Sydney by-election: October 27

The third New South Wales state by-election since the Coalition landslide of March 2011 will be held in the seat of Sydney on Saturday, thanks to new laws which required Clover Moore to choose between her state seat and the lord mayoralty.

There will be a by-election for the New South Wales seat of Sydney on Saturday, the parliament having chosen to deny voters their democratically expressed preference to have Clover Moore represent them both as lord mayor and state member. Labor has not covered itself in glory either, having declined to field a candidate in a seat whose corresponding federal electorate it holds by a margin of 17.1%. The election thus looms as a contest between Clover Moore-backed independent Alex Greenwich, Liberal candidate Shayne Mallard and Chris Harris of the Greens. A ReachTel poll of 422 respondents published at the start of the month had Greenwich and Mallard each on 31% and Harris on 25%, suggesting an easy win for Greenwich on Harris’s preferences unless Harris could improve his position enough to outpoll him.

The electorate of Sydney was created in place of abolished Bligh at the 2007 election, and covers the harbour from Pyrmont west through the city centre to Rushcutters Bay, extending south to Chippendale, Strawberry Hills and Centennial Park. The name change was prompted by the acquisition of the central business district and harbour shore as far west as Pyrmont from abolished Port Jackson (renamed Balmain). The city centre had been in a series of Labor-held electorates since the end of proportional representation in 1927, all since abolished: King until 1973, Phillip until 1981, Elizabeth until 1988, McKell until 1991, and Port Jackson thereafter.

Bligh was created in 1962 in place of abolished Woollahra, which since 1927 had filled the gap between the city-based electorate and Vaucluse on the coast. Labor’s only wins in Woollahra and Bligh were in 1927, 1962 and 1981, but Bligh became more volatile as cuts in parliamentary numbers forced it to expand westwards into the inner city. Michael Yabsley recovered it for the Liberals as part of the party’s improved performance in 1984 but was unable to enjoy Nick Greiner’s election win in 1988, when independent candidate Clover Moore finished ahead of Labor with 26.7% of the vote and defeated Yabsley on preferences. Yabsley returned to parliament later in the year as the member for Vaucluse, where he was elected unopposed after the death of sitting member Ray Aston.

Clover Moore was a Sydney councillor who had been the favourite for the next lord mayor when the Unsworth Labor government sacked the council and replaced it with commissioners in 1987. She was elected member for Bligh in 1991, making her one of the three independents whose support the Liberals needed to remain in power over the subsequent term (another being Tony Windsor). She was subsequently re-elected six times, her primary vote ranging from 36.3% in 1995 and 2011 to 43.7% in 1991. The Liberal surge in 2011 resulted in her narrowest margin to date, the Liberals outpolling Labor for the first time since 1995 (the boundaries at the 1999 and 2003 elections had been more favourable for Labor due to the inclusion of Redfern) and finishing 3.1% short after preferences. Her earlier winning margins were between 6.1% and 5.5% over Liberal in 1991 and 1995, and 9.8%, 14.7% and 16.6% over Labor in 1999, 2003 and 2007.

The lord mayoralty of Sydney was added to Bligh’s list of responsibilities in 2004 when she ran in protest against the government’s sacking of the existing council and amalgamation of Sydney and South Sydney councils, which was widely seen as an effort to bring the strong Labor vote in South Sydney to bear in electing Keating govenrment minister Michael Lee. She was elected with 35.0% of the vote in 2004, and re-elected with 46.9% in 2008. Then came the election of the Coalition government in 2011 and the passage of legislation requiring that state members relinquish local government responsibilities. A further 27 affected MPs chose to bow out of council politics when the local government elections were held in September, but Moore opted to run again for lord mayor and again increased her vote to 51.1%.

Moore has thrown her support in the by-election behind Alex Greenwich, the national spokesperson for Australian Marriage Equality. Liberal candidate served on Sydney council between 2004 and 2012, having been on South Sydney council for a term before the merger of 2004, and ran for the Liberals in Bligh in 2003. He was initially endorsed as the Liberal candidate for the lord mayoralty, but opted to contest the by-election instead. Greens candidate Chris Harris served two terms on Sydney council between 2004 and 2012, including a stint as deputy lord mayor in 2006/07. Also in the field are Robyn Peebles, a regular candidate for the Christian Democratic Party, and independent Glenn Wall, an Occupy Sydney activist.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

32 comments on “Sydney by-election: October 27”

  1. I live in Sydney. The green election materials i’ve been recieving are quite sneaky.

    The first stating that it was a straight up fight between the Greens and the Liberals. No mention of Greenwich at all.

