Labor under pressure over WestConnex in new Inner West Council

September 15, 2017
Newly elected councillors Colin Hesse (Greens) and Anna York (Labor) at an anti-WestCONnex protest on September 12. Photo: Pip Hinman

There was a 6% swing against the Liberal Party in the Inner West Council (IWC) election in Sydney on September 9.

This was a common pattern, reflected in other local elections also conducted then for councils that were forcibly amalgamated by the NSW Liberal government last year.

IWC is the product of the forced amalgamation of the former Ashfield, Marrickville and Leichhardt Council.

Five Greens councillors were elected, one in each of the five wards. Anti-WestConnex campaigner Pauline Lockie, who stood as an independent, was also elected. Progressive independent John Stamolis was elected in Balmain ward as was soft-on-developer independent Victor Macri.

The Socialist Alliance fielded single candidates in three of the five wards. Running below the line, Pip Hinman received 2.03% of first preferences in Stanmore ward, Susan Price 1.69% in Ashfield ward and Blair Vidakovich 0.82% in Leichhardt ward.

Labor came in ahead of the Greens in all but the Stanmore ward where the Greens beat Labor 33.6% to 29.79% on first preferences. Stanmore ward is in the state electorate of Newtown, which the Greens won in 2015.

With Labor and Greens with five councillors each, two Liberals and three independents, alliances will have to be made to secure a majority in the 15-member council and select the mayor.

One of the major issues in the election campaign was the multi-billion-dollar WestConnex motorway. Anti-WestConnex campaigners tried to make this election a sort of referendum on WestConnex by organising several public meetings to hear candidates’ positions on the issue.

Andrew Chuter of No WestConnex – Public Transport (a coalition of eight local groups opposing the motorway) told Green Left Weekly: “We were successful to some extent. In Stanmore ward, the four candidates who declared their opposition to WestConnex secured 84% of the first preference votes between them.

“Under pressure from the growing anti-WestConnex campaign, the lead Labor candidates all declared in public that they opposed all stages of WestConnex even though the state Labor opposition has been less than clear on this issue.

“The first test of the sincerity of the elected Labor councillors will be in who they choose to ally themselves in the new council.”

The random sampling formula used in NSW local elections to distribute preferences has come under criticism during the local elections

NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge told Green Left Weekly that the system was an outdated legacy from a time when preference distribution had to be “worked out with slide rules”.

“Today my mobile phone has enough computing power to distribute preferences so there is no reason why all actual preferences can't be counted and distributed.”

Shoebridge said that while the preference distribution method was unlikely to make a significant difference in the IWC election, at least one outcome each in the 2012 and 2016 local elections was affected.

He added that “political sloth” on the part of the state government had prevented legislation from being passed to fix the problem before the September 9 election. The issue has only just been referred to a joint parliamentary committee on electoral matters which could then result in legislation to be presented to NSW parliament. A referendum will be needed to fix a similar problem with elections to the state’s upper house.

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