The queen of George Street

14 December 2021 | Posted In: #141 Summer 2021,

Clover Moore wins an historic fifth term as Sydney lord mayor. Political analyst Ben Raue crunches the inner-city numbers.

Voters across New South Wales went to the polls at the start of December for the long-delayed local government elections. The vote had first been due in September 2020, and was delayed by the first wave of COVID-19, and then delayed again by the Sydney lockdown of winter 2021.

While the lockdown has ended, restrictions continued to haunt the election. Parties and candidates were banned from handing out how-to-vote cards within 100m of the polling place, and there was a surge in pre-poll, postal and online voting, leading to the online voting website crashing on election day under extreme demand.

The council elections in central and eastern Sydney produced positive outcomes for parties of the left, with the Liberal party and conservative independents withdrawing from some councils and losing ground elsewhere. A Liberal majority council in the eastern suburbs may be opening up more, while progressive majorities are being strengthened in other areas.

In the City of Sydney, lord mayor Clover Moore was re-elected despite a 14 percent swing against her. She lost votes to candidates of the centre and left, with Labor and the Greens gaining swings and Yvonne Weldon polling 15 percent.

For council, Weldon takes over the seat of Kerryn Phelps, a Clover Moore breakaway who founded the team Weldon now leads. Moore held all her other seats, while the Greens returned to council after a five-year break. The Liberal party has lost its second seat and at the time of writing conservative independent Angela Vithoulkas is trailing the second Labor candidate.

That would be a net gain of two seats for the left from the right. Moore has definitely lost support with the rise of Yvonne Weldon’s Unite for Sydney ticket, but she is still in a dominant position. The Moore team holds five out of 10 council seats, can use her casting vote to achieve a majority, and has options both to her left and right to build alliances. Moore won the same number of seats in 2004 and 2012, and has had these numbers on the council since 2017.

Heading east, in Woollahra the Liberal party is defending its slim eight-seat majority. The Liberal party suffered a small swing while the vote for Residents First has surged. The Liberal party is holding at least seven of its seats, is in danger of losing one other to Residents First, and is in with a chance of grabbing a seat held by the Greens. So they may lose their council majority, but could also increase their council majority if close races go their way.

There has been no change in Waverley. No significan’t independents contested the election, leaving the three main parties as options for voters. The Liberal party maintained five seats but they remain in minority with four Labor councillors and three Greens in control.

An alliance of Labor and the Greens currently run Randwick council and they have boosted their numbers, electing a fourth Green in the Central ward, giving the two parties nine out of 15 seats. Two independents look set to lose their seats, with the other likely losing to a Liberal in the South ward.

The Greens and Labor have long been in conflict in Randwick, a situation that has seen Greens support Liberal mayoral candidates in the past, but since the last election the Liberals have been locked out of power, along with three conservative independents. I doubt we will see any change this time, with the Labor-Greens alliance now holding one more seat than needed for a majority.

The Liberal party decided to withdraw from seven councils in Greater Sydney where they normally run. Most of these councils are further west, stretching as far as Blacktown and Fairfield, but closer to the city they also withdrew from the elections for Bayside and Inner West. While some Liberal councillors ran as independents and there were some other options for conservative voters, conservatives have generally been set back in many of these councils.

Labor currently holds seven out of 15 seats in Bayside and are in with a chance of winning a majority. Two independent Liberals have been elected, along with other independents.

Even if Labor doesn’t win a majority, the left will be a clear majority in Bayside. The Greens are in with a good shot of winning their first seats in Bayside (although they have previously been represented on the former Rockdale council), with two Greens candidates in with a shot.

The Liberal party plays a smaller role in the Inner West, although two Liberal councillors were crucial to the Labor-led majority that ran the council for three years until September, when conservative councillors abstained from the mayoral vote and allowed the Greens to win without a majority of votes.

Labor relied on three conservatives to govern, but is now in with a chance of replacing all three of those councillors with Labor members. This would make life easier for Labor, as deals with the Liberal party are not popular in the progressive Inner West.

The Liberal party withdrew from the Inner West election, and it’s possible neither incumbent Liberal will be reelected. Controversial former deputy mayor Julie Passas is a long way away from the lead in AshfieldDjarrawunang, while her colleague Vittoria Raciti is leading for the final seat in Leichhardt-Gulgadya but could be vulnerable to Labor overtaking her on Greens preferences.

In Marrickville-Midjuburi ward, Labor’s second candidate is neck-and-neck with incumbent conservative Victor Macri. If the Greens are to have a chance of forming a Greens-led majority on the council, that path would have to run through AshfieldDjarrawunang. The second Labor candidate is leading in the race for the second seat, with the Greens not far behind.

If Labor wins a second seat at the expense of its former conservative allies in Ashfield, Leichhardt and Marrickville they will hold a majority in their own right. But if the Greens can wrest one of those seats away, they will likely be able to form a majority with independents, or come to some new arrangement sharing power with Labor.

Vote counting is still taking place at the time of writing. The election was held on 4 December, but most seats won’t be finally decided until the week before Christmas, with most new councils set to kick off in the new year.