Sunday, October 2, 2022

Clarence City Council Voting Patterns 2018-22

(Note: Clarence council guide will be available from about 2 pm  Monday)

Advance Summary

1. This article presents some statistics and comments concerning voting patterns in the Clarence City Council 2018-22.

2. Voting on contested matters on Clarence council has been significantly less factionalised than on Hobart City Council in the same period.

3. While all councillors vote independently and only tend to vote more or less with other councillors, there has been a recognisable "right" grouping of Brendan Blomeley, Dean Ewington and Mayor Doug Chipman. 

4. The most frequent opponent of the "right" grouping is Richard James, followed at some distance by Beth Warren.  James also has a very high proportion of lone-dissent votes.

5. Many of the Clarence councillors do not side especially strongly with one side or the other and some are more or less centrists.

6. The relationship of Clarence council voting patterns with known party memberships or associations is quite weak.

7. A possible "left-to-right" ordering of the 2018-22 Clarence council was James, Warren, Kennedy, Mulder, Edmunds*, Peers (centre), Walker, von Bertouch, Chong, Chipman*, Ewington*, Blomeley.

(* = not recontesting.)


For this year I decided years ago that I would try to expand my detailed Tasmanian local council coverage from one council to two, and do Clarence as well as Hobart.  So why Clarence?  I've never actually lived in Clarence, though I did work there roughly every second workday between 2014 and 2018.  My main reason for covering Clarence is that it has a fair bit in common with Hobart politically, in that it also has a lot of overlap with state politics.  A lot of people who have run for state politics also run for Clarence, and vice versa, a recent example being first-term Clarence councillor Luke Edmunds storming into the upper house at the Pembroke by-election.  A lot of Clarence council candidates have party-political histories, and Clarence also features some of the same development-vs-environment battlegrounds as Hobart.  Clarence council is also famous for the inter-personal spats that develop involving particular pairs of councillors, which makes it a fun one to look at for voting pattern purposes.  

I will be posting a Clarence guide (which won't be as detailed as my enormous Hobart guide) sometime before anyone who takes their time has voted on Monday, but firstly I want to set the scene with a look at voting in Clarence council in the current term, along the lines of my Hobart analysis.  I haven't done this analysis for past terms, so have no standard of comparison for saying if it's always been like this.  In preparing this piece I have had massive assistance from Thomas Chick (@Tantusar on Twitter) who saved me many hours of time that I certainly don't have by not just keying in the divisions from Clarence Council in this term but also categorising them in numerous ways and preparing more tables than I have even found time to look at in detail yet.  

Thomas's notes say that the dataset he prepared includes just about every vote with the exception of a range of minor and mostly procedural motions.  The dataset covers the whole term through to 19 September.  It includes, in total, 253 votes where there were at least two councillors on one side, and another 126 with a lone dissenter.  As with any council, many motions put on Clarence council are passed unanimously and are not interesting for an article like this one.  (46% of the motions in Thomas's dataset are unanimous and this percentage would increase if including procedural motions.)  My interest here is in the split decisions only.

There is a fairly significant cultural difference between Hobart and Clarence voting.  In Hobart this term the Lord Mayor Anna Reynolds abstained from a snap no-confidence motion in her leadership without leaving the room and the abstention was recorded as a vote against under the Local Government Act.  I had never seen this situation before in many years of covering Hobart Council voting.  But on Clarence this kind of abstention (as distinct from an absence where the councillor has excluded themselves from the vote because of a formal conflict of interest) is reasonably common.  

There are a range of different and equally valid ways to deal with these abstained-equals-against votes for voting patterns purposes.  I experimented with a few and found they didn't make more than 4% difference to how often any given pair of councillors were counted as agreeing with each other, and didn't affect my conclusions to any degree that mattered.  In the end I prepared one set of figures that treated abstentions as equivalent to votes against, and one that treated abstentions as equivalent to absences, and averaged them.  In effect, therefore, I'm giving such an abstention half the weighting of a vote against.  Most of these abstentions are irrelevant, though in the whole term I found two motions that had been lost because of abstentions that would have passed had abstentions not counted as votes against.

Agreement matrix and left-right sort

I have called the axes on Clarence council left and right because I have not studied the issues that breed them in detail and am not sure whether the blue/green classification I use for Hobart council applies here.  I think it's safe to assume that if arch-Liberal Brendan Blomeley appears on one side of the voting ledger that side can be treated as the right side and the opposite tendency as the left, though this may not correspond that well to right and left in the broader world, whatever that is.

This is my simplified measure (with abstentions treated as discussed above) of how often the councillors vote together on motions that have at least two councillors on either side.  

For instance, the chart shows that Wendy Kennedy and Dean Ewington vote together on about 48% of these multiply contested motions.  

I've highlighted agreement percentages of 70 and above.  The first cluster that is obvious here is that involving Doug Chipman, Ewington and Blomeley, who all agree with each other more than three-quarters of the time.  This cluster also connects to Heather Chong, though Chong doesn't vote with Ewington all that often.  Sharyn von Bertouch often votes with Chong and votes with Chopman and Blomeley more than with most other councillors, and hence can be considered linked to this grouping, though she also has a relatively low tendency to agree with anyone.

On the other side the councillor most obviously opposed to the Chipman/Ewington/Blomeley group is Richard James, who votes with Blomeley in only 20% of such votes.  However unlike Hobart council where the councillors who always vote against the right have close allies, James doesn't vote with anyone on more than 60% of these motions.  There are then a scattering of fairly high agreement percentages connecting Beth Warren to Kennedy and Kennedy to Edmunds and John Peers, but Peers agrees more with Chong and Chipman than with Warren so therefore can't be simply placed as a member of the left group (which is not a very strongly defined group anyway).  

