By Luis Feliu
It is still unclear who will take the vital final seventh seat on Tweed Shire Council after Saturday’s election which saw the Greens, led by incumbent mayor Katie Milne, top the poll.
Six of the seven seats are all but decided and evenly split between candidates from progressive and conservative groups.
And fighting it out for the vital seventh spot are two former allies, Kingscliff community stalwart Ron Cooper and Uki accountant Barry Longland, both former councillors.
Mr Cooper, who had helped Cr Longland’s 2012 campaign which saw Cr Longland elected mayor for two terms, was narrowly in front by around 40 votes.
However, preferences will determine who of the two takes the last spot with counting in the poll resuming tomorrow (Tuesday) and likely to continue till Friday.
Not surprisingly, candidates backed by the four major parties solidly won a seat each, in an emerging pattern in local government politics where the tag ‘independent’ is commonly misused and rejected by voters sticking to the parties they know.
Cr Milne’s group topped the poll with 12.9 per cent of the primary vote (as of late yesterday), followed by National Party veteran Warren Polglase with 11.3 per cent, the Liberals’ James Owen with 9.3 per cent, and Labor’s Reece Byrnes with 8.8 per cent.
Murwillumbah businessman Pryce Allsop did quite well at his first go at politics, with 8.6 per cent, as did Pottsville community leader Chris Cherry (4.5 per cent). Both are set to join the above four and become first-time councillors.
Next on the primary vote count was: the Ron Cooper group (3.2 per cent); ex-Cr Longland’s group (3.1 per cent); then ex-deouty mayor Gary Bagnall (2.7); Kingscliff businesswoman (and Nats backed) Jayne Henry (2.4); anti-CSG campaigner Michael McNamara (2.2); ex-Cr Carolyn Byrne (2 per cent), together with ally and former councillor Dot Holdom also 2 per cent; former Tweed mayor (and also Nats backed) Kevin Skinner on 1.5 per cent; and Tweed Heads community independent Kaye Sharples (1.8)..
Of the four individual candidates, vision-impaired advocate Suzy Hudson took 0.2 per cent while the other three had 0.1 per cent of the total vote each.
The poll, rescheduled from last month after the sudden death of a candidate, was almost a repeat of past elections where the seventh seat was unknown till days after locals cast their votes.
Missing out on re-election are two bitter foes, Murwillumbah cafe owner Gary Bagnall and the National Party’s Carolyn Byrne from Kingscliff, who often clashed in council with a well-publicised spat between them ending up in court after Cr Byrne pushed for charges.
The Nationals’ Phil Youngblutt retired after several terms on council as Cr Polglase’s loyal ally.
Kingscliff based Mrs Holdom who just missed out at the 2012 election, again failed to make the cut, but it’s expected any preference flow-on from the conservative candidate, a former member of the National Party, set to help ex-Cr Longland.
Former deputy mayor Bagnall, a community independent and pro-environment candidate, also missed out at a second four-year term, blaming a nasty campaign against him by a Tweed news outlet, known for its blatant support of National Party candidates over many years.
Mr Bagnall said that unlike other candidates, he had no major parties backing him, or the financial resources and volunteers
He told Echonetdaily that in an election where many of the candidates are an unknown quantity, a big splash on advertising and glossy posters goes a long way.
He said he was grateful that the new ‘replacement’ councillors were ‘nice’ people who should make for a more harmonious council than the previous one.
Ironically, Murwillumbah candidate Mr Allsop’s success was a case of second-time lucky after a stuff up when his group registration for the September 10 election was not lodged by his National Party organisers.
But the death in August of Kingscliff local Ken Nicholson, who had been on Mr Cooper’s ‘no high-rise’ ticket, gave Mr Allsop a second chance and he ran an expensive advertising campaign (including Echonetdaily), which saw him through.
Branding himself an ‘independent’, Mr Allsop’s campaign was helped by the Nationa Party, with Tweed electorate chairman Rory Curtis seen handing out how-to-vote cards for his group at Tweed on Saturday.
The Tweed shire has around 66,000 voters enrolled, but the turnout was 42, 829 votes cast, of which 4,173, or 11 per cent, were informal.
Cr Milne told Echonetdaily it was ‘a nail biting finish’ to the result, and she predicted that ‘as always, there is a high conservative vote at the end’.
‘We are not predicting anything yet,’ the popular Greens mayor said.
‘I just hope Tweed gets councillors who respect and love this community and environment and are open to more forward thinking ideas,’ she said.
Meanwhile, the referendum run in conjunction with the poll to increase the number of councillors from seven to nine is set to reject the move.