elected in Parramatta: Phil Bradley, a long-time unionist and activist. The council there now consists of 7 Liberals, 5 Labor, 2 Independents and 1 Green.
In Randwick, the Liberals lost 2 of its 6 seats: that council now consists of 5 ALP, 4 Lib, 3 Greens and 3 Independents.
There were also swings against the Liberals in their heartland of The Hills, Hornsby and Woolahra, although not sufficient to upset them.
In Waverley, the Liberals lost 2 of the 7 seats they had held (that council is now 5 Libs, 4 Labor and 3 Greens). In the new Council of Canterbury-Bankstown (now the largest ) Labor won 9 of 15 seats.
The independents running were a mixed bag: a new formation — Our Local Democracy — which won mayor and deputy in Parramatta — seem to be a mix of disillusioned and unpreselected Labor and Liberal candidates.
The Sydney branch of Socialist Alliance decided to run in the Inner West Council which included former the Leichhardt, Marrickville and Ashfield Councils.
We had previously run for Marrickviille Council as well as in state and federal elections in the areas covered by the new forcibly amalgamated council.
Two of our candidates, Pip Hinman in Stanmore Ward and Susan Price in Ashfield Ward, had been candidates in earlier elections and were active in local campaigns including against coal seam gas, for refugee rights and unions and against WestConnex). Blair Vidakovich, who ran in Leichhardt Ward, was new to Sydney but a keen campaigner.
On the basis of our activity in the anti-WestConnex campaign, we decided to run a candidate below the line in the three wards most affected by the WestConnex tollway.
Apart from a one Liberal-Democrat, all the other parties ran above-the-line tickets. They also handed out tickets urging people to just vote above the line. This made it easy for the Greens and ALP to justify not preferencing us on the basis of “practicalities”.
The Socialist Alliance How-to-Vote card recommended using the right to preference and therefore vote below the line. We directed our preference to the Greens, then progressive independents (in 2 wards), then Labor before exhausting.
Our assessment is that although running below the line in the 3 wards gave us an opportunity to campaign in new areas, we spread ourselves too thin. While our stalls and limited doorknocking and flyer were well received, we assessed that running below the line gave the impression that we were not serious contenders.
The campaign committee and the Sydney branch debrief assessed that for future campaigns we should run as grouped candidates (above the line) and concentrate our resources on one or two wards.
Given that our Moreland and Fremantle Council work is being noticed, this campaign has reminded us that, if we plan accordingly, we have a chance of winning a council position in NSW.
Of course, this means maintaining our commitment to helping the campaigns, including on local issues (overdevelopment, bus privatisation and WestConnex) as well as providing a local focus for other social and ecological campaigns (refugees, environment and anti-war) beyond local elections.
We had a campaign committee of the three candidates plus three other comrades, which met weekly. Volunteers were organised in three teams, as per the wards.
The campaign was launched at a BBQ at one of the candidate’s homes and it was a successful fundraiser pioneering an auction of donated items. Other campaign funds came from members and supporters joining a $100 club. Even though we had a shoe string campaign, we managed to balance the budget.
We distributed 20,000 DL brochures profiling our candidates and our key policies mainly in the Stanmore and Ashfield wards. Seventeen comrades letterboxed and a couple doorknocked. We had campaign stalls every free weekend (when there was not a major protest action on) in all three wards. Postering and corfluting was done throughout the three wards but especially targeting railway stations, shopping centres and shopping strips.
We issued seven media releases covering: WestConnex; unaffordable housing and rentals; opposition to the privatisation of buses; and changes to the planning laws.
None were run in whole or part by the local Murdoch-dominated media, although one newspaper did print a small part of Susan’s extensive answers to a series of questions. This meant that our candidate profiles on social media were very important to get the message out that we were running and had some solid ideas. Towards the end of the campaign, we also made a couple of well received short videos.
Susan and Blair attended two each organised by local groups in their wards and Pip attended one organised by the local Newtown Residents Against WestConnex. The three convened by Stop West Connex groups were lived streamed and went viral on Facebook due to community dissatisfaction with the Labor’s equivocal response.
We were told by many, including Greens, that we did well at all the candidate meetings.
Eleven comrades spent a lot of time over the two weeks (including one Saturday) period of pre-poll voting. This was considered a priority as in previous elections more than 30% of people vote before the main polling day. There were four pre-poll centres, and we staffed the two booths that mostly covered the wards we were contesting.
On the day, 43 members and supporters staffed 15 booths. This included an activist who joined Socialist Alliance during the campaign.
Overall around 66 people helped out in the campaign overall, including letterboxing, postering, donating, polling and pre-polling.
Overall, our vote was:
Stanmore Ward (Pip Hinman) 2.05%
Ashfield Ward (Susan Price) 1.79%
Leichhardt Ward (Blair Vidakovich) 0.83%
Total number of votes: 866 (of which 120 were pre-poll)
Compared to 2012, when we ran for one ward in the old Marrickville Council above the line and received just over 4% in a ward half the size of those in the amalgamated council, we believe that this was a reasonable vote result.
It is clear that the WestConnex tollway project was the key issue. Twelve of the 15 councillors elected declared their opposition to WestConnex during the campaign (5 ALP, 5 Green, 2 Independents). Only three councillors who support WestConnex were elected: two Liberals and one Independent.
During the campaign and particularly at the meet-the-candidate meetings hosted by StopWestConnex groups, Labor came under fire for its NSW leader Luke Foley repeatedly refusing to commit to ripping up the contracts if elected to power.
The Labor candidates running distanced themselves from Foley and the NSW Labor by continually referring to themselves as “Local Labor” (similar to the way Labor candidates in rural areas call themselves “Country Labor”).
WestConnex activists will need to hold Labor councillors to account. The first opportunity came on September 21 when the newly-elected council met to elect a Mayor and deputy mayor. Spurred on by rumours of a deal between Labor and the Liberals, many activists attended.
Darcy Byrne, a former Labor Mayor of Leichhardt, and self-proclaimed “Mayoral candidate” was elected mayor on the votes of five Labor councillors, one Independent and two Liberal councillors. The high profile anti-WestConnex Independent Pauline Lockie was supported by 5 Greens and another progressive Independent for Mayor.
The deal between the Labor and the Liberals allowed for veteran reactionary Liberal councillor Julie Passas to be elected Deputy Mayor against Colin Hesse from the Greens.
The craven power grab by the ALP was further demonstrated when an urgency motion by the Greens calling for council to support the “Yes” campaign to marriage equality was overwhelmingly carried with only the Liberals and the conservative independent (the ALP’s deal making partnership) voting against.