It also helps us look past the spin. One thing I often see from the Council and certainly by councillors come election time is how quickly they take credit as individuals for something voted on by all of the councillors. In the great majority of cases the things voters like most – such as new parks, the good financial management of Council affairs and donations to arts and sporting groups – were supported unanimously.
It is worth noting that in terms of the financial affairs of the Council, these are almost entirely the responsibility of Council officers, not councillors. So, if a councillor starts talking about how good they or their party are with Council finances, take it with a grain of salt. Council officers often make those decisions, councillors just vote to support them. In almost every case, financial items pass through unanimously with little comment. The one exception was back in 2016, when the ALP councillors and Eva Campbell questioned the amount of money set aside for the new netball courts and Macaria Art Gallery, saying it was too little. A few months later an additional $1.2m had to be found.
It's the contested votes that matter when you come to look at the make-up of a council. To get a real sense of where individual councillors and political parties stand during meetings the best insight you can gain is by looking at contested issues. It quickly highlights where there is groupthink, where there is independence of thought and where there are alignments either to individuals or political parties.
So, let's look back at the Camden Council votes of 2017 and see what the numbers reveal.
Over the course of 2017 there were 316 votes. Of these, 234 were unanimous.
That leaves us with 82 contested votes across all the meetings for that year. Almost every councillor in 2017 was either absent for certain meetings or was unable to vote in some contested votes due to declarations of interest.
No individual was present for all the contested votes. Cindy Cagney (59) who attended every meeting and Theresa Fedeli (58) who missed just one top the list for taking part in the most contested votes.
So, what does the voting look like?
When it comes to voting as a single bloc, the Liberals Councillors were clearly ahead. On every single occasion in 2017, except one, they voted together. Michael Morrison upset what could have been a perfect 100% strike rate on June 13, when he voted against live streaming. From memory he disagreed with bringing a report back in four weeks. At that stage he wasn’t openly opposed to the idea of live streaming.
By contrast, the ALP councillors disagreed within their own ranks around 33% of the time, voting with the Liberals, independents or by themselves on about one in every three votes. This was true for all three ALP councillors.
And they were quite happy to vote with their Liberal colleagues on some of the contested issues. Cr Paul Farrow voted with the Liberals on 10 occasions, Cr Cindy Cagney agreed with the Liberals four times and Cr Ashleigh Cagney found common ground on eight occasions.
Turning to the independents, Cr Eva Campbell and Cr Rob Mills, we find starkly different voting patterns.
On all but four occasions in 2017, Cr Mills voted in lockstep with the Liberal party. He opposed even investigating live streaming on two occasions (voting entirely alone) and then twice in the meeting of November 14 he voted against the Liberals and with the ALP. The first was ORD01 where he opposed the construction of a childcare centre (carried on the vote of the mayor) and the second was an amendment to ORD05 where his vote successfully helped defer a decision on the Camden Vale milk buildings redevelopment, so councillors could make a site inspection. Outside of that meeting he voted with the Liberals every other time.
Finally, we turn to the other independent Cr Eva Campbell. Cr Campbell appears to have a preference for the policy ideals of the ALP, voting with them 16 times compared to voting with the Liberals five times. However, she clearly likes to go it alone even more. On 19 occasions, Cr Campbell chose not to align with either party bloc, voting by herself or with individual councillors on items where she had strong opinions.
In reviewing the voting patterns across Camden Council, they confirm the impressions I get from attending the meetings. Despite not speaking during Council meetings, it is apparent that Cr Rob Mills’ political belief system is very closely aligned to the Liberal councillors. He is probably viewed as a safe, supporting vote by the Liberals on the council. I just wish we could hear the reasoning for his position on the meeting room floor.
The Liberal councillors tend to travel as a pack. They vote so closely together as a group that it suggests they have discussed the items together before the Council meeting. This type of caucusing is perfectly legitimate and would only become a problem if there were threats to penalise one of the members of the Liberal team if they did not toe the party line. There are no obvious indications this is the case.
The Labor councillors tend to have very similar belief systems and often vote together. However, it appears they don't often caucus before a meeting and there are differences in approach when they find themselves pulled between pragmatism and ideals. As a group, they seem much more open to persuasion during a Council meeting than their Liberal counterparts.
Cr Eva Campbell, the longest serving member of the current Council, is also clearly the most independent judging by the figures. Her vote shifts according to her experience, passion, pragmatism and ideals. Regardless of whether you agree with her positions the figures tells us she is the most independent thinker.
As you can see in the comments below, there has also been a request in regards to the number of Council meetings each councillor attended in 2017. While we can give the figures, we cannot give the reasons for the absences as these are not mentioned as part of the apologies.
The attendance figures are as follows:
- Councillors who attended all 20 meetings in 2017: Cindy Cagney and Michael Morrison.
- Theresa Fedeli and Lara Symkowiak missed one meeting.
- Ashleigh Cagney, Paul Farrow, Rob Mills and Peter Sidgreaves missed two meetings.
- Eva Campbell missed six meetings.