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  • Writer's pictureStuart Jeffery

Common(wealth) Knowledge #92: The complicated world of local government candidates

Council candidates cannot be neatly divided between party members and independents.

With Queensland’s local government elections happening this month, nominations are closed, and, as usual, the list of candidates is packed with 'independents' - yet many of these independents aren’t really independent.

 

Click HERE to see the political party memberships of every candidate in the 2024 Queensland local and mayoral elections

 

Australian local government elections are very different from those in the United States of America and the United Kingdom.


Although US local governments are, unsurprisingly, dominated by the Republican and Democrat parties, with independents and minor parties getting some representation. In the UK, most councillors are also party members, but a much wider range of parties win seats than in the US.


However, Australian local government elections, including those in Queensland, are dominated by nominally independent candidates, with candidates who are openly affiliated with parties holding roughly 10% of the council seats.


An independent who is an Australian Labor Party (but not endorsed by the ALP) fall under the label of "Independent ALP". Similarly, a Liberal National Party member might fall under "Independent Liberal National"/"Independent LNP" (or, depending on the state and region, Independent Liberal, Independent National, Independent Country Liberal/Independent CLP, etc). This can even be extended to minor parties, with Independent Democrats and Independent KAP candidates all contesting.


This stands in stark contrast to state, territory, and federal elections.


Usually, independents see more success in lower houses. The ‘teal’ independents from the 2022 federal election are the best example of this, because they run based on local issues, and only have to appeal to a geographically small area.


Parties are better at broad appeal in larger, more diverse seats, where specific local issues come in behind region-wide issues. This allows them to dominate upper house seats and larger lower house electorates.


Local governments operate on the same basis.


Section 27(1) of the Local Government Electoral Act 2011 (Qld) allows candidates to run if they (a) are endorsed by a political party that they are a member of or (b) 6 voters from that electorate can certify and verify them.


However, just because a person is a member of a political party doesn’t mean that they have to run under the first option.


To complicate things further, candidates who wish to run under the second option can also form ‘groups’ with other candidates. These groups will encourage voters to vote for other members of their group, and is seen as a compromise between being a sole independent and a party-based candidate. Often, this will happen when councillors running in different city ‘wards’ form a group.


As an example, take the Toowoomba Regional Council candidate list. Note that this is a regional council, so doesn’t have wards.

The easiest option, and the one taken by most candidates here, is to be a true independent.


The second option is to run as a party member. The only candidate to do so here is Ellisa Parker, for the Greens.


As an aside: It's worth mentioning the Greens endorse candidates in local elections for every single state and territory except, it appears, South Australia. In 2023, they endorsed two candidates in the Western Australian local elections (which are typically seen as more non-artisan than in other states, although major party members do contest). The Animal Justice Party, Australian Christians and No Mandatory Vaccination Party all backed candidates at the same elections.


The Westgarth family, who run a local real estate firm, have decided to run as a group. As they haven’t published a ‘how to vote’ card, it is unknown whether they will provide one card for all three of them, choosing one family member to take each ranked spot, or issue three different cards. However, they are not a party; each candidate also has their own policies.


7 candidates are members of political parties, and two stand out.


Rebecca Vonhoff stood for LNP pre-selection for the 2020 by-election for the federal seat of Groom. She was seen as a favourite by many but lost to Garth Hamilton, who went on to win the seat.


Kerry Shine served in the Peter Beattie and Anna Bligh state Labor governments as Attorney-General, and member for the state electorate of Toowoomba North.


These candidates are running as independents for the same reason that candidates as independents in other elections. Party affiliation is less important at a local level, as candidates run on local issues that aren’t often party concerns. For councillors who are members of Labor, it also means that they aren’t compelled to all vote for the same way.


Finally, Nathan Essex and Adam Carney create a unique fifth option, alluded to earlier. They are running as a group but also are both members of the LNP. This allows them to run on a shared policy platform on issues that the LNP doesn’t have policies on. They are considered an independent LNP group.


Local groups are, for local government purposes, political parties. Cairns Unity Team in Cairns is a strong example of this, as was Greg Williamson Alliance in Mackay before it disbanded in 2024 and was replaced by Team Greg Williamson.


The "Say NO To WOKE" party will be followed closely in 6 News' coverage of the local government elections on 16 March.


With reporting from Leonardo Puglisi.


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