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Byron Shire
May 16, 2021

Ward system makes for unpredictable results

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Chris Dobney

One aspect of Ballina’s electoral system that sets it apart from other local shires is that it is divided into three geographic ‘wards’, each fielding its own set of candidates, with residents only entitled to vote for the candidates in the ward they reside in. In Ballina, each ward returns three councillors, who are elected proportionally.

While this somewhat antiquated system ensures your local candidates really are local, it does also make it harder for groups of candidates to organise ahead of the election.

There has been considerable discussion about whether the ward system works against progressive politics at a local level – the general consensus is that it does. That’s going to get tested this time around, given that this year the only official group of candidates standing in Ballina is the Greens. They have three candidates standing in each ward, a remarkable feat considering there are just seven nominees in each of B and C wards.

No doubt some preference-swapping arrangements between other candidates will emerge as the campaign gets going and, given the relatively low numbers of voters in each ward, these could potentially have a significant effect on the outcome.

Another wild card in this year’s election is the resignation of popular long-time mayor Phil Silver. This will ensure a real battle for mayor for the first time in a number or years. (Crs Alan Brown and Peter Moore have also chosen not to run again.)

The mayoral candidates are almost entirely old hands. Local businesswoman Sharon Cadwallader will benefit from the donkey vote at the top of the ticket. She is followed by Jeff Johnson (Greens), Keith Williams (first-time candidate), Ben Smith (currently the youngest sitting councillor), David Wright and Sue Meehan.

Of these, Wright had the highest personal vote last time, although that doesn’t necessarily translate into support outside his ward.

Another trick of the ward system is that the mayor is elected in addition to the nine ward councillors but mayoral candidates must nevertheless stand at a ward level as well. Once the position of mayor is decided, his or her preferences then determine who the third ward councillor will be.

This year a total of 24 candidates are standing for election in the three wards, as opposed to a total of just 17 in 2008. Of these nine are running for the Greens.

Ward A has a total of 10 candidates standing, including: sitting councillors Robyn Hordern and Sue Meehan; Tony Gilding, Lee Andresen and Robyn Sparks from the Greens; Kieran Drabsch representing Country Labor; and independents Stephen McCarthy, Ken Johnston, David Robinson and Ross Pickering.

Given her good electoral showing last time, Meehan seems likely to get in again. With the popular Alan Brown not standing again and Hordern’s less-than-glowing result last time, the other two positions are harder to predict.

Of the seven candidates standing in B ward, Sharon Cadwallader (Independent) and Jeff Johnson (Greens) are sitting councillors. Both won their positions comfortably in 08 and are likely to be returned.

The Greens are further represented by Amelia Hicks (vying for youngest councillor) and Neil Denison. Independents Keith Williams (from Australian Seabird Rescue), Phil Meehan and Kiri Dicker also nominated.

In C ward just four candidates stood last election and, given one was mayor Phil Silver, all three others automatically became councillors. This process saw Ben Smith elected as a C-ward councillor with just 782 of the more than 7,000 votes cast.

Keith Johnson also commanded a comparatively small number of primary votes (922) and could be in trouble this time. David Wright looks safe – it would take a lot to erode his 2,486 primary votes from 08.

They face considerably more competition this time around, however, with Effie Ablett, Maureen McDermott and Leyla Roberts all standing for the Greens and independent Paul Worth also throwing his hat into the ring.

Ballina’s ‘three-ring-circus’ election is going to be interesting to watch, with local special-interest groups no doubt having a strong say in the outcome.

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