We are just weeks away from a potentially transforming Hobart City Council election, with the mayoralty on the line following the invincible incumbent’s decision to step down and run for Legislative Council next year. With Helen Burnet contesting the top job, the Deputy Mayoralty will change hands again, and following the recent passing of very long-serving alderman Darlene Haigh, this year’s election will be for seven seats instead of the usual six, with the possibility that a sitting alderman could be relegated to a two-year term. We will also see Labor’s intended entry to an arena where the Greens have had electoral success. Ahead of that, this article assesses the political line-up of the 2009-11 Council.
Before I get on with it, the usual rules of engagement. To restate these in brief:
• It is especially important to say this when one alderman is no longer around to defend herself: there are no right or wrong answers and this article simply aims to cover which aldermen voted with who. It does not express my normative view on Council issues (whatever that is).
• This article is not about: hidden parties, factions, hardline voting blocs, caucusing or related claims. It is just about the tendency of each alderman to vote with certain aldermen more often than others, and some loose informal groups of aldermen who tend to do this.
• Any “private” feedback given to the author in any form is on the public record and mine to do with as I wish. This condition cannot be overridden.
This is the third in a regular series; for the 2007-9 effort see here and for 2005-7 see here (both a little jumbled by the archiving process, so that the lead paragraph is missing or near the end). In those pieces I used average tendencies to side with each of two groups to assess how far each alderman leaned in which direction on a simple linear spectrum. In the first case I compared “left” with “right” and in the second case “non-blue” with “blue”. Now I am using a more advanced, and self-correcting, method of ordering the aldermen from “green” to “blue”, and also placing them on a two-dimensional chart.
For the sake of those who just want the results and discussions, I have parked most of the methods stuff in a PDF downloadable as a separate file.
Some basic figures
Most Council motions are passed unanimously. I am interested in those that create a difference of opinion.
There have been 168 of them this term. Aldermen may miss votes for many reasons including absence on official duties, clashing commitments, conflict of interest and medical reasons. Ruzicka and Christie attended 167 of the 168 votes, Briscoe 160, Harvey and Cocker 156, Thomas 145, Burnet 144, Valentine 143, Zucco 140, Sexton 121, and Haigh 98 including a valiant appearance for part of the July 25 meeting. Of the aldermen who served a part term, Eric Hayes attended 121 motions of a possible 130 and Elise Archer 28 of 38.
Of these 168, 50 had a lone dissenter, 38 had two, 34 had three, 25 had four (including three 4-4 ties), and 21 had five (including six 5-5 ties). Out of all non-unanimous motions for which each alderman was present, Burnet was the lone dissenter 6.9% of the time, Ruzicka 6%, Cocker 5.8%, Harvey 4.5%, Haigh 3.1%, Christie 2.4%, Thomas 2.1%, Zucco 1.4%, and Briscoe 1.3%. Valentine, Archer, Hayes and Sexton were never lone boat-rockers in this term. Many aldermen were less likely to record lone dissents in this term, the main exception being Harvey (three times as likely but off a far lower base than the other Greens). Sexton has recorded just one lone dissent in my past three samples and the Lord Mayor only two.
With the lone dissents removed we can see which aldermen were most often on the losing side of the more contested motions. Burnet (60%), Cocker (55%), Harvey (53%), and Ruzicka (42%) most often showed up in the minority. Next were Elise Archer (35% of a very small sample), Valentine (32%) and Haigh (28%). Briscoe (19%), Christie and Zucco (17%), Thomas (15%) and Hayes (14%) were not often voted down and the alderman least often on the losing side was Sexton (12%). All continuing aldermen except Christie were more often on the defeated side in this term than their last, and this was especially so for Burnet, Harvey, Valentine and Haigh (and Elise Archer for the few motions she was on Council for).
The first table is the voting pair matrix showing the agreement percentages of the 13 aldermen with each other. Thus we can see, for instance, that Hayes and Harvey agreed 38% of the time. The second table shows their alignment scores for this Council and, where applicable, the previous two. The scores (see methods PDF) are on a similar sort of scale to those used in the 2007 and 2009 reports, and produce similar results, but the way they are calculated is more complicated. Recalculated results for the previous two terms are included. (A warning note: the sample size for Elise Archer for this term is small. Had she not been elected to State Parliament it’s possible her voting pattern would have become more like her fairly moderate “blue” pattern of the 2007-9 Council, but we won’t know.) For moderate aldermen, a pale blue colour indicates that the alderman was closer to blue than green while a pale green colour means the reverse. It does not mean “blue” or “green” is a valid label for that alderman.