    But it appears the greens have come around, their how to vote cards preference Glen Wall at 2 and Alex Greenwich at 3, even though Greenwich has not reciprocated.

  2. [Mallard is recommending an exhausted vote]

    [Mallard ducks the issue. Typical. What a goose]

    Except for the pun .. a bit rich coming from Psephos representing the party that advocated ‘just vote 1’ for many elections.

  3. Tell me why this same criteria was not applied to councilors sitting Federal reps? Perhaps they are not asconflicted ? Edward James

  4. Tom, I agree. In both NSW and Qld “it seemed like a good idea at the time”, because it weakened preference flows between Liberal and Nationals candidates and increased coalition tensions. It also maximised the damage that One Nation did to the Nats. But now the boot is on the other foot, since the largest minor party is the Greens, who take their votes exclusively from Labor, and OPV allows them to withhold their preferences.

  5. Psephos, the NSW act legislated about who could and could not be a local councillor. Moore was forced to resign because as a state MP, she was barred from being sworn in as a Councillor or Mayor. If the amendment to the local government act had specified state or federal MP rather than just state, then Joanna Gash could not have been sworn in as Mayor of Shoalhaven unless she resigned as a Federal MP. There would be no restriction on her right to be a Federal MP, but there would have been a restriction on her right to be Mayor.

    Queensland has a similar provision that includes being a state or federal MP as grounds to declare a local councillor’s position vacant. Queensland goes one step further by vacating councillor positions if a Councillor even nominates for a state election, though it doesn’t do the same if nominating for commonwealth elections. I think the Beattie government was just interested in stopping councillors nominating for state election when it put that provision in the Act a few years ago.

  6. Gareth,

    Those materials were written before we knew Alex was running, and that Labor wasn’t. They had to be at the printers just a few days after Alex announced so there really wasn’t time to change them. So logistical reality rather than sneaky.

    The real ‘sneakiness’is Alex Greenwich saying he is progressive and shares values with the Greens and Greens voters and then running an open ticket, which could very well deliver a Liberals victory.

    A big spend on Facebook and an opinion poll with a small sample and 4% margin of error does not deliver Greenwich an “easy win”.

    Harris and Mallard are not only seasoned City of Sydney Councillors with wide networks and contacts, they are experienced political campaigners running strong on the ground campaigns.

    If you look at polls in Sydney without Clover (i.e. the upper house in the 2011 NSW state election), the Greens polled 28.6%. The Liberals received just 55 less primary votes in the lower house than Clover Moore.

    I predict it will be close. A shame if Greenwich’s preference decision – effectively conflating the Liberals and the Greens as the same – delivers another O’Farrell backbencher.

  7. Pspehos @17

    You can’t only have it when it suits your political needs. It is actually more democratic as you have the right to choose who gets your vote or does get your vote, rather than having to grit your teeth and vote for the unpalatable.

  8. 21

    The problem with this is it makes not making a choice harder than making a choice. I have some sympathy for allowing Langer votes to be valid for the purpose of allowing people not to make a choice but I do still have an element of considering that reckless and indulgent.

  9. Antony, the effect of such a state law is to punish a person for being a federal MP. That is an interference with the right of a citizen to nominate for federal parliament without fear of adverse consequences, and hence an infringement on the prerogatives of the federal Parliament. If someone cares to challenge the Qld law I’m sure it would be struck down.

    Blackburn, I agree with your first point. I opposed OPV even when it assisted Labor, as it certainly did in Qld. I disagree with your second point. I support compulsory voting and compulsory preferential voting, as the best way of ensuring full participation in the democratic system and of getting election outcomes that correspond most closely to the will of the electorate.

  10. Federal parliament may have that prerogative, but the states have the constitutional power to determine who can serve on local government. Competing principles at play. A test case would also maybe resolve whether being a councillor, and in particular a paid mayor, qualifies as an office for profit and would fall foul of Section 44 of the constitution. I understand ALP legal advice is that councillors should resign before nominating for federal elections though that is not the Liberal Party’s legal advice.

  11. I just double checked and all the mainland states except NSW have the same provision as Queensland in their local government acts, stating that Federal MPs are disqualified from serving on local government. As it stands the the only mainland state where Joanna Gash could do what she has done is NSW.

