The swings to Labor and the Greens in the Inner West Council (IWC) election show a strong mood for progressive change. Two former Liberal councillors (who ran as Independents) were not re-elected receiving a 17.6% swing against them.
The new council looks likely to comprise eight Labor councillors, five Greens and two progressive independents. (Two wards are currently being recounted — second Labor spot in Marrickville-Midjuburi and Leichhardt-Gulgadya wards.) Labor received a +4.7% swing, the Greens +7.2 % and Independents +2.2.
The previous IWC, the first since the NSW government’s forced council amalgamation in 2016, had been dogged by controversy starting with then Labor Mayor Darcy Byrne's deal with two Liberal councillors for the position.
The dominant Labor-Liberal alliance in that council led to one controversy after another: Liberal deputy Mayor Julie Passas's homophobia was just the tip of the iceberg. The lack of a working relationship between councillors from different groups, and badly prepared and overly-long council meeting agendas allowed the Mayor and council staff to run the show.
Byrne, who Labor has announced will be their mayoral candidate, recorded a -7% swing in Gulgadya. Leichhardt Green candidate for mayor Kobi Shetty recorded a +11.5% swing. Independent councillor and “Yes” supporter John Stamolis recorded +1.1%.
A successful motion, brought in May by Independents Victor Macri and John Stamolis to ask residents their view on the forced council merger was fought every step of the way by Labor councillors. Stamolis was re-elected in Gulgadya ward.
Residents for Deamalgamation, a resident-initiated group, was formed in July to work with both councillors supporting the poll and residents who favoured giving the community a direct say.
It was successful, with 62.5% voting “Yes” to demerger and 37.5% voting “No”. The small informal vote, less than that logged for the election of new councillors, underscored just how much residents want to be given an opportunity to be heard.
Socialist Alliance candidate Pip Hinman, who worked with councillors on the “Yes” to demerger campaign, received 3.7% of the vote in Damun ward. Independent Pauline Lockie, who supported the poll but is not in favour of de-amalgamation, took the third spot in that ward.
The composition of the new council poses a political challenge to Labor whose councillors have an outright majority. They could be collegial, or not.
Labor councillors, old and new, have publicly stated they will respect the majority “Yes” vote. If they, the Greens and the independents organise with residents committed to the demerger, there are the grounds for mounting a strong campaign to force the NSW government to respect residents’ views and follow their own amended Local Government Act which provides the pathway.
Of 107,000 voters, 38,000 voted for Labor (36%), but 65,000 voted “Yes” to demerge (62.5%).
The strong “Yes” vote sent a powerful signal to the conservative government that communities are not happy with having powers, rights and representation taken away. It forms part of the battle to keep the local in council and stop attempts to remove council control over developer contributions for local improvements and further removing council control over development decisions.
[Andrew Chuter is a member of the Residents for Deamalgamation group.]