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Byron Shire
May 28, 2023

Lismore Council chooses costly by-election over ‘countback’ if a council position becomes vacant

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Cr Big Rob.

New Councillor Big Rob took to the floor of the Lismore Council chambers during the first council meeting (Tuesday 11, January) to repeatedly speak up about reducing the costs of council expenditure. As such it came as a surprise to many that Cr Rob then insisted that should a councillor resign and a casual vacancy be created in the next 18 months that a by-election rather than a ‘countback’ be held. 

It is the first time that a ‘countback’ option has been made available to local councils by the State Government and is aimed at reducing the costs to ratepayers should a casual vacancy be created on the council. The process ‘uses preference data from ballot papers from the previous local government ordinary election’ and ‘uses the same proportional representation method used in the original election’, states the NSW Electoral Commission.

According to Lismore Council staff the recent council election cost ratepayers approximately $400,000 and a by-election would cost $50-60,000 ‘as a minimum’. As such the staff recommendation was to support a ‘countback’ rather than a by-election. 

Speaking in support of a by-election Councillor Rob said ‘It’s a shortened term, I don’t think anyone’s leaving. And if something does happen, I think it should go back to the voters to decide instead of letting the preference deals that were done by everyone decide the outcome. Because I believe if it goes back to a countback… after the preferences have been run, I don’t think the results are in line with the way the community has voted. So I think let it go to a by-election.’

However, Councillor Ely Bird pointed out that it ‘is not always by personal choice’ for a councillor to resign. ‘We never know what might happen in an individual’s life that would prevent them from continuing to fulfil the role.’

Mayor Chris Cherry.

Tweed for ‘countback’

The same decision on a ‘countback’ versus a by-election will be required by each local council at their first meeting. At the first Tweed Shire Council meeting, also on Tuesday, a ‘countback’ process was endorsed by all councillors. 

Tweed Mayor Chris Cherry pointed out that ‘By-elections cost almost as much as full elections… It is an unreasonable cost to put on the ratepayers for a by-election.’

Cr Adam Guise.

The high cost of a by-election was also highlighted at the Lismore Council meeting by councillor Adam Guise who told the meeting that ‘it’s a no brainer in my mind that we don’t go down the path of by-elections. The community does not like it. It’s a huge expense. 

‘It’s a short council term, and it makes sense that a countback would be the best way to determine a “Casual Vacancy”,’ he said. 

‘Councillor Rob talks about wanting to save costs here and there… Well be clear, council costs here would be just to do a countback and not do a by-election, because boy, they [by-elections] cost a lot of money. And I’d be saying [it would cost] more like a couple of hundred thousand because you’re talking about running the election again, for what? one or possibly two people who need to be reelected. So a countback makes total sense.’ 

Cr Elly Bird.

Speaking to The Echo after the meeting Councillor Bird said ‘A by-election is a costly process for Council and for the community that can easily be avoided and the only reason I can see to make that decision is that there is either a misunderstanding of the countback process or a concern that a countback would result in a shift in the numbers and a Councillor with a different political position to the majority joining the Chamber.’

However, the new councillors Mayor Steve Krieg, Deputy Mayor Peter Colby, Big Rob, Andrew Bing, Jeri Hall, Electra Jensen and Andrew Gordon voted to support the motion for a by-election over a ‘countback’ with councillors Elly Bird, Darlene Cook, Vanessa Ekins, and Adam Guise voting against ensuring that a by-election will be run in Lismore local government area should a councillor resign.

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  1. The argument that a countback is cheaper won’t wash.
    You save $60,000 on a by-election but a by-election is democracy in action putting the community in charge of the process when with a countbacl that $60,000 will lbe spent on some other worthless program that ratepayers have no say in. It turns out the same cost. It is about whether you trust the councillors to do the best for ratepayers. They don’t.
    The proof of that is that voters get rid of half of them at every election.
    What is dear are cheap words from Council.

    • In reply to “Dennis”, if there are changes to legislation from our State laws which now allow Councils the “countback” option then the numbers must have been done to determine – this is a more affordable process for Councils.
      Additionally, we have already voted democratically. Within such a short period that this current Council will run, will we all suddenly change our minds about our December vote? That would mean this Council has gone seriously off the rails!

  2. Dennis we just had democracy in action. It’s called a Local Government Election and a countback would produce the next Councillor who would have been elected, Job done. I would contest the cost estimate a by election would mean opening over 30 polling booths across the city area and involve an enormous amount of work . 10 years ago a by election was costed at $100,000. I’d suggest it would be considerably more and a waste of money.

  3. The main problem with a “count-back” is that no new applicants will be allowed to stand, if a vacancy occurs in council’s first half period.
    Only the past non-elected failure candidates from our last election would be considered under this new rule.
    Hardly equitable – also this would be dead against the majority of Lismore City ratepayers’ wishes.

  4. Surely with proportional representation, the likely consequence of a count back is that the next person on the list of the retiring councillor would be elected–provided most of the electors followed party/group recommendations. And they usually do. But the consequence of a fresh election is that a person with a simple majority will be elected–and that will only sometimes be from the same group.

  5. Staff recommend a count back and moving Council meetings to business hours, both huge saving and both now seem to be rejected by this new lot.
    The biggest topic going into the election was roads to my mind, nothing has changed in that regard, the latest repairs on Cawongla Road are terrible, patches are fixed, between the repairs there are craters, smooths right out on the Kyogle side, wish they would just fix the damn roads.
    The savings on a few laptops for councilors is minimal, it does pose a security risk to the council network however in regards to malware etc..

  6. The “new lot” would find it hard to attend meetings in business hours as was apparently desired by our over-paid LCC staff.
    Many of the “new lot” Counsellors are working hard during business hours and attendance in the day would be quite impossible.
    You see, they have other daytime obligations/businesses that their families depend on for $ income.
    Of course, if they all were retired, living alternately or on the dole – there would be no problem!


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