  12. Ben Chifley was a member of Abercrombie Shire Council while he was Prime Minister. I don’t think the Constitution has changed since then. “Office of profit” is intended to refer to people holding government appointments, and the purpose of the section is to stop governments putting their dependents into Parliament. Local elective office, even if paid, is not a government appointment.

  13. 26

    A state school teacher on unpaid leave (Phil Cleary) was ruled disqualified by section 44. We will not know whether or not local councillors can be Commonwealth parliamentarians.

    Section 44 needs updating to reflect the ability of the junior levels of the public service to be independent of the government outside their work.

  14. Psephos, no, but the various local government acts have and serving on a shire while a Federal MP would now be a disqualification to serve on a shire council in every mainland state except NSW.

  15. Tom, after the Cleary episode all the parties agreed that s44 was an anachronism and a referendum was needed to get rid of it. But of course none of them have done anything about it. All governments have become very averse to referendums, even when there is bipartisan support for change.

  16. Just returned from voting

    Voter:Electoral Staff ratio of 1:1 (actually, it was 2:2). Pre-polling, i-voting, postal voting is going to reduce the cost of having elections: fewer physical booths needed on election day

  17. An aspect of comparison with the state general election that I do not think has had much airplay compared to the Clover-to-Greenwich flow, has been any potential impact from the Liberal pre-selection fight between Mallard and Bartels (the general election candidate, who gave Clover a real run for her money). It was a bit bitter

    Query if the Bartels’ Liberals lie a bit doggo today. Watch for the Liberals’ vote in the Potts Point/Kings Cross into Darlo booths

  18. Re-post of material posted on a general thread a while back
    A stroll through some statistics on the state seat of Sydney from the NSWEC site; underlines how abnormal different it is from the NSW average. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find an easy cross-sectional data source (only against the average), but I would hazard that on a number of these stats, Sydney is in the extreme decile, if not percentile.

    Starting with the number of voters (where there is easy cross-sectional information:
    [Sydney: 60,358
    NSW average: 51,327]
    Sydney is the second most over-average seat, at 17.6% (Riverstone is highest) reflecting no doubt, the considerable amount of apartment construction. The Sydney voter is worth 85% of the average voter, and only 75% of the good people of the seat of Barwon, the smallest seat with 44,925 voters.

    Gender balance (Sydney/NSW)
    [Male 52.9%/49.3%
    Female 47.1%/50.7%]
    This is a huge difference. When I did this for the Commonwealth seats, there were only 2 seats with similar balance, both had core mining seats, which I imagine would be rather different from Sydney

    Age distribution (Sydney/NSW)
    [<19 years 9.4%/25.6%
    20-34 46.4%/20.1%
    35-64 36.0%/39.6
    65+ 8.3%/14.7%]
    Much fewer children (belied by the plague of 40kmph school zones). Lot more young adults.

    Registered marital status (of people aged 15 year+) (Sydney/NSW)
    [Married 26.3%/49.4%
    Never married 61.6%/33.5%]
    I guess flows from age distribution

    Social marital status (of people aged 15 year+) (Sydney/NSW)
    [Registered marriage 24.8%/50.0%
    Defacto marriage 18.3%/8.3%
    Not married 56.8%/41.7%]
    Bit more balanced when considering common law marriages

    Country of birth (Sydney/NSW)
    [Australia 40.0%/68.6%]
    Parents country of birth
    [Both parents overseas 59.4%/36.7%
    Both parents Australia 29.9%/51.9%]
    [English only spoken at home 54.9%/72.5%]

    Much more international orientation – lot more from China, Thailand, Indonesia (I imagine inner-west areas, Pyrmont) and New Zealand (no doubt, spreading from Bondi) 😛

    Religious affiliation (Sydney/NSW)
    [None 31.9%/17.9%]
    Median family income (Sydney/NSW)
    [Personal $931/$561]
    Hence the strong showing of the Liberals

    Dwellings (Sydney/NSW)
    [Detached house 2.4%/69.5%
    Flat, apartment 78.5%/18.8%]
    I cant remember the last time I heard a lawnmower 😀

    Household structure (Sydney/NSW)
    [Family households 44.1%/71.9%
    Lone person households 42.4%/ 24.2%
    Group households 13.5%/3.8%]

    Number of cars (Sydney/NSW)
    [None 43.3%/10.4%
    One 42.1%/37.8%
    Two 10.3%/34.0%]

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