That leaves two councillors who don't have any agreement percentages of 70 upwards or 30 and below with anyone, Tony Mulder and James Walker.  I haven't used these two or Peers in calculating ratios to sort the councillors, but Mulder's numbers clearly tend towards the soft-left side of council while Walker is harder to place, with Chipman and Edmunds the two he most agrees with.  

The agreement ratios are based on agreement with James, Warren, Kennedy and Edmunds on the left side vs von Bertouch, Chong, Chipman, Ewington and Blomeley on the right.  A ratio in green is more left than right, one in blue is more right than left (with apologies to any colourblind readers as usual!)  

What is notable here is that Clarence council is way less factionalised than Hobart has been in its current term (which has, admittedly, been one of its most polarised ever).  Only four of the councillors (Ewington, Blomeley, Chipman and James) have very strongly realised voting patterns.

Given that most of these councillors have had party links it is also interesting how the Liberals and ex-Liberals are scattered across the landscape with Mulder (who used to be a rightie in the LegCo, albeit an erratic one) on the left side, Walker almost dead centre and Blomeley on the right.  von Bertouch on the other hand is a former Green who now tends to the right of Council on average.  Also, Chong and Edmunds come from the same party background (ALP) but you really wouldn't know it from these numbers.

The patterns seen are more strongly realised on planning matters.  On these Thomas Chick's spreadsheets show that Blomeley and Ewington agree 92% of the time, for instance, while James votes with Blomeley, Ewington and Chipman each well below 20% of the time, and Warren votes with James 72% of the time.  

In two dimensions

Clarence was an interesting case where I had to actually look at a two-dimensional Principal Components Analysis graph to get my head around what was going on with the data.  A PCA graph tries to squash the different voting patterns into two dimensions, and the data accompanying it is useful in trying to say whether a council is a simple left-right axis or there is more going on.  I am accustomed to going through this process and finding that the left-right axis overwhelms everything (both with Legislative Council and Hobart City Council) but for Clarence this is not the case at all.  They're all over the place!

In these PCA graphs, closeness to the centre means that an individual's voting pattern is not as strongly realised as if the dot is further from the centre.  Thus Chong and Chipman display a very similar kind of voting pattern, but in Chong's case it is less strongly developed; likewise the line in Mulder's case suggests his voting pattern isn't a very strongly defined one.  The most obvious cluster of similar voting patterns is Blomeley/Ewington/Chipman/Chong and the rest are spread all over the place, which is quite different to some graphs I have done where everyone ends up in two tight clusters.

Here the left-right axis on the graph pretty much is the actual left-right axis (slightly distorted) but the vertical axis, which explains 32% of variation, isn't so easy to define and may not have any specific meaning. It does have the more prone-to-disagree councillors at the bottom, for what that's worth.

Lone haranguers!

The pattern of lone dissenting on Clarence council also underlies the voting patterns for multiple dissents.  The two councillors who tend to least often vote with their colleagues on average lead the way on lone dissents, with James recording a massive 39 lone dissents and 27 lone abstentions and Von Bertouch 17 lone dissents.  Well behind came Mulder (9 lone dissents and 3 abstentions), Ewington (5 and 5), Blomeley (5 and 1), Walker (0 and 5) and Warren (3 and 2).  Chipman and Edmunds delivered two lone abstentions each, Peers a solitary full lone dissent, and Chong and Kennedy didn't rock this boat all term.

The pattern with James extends to him being by far the least often on the winning side of the multiply contested motions.  He is on the winning side of just 38.4% of such divisions.  Four others are on the winning side less than 70% of the time: Warren (64.1), von Bertouch (64.2), Mulder (65.1) and Ewington (65.7).  While Mayor Chipman has been recognisably on one side of council in this term, it hasn't stopped him being the councillor most often on the winning side of motions, 79.7% of the time.  I generally think it is good for mayors if they have a relatively high vote-winning percentage.

Out of the 253 multiply contested motions, 53% had only two or three councillors on the losing side, compared to 48% for Hobart (and Clarence has had fewer cases of councillors being absent).  But there were also a reasonable number of ties, 25 in all (including one tied by abstentions).

Looking ahead

This Clarence election sees the departure of three councillors: Luke Edmunds who has been promoted to the premier league of local government* and Dean Ewington and Doug Chipman who have both retired.  Overall while it is hard to put all the councillors in right-left camps as is the case with Hobart's current 6-6 split, the right side of Clarence council has had the better side of things in this term.  The right side's voting patterns were for the most part more strongly realised, and what passes for a left side is mostly councillors with only a relatively weak tendency to vote more with each other than with, say, Chipman and Chong.  But with two of the three councillors from the Blomeley/Ewington/Chipman grouping gone, this could be the end of all that.  More on this in my guide which is not now far away ...

If time permits I may add more comments and I also welcome assessments from locals who are paying much closer attention to the underlying basis of these patterns than I am.  Candidates are also welcome to comment in comments.  The usual fine print to deter any silly stuff (though I suspect that that only happens in Hobart): 1. Comments on this site are accepted in full or not at all; any comment that I consider legally or otherwise problematic will probably be rejected.  2. Any feedback about my coverage that I receive, including indirectly if someone makes it to someone likely to pass it on to me, is on the public record, especially if claimed to be otherwise.  

(*aka the LegCo, not really local government, but ...)

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