In the past it has been possible to spot clusters of aldermen who all agree with each other at least three-quarters of the time (a common threshold in cluster analysis) at opposite ends of the spectrum, with a few aldermen somewhere in the middle. This one is much messier. Firstly, two of the Greens (Burnet and Cocker) only agreed 71% of the time, but still the three Greens form an obvious cluster. Secondly, while there is a group of six “blues” who all agreed with each other 75+% of the time, mixed in with them are Archer and Haigh who agreed with each other and some of the “blues” that often, but others not. These two aldermen were not clearcut “blues” in this Council so I have distinguished them by using purple.
With Haigh and Archer removed from the strict “blue” group (perhaps through small sample size in Archer’s case) it is clear that Sexton and Thomas are more moderate than the remaining blues. These two mayoral contenders displayed quite similar voting patterns, but Sexton’s voting was a little more green-tinged. The exact colour assignments for the aldermen not fitting clear green/blue patterns are a little bit frivolous and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Patterns on the floor and the ghost of 7-5
Of the 38 cases where two aldermen dissented to a motion, eleven involved two Greens (often the third was absent, but Burnet and Harvey dissented on five motions on which Cocker did not). Six involved two blues. Eleven involved a lone Green, with Ruzicka (four times) the commonest companion and a total of four green-blue pairs (up from one in the previous Council). Four involved a blue and Ruzicka, Valentine or Haigh, and six involved two of those three aldermen.
Of the 34 cases where three aldermen were on the defeated side, thirteen involved all three Greens. Five involved two Greens with the third absent and six involved two Greens with the third present (the third vote in both cases was usually Ruzicka’s but sometimes Valentine’s). The remainder involved various odd combinations but the blues featured rarely, and only two (down from eight in the previous Council) involved three blues. Also, only three of these motions involved even two of Ruzicka, Valentine and Haigh.
In the 2005-7 council term there was a common perception that there was a regular lineup on contentious development issues, with the seven “blues” on one side and the “greens”/moderates (then Burnet, Cocker, Ruzicka, Valentine and Haigh) on the other. This pattern never appeared on the floor of that council in its purest form because of absences, but a dozen votes fitted it perfectly apart from that. At the 2007 election a blue seat was lost to the Greens, but Darlene Haigh moved to a position between the moderates and the blues and therefore became the main “swing” alderman in a 6-5 rather than 6-6 pattern. In the 2009-11 term Haigh generally voted more often with the “blues” than with others so we might expect a new 7-5 lineup to have emerged on many issues where the Council split fairly closely.
That lineup is hinted at, but fairly weakly, since usually two or three aldermen would break the pattern. The pure 7-5 appeared just six times even taking absences into account (and only once with no absences). Another six times there was only one alderman breaking the predicted pattern (Ruzicka twice and Valentine, Cocker, Harvey and Haigh once each). There were sixteen cases where two aldermen from different sides swapped over. Valentine (six times), Ruzicka (5) and Briscoe (4) were the most likely to break the pattern in such cases and Hayes (1) and Cocker and Zucco (both never) the least. There were eleven cases with three exceptions to the weakish 7-5 pattern, and seven where it basically didn’t exist.
Picking through the motions in search of themes that either align with or fail to support the 7-5 pattern, this time there wasn’t much there. Bread-and-butter minor development matters (subdivisions, demolitions, alterations etc) appear scattered through the spectrum (tending to violate the pattern if anything), and matters about parking, roadworks, the waterfront and Tasmanian democracy could also turn up pretty much anywhere. Looking for the signal of clashes over major developments that might create grand divides as in the past, there’s not much to find –perhaps because fewer developments worth fighting over are being proposed.
Voting pairs compared to the last Council
The most significant change in voting patterns involved Haigh, who moved from a slightly more blue than green position to a position that was still individual but closer to the strong blues, with Briscoe the alderman she most agreed with (in 2005-7 it was Valentine and in 2007-9 it was Sexton). Haigh was 22 points less likely to agree with Burnet, and was also less likely to agree with Cocker, Harvey, Ruzicka and Sexton, but was 21 points more likely to agree with Briscoe, and more likely to agree with all the “blues” except Sexton. Aside from Haigh-Burnet and Haigh-Briscoe no other pairs changed by more than 12 points. The two aldermen who agreed with each other the most were Hayes and Zucco (89%) and the two who agreed the least of those who served most or all of the term were Zucco and Burnet (26%).
Ruzicka and Valentine also moved slightly towards the blue side (less likely to agree with all the Greens and each other, but more likely to agree with most of the blues).
Christie was more likely to agree with most green and moderate aldermen (especially Burnet and Ruzicka) but not much less likely to agree with the blues. Sometimes Christie and the Greens reject the same idea for opposite reasons – the Greens thinking a proposal doesn’t go far enough and Christie thinking it isn’t worth supporting at all.
Burnet was less likely to agree with everyone in this Council except Christie, while Cocker was a bit more likely to agree with most of the blues and less likely to agree with all the non-blues. Harvey was slightly less likely to agree with most aldermen. Briscoe was slightly more likely to agree with the non-blues and Zucco slightly less likely, but Zucco was much less likely to agree with Archer during her brief tenure on this Council, a change that started to be weakly hinted as possible near the end the previous term. Hayes was less likely to agree with Sexton than when Hayes was last on Council, and more likely to agree with Haigh.
While Burnet and Zucco are the two poles of this Council on the linear scale, it is largely by default because of changes by others. More evidence that the 2009-11 Council was less predictable and polarised can be seen by looking at the average of the highest five agreement percentages divided by the lowest five (Archer excluded). This figure was 3.63 for the 2005-7 Council and 3.64 for 2007-9 but only 3.08 for 2009-11. A partial reason is that voting solidarity among the endorsed Greens, which was never as strong as among the core blues to begin with, weakened. Another likely factor (one semi-predicted following the last election) is that the 2009 defeat of John Freeman has made the dynamics of Council less polarised. A third possible factor is simply the different issue mix facing aldermen in this Council term.
The patterns over time
Having used a one-dimensional figure to measure Council patterns for the last three terms, it is time to see how these terms look in 2D (and fulfil a longstanding reader request for actual graphics, such as they are.) For those unfamiliar with graphs of these sorts, a principle components analysis aims to represent patterns in 2D with as little distortion as possible. Both the angle of different lines to each other and the distance of different data points from the centre are relevant here. The angles indicate what kind of voting pattern is displayed and the distance indicates how strongly it is realised. Even if two aldermen appear opposite each other, if one is close to the centre they will still agree reasonably often.
These graphs show that “green” and “blue” are close to opposites, but not quite, as there is a weak tendency for most greens and blues to agree with each other on a few motions opposed by some other aldermen. A classic example is the now-and-then seen pattern of only Valentine and Ruzicka dissenting to a motion.
The graphs show much the same movements over time by Ruzicka, Haigh and Valentine (all away from the Greens and towards the blues) as are suggested by the ratios. The graph for 2009-11 supports the finding from the individual percentages that Haigh was not a typical “blue” in that Council despite having a ratio in the “blue” range. Although Haigh appeared opposite the Greens in the 2009-11 graph, she was not far enough from the centre to be the aldermen who most frequently voted against them (that was Zucco).
The graphs show that over time, the range of non-Green voting patterns has reduced as the moderates have become bluer. The graphs also show that Briscoe’s slightly more moderate ratio in the latest Council comes with a tinge of something different, as he moved off the standard blue trajectory to one closer to Haigh’s. This is supported by the voting pairs as mentioned above.
It might well be argued that the moderates are a third dimension, like Labor in state parliament is not just in between the Greens and Liberals. There is a bit of this going on on those motions where only two aldermen dissent, but for anything above this number the evidence supporting it is weak. Perhaps this is consistent with the metaphor, since I don’t think the idea of Labor as a third dimension is that strong at state level anymore.
Myth of a Green Council
The most commonly seen furphy on the pages of TT in this Council term has been that Green ideas run Council. Any look at the 2009-11 graph or the percentages for being in the minority will show that it is nonsense. The Greens have, in fact, had few and token victories on the floor in this term. Of the 46 motions with four or more aldermen on each side, there were only twelve where all Greens present were on the winning side and another two were two were on the winning side and one against. These fourteen epic triumphs included four subdivision/demolition type motions, and an amendment of Council’s position on a Local Government Association from “abstain” to “neutral”, but were mostly on motions concerning setting, altering the terms of, or deferring consideration of some internal report, rather than actually doing anything.
It’s likely that the Greens get items put on the agenda and debated that might otherwise have little interest, and that some of these get up because, for instance, no-one except Christie wants to risk being tagged as a climate-change denialist. But until the Greens can find ways to bring more of the rest of Council with them, they are more the council Opposition than even junior partners in a council government. And with two Green seats on the line in 2011, it will be another two years before they get a decent shot at increasing their numbers to four.
The stage is set …
Your declared contenders for Lord Mayor are a Green who won the Deputy position last time, and three blues (two moderate and one a little “different”, at least recently). Barring a big collapse in the Green vote, Helen Burnet will make the final two, and the questions will be who else is eliminated first, who else makes the final two following preferences and whether that blue can overhaul Burnet if she is in the lead at that stage. Political orientations do not always predict how preferences will flow, partly because voters do not always know of them.
I hope to have part four of this series in September 2013. Perhaps then it will be “your City Council in blue, green …and red”. Or perhaps then there will be no City Council. But that’s another story …
Dr Bonham will be overseas during most of the Council election period but is aiming to return the day before the count.
Firt published: 2011-09-19 04:04 AM