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  • Writer's pictureMark Matijevic

Elections Change the Complexion of Councils – Queensland Councils churn 52% of elected officials over the last four election years.

Local government has an underlying principle - the most important decision-makers are elected to the council by the community, and they represent the community and make decisions that impact them. The strategies they set will impact the community for many years based on the plans they set in place and the rules relating to the development, asset management, infrastructure, rating, levies, water management, economic development, and community engagement. They approve budgets, long-term plans, and policies that impact many areas.


The election cycle is an important element of democracy, and council staff must ensure continuity of service despite changes at the highest level. But can continuity exist with high rates of change and churn? And over the past four elections held in Queensland, what change have we encountered when it comes to elected officials?  We conducted research into this and were surprised to see that the number of changes in councillors after elections is far greater than we thought it would be.


About the Research

Queensland had an election in March, so we thought we would analyse elections after the significant number of amalgamations in 2008, as that election changed the complexion of councils forever.


We analysed the change in the makeup of councils in the 2012, 2016, 2020, and 2024 council elections. In 2024 the 77 Queensland Councils are represented by 77 Mayors and 501 councillors, but the makeup has changed over the four elections based on de amalgamations and the change in representation for individual councils over the past four elections. The number of council positions over those four terms is 1,956 councillors and 300 Mayors. We analysed mayors and councillors as separate cohorts.


Our Findings

The graph below illustrates the elected positions available over the four elections, with the numbers replaced by either retirement or election defeat. The graph below depicts the percentage of elected officials that have been replaced. These numbers reveal a stark reality-57.7% of mayors, 51.4% of councillors, and an overall 52.3% of elected officials have been replaced over the course of these four elections.


The churn rate of elected officials


The percentage of elected officials churn rate

If we look at how the makeup of councils changed in broad numbers, this shows that there are significant councillors who don’t run for re-election, but there are significant councillors who are voted out, although retirements are the key reason for the churn of Councillors.



2012

2016

2020

2024

Councillors Re-elected

226

210

245

269

Councillors Voted Out

94

108

71

91

Councillors Retired

156

160

185

141

Mayors have more churn, but they are more likely to be voted out than retiring, although there are significant numbers of both.


2012

2016

2020

2024

Mayors Re-elected

26

31

37

33

Mayors Voted Out

25

21

22

24

Mayors Retired

22

21

18

20

If we look at these two cohorts graphically, we see how significant the churn is. The changeover of Mayors is significant. There are 13 of 77 councils that have had Mayoral changes at all of the four elections and a further 19 that have had the mayor replaced at three of the four elections.


There are only three Mayors who have been leading their Councils in Queensland since our analysis began in 2008. They are John Ferguson of Bulloo Shire Council, John Wharton of Richmond Shire Council, and Eric (Rick) Britton of Boulia Shire Council. There are 13 councils that have only had one change of Mayor over those four terms.





Beneath the Numbers - Churn by Region, Size and Representation

Overall, there are 24 councils with a churn of elected officials in excess of 60%, with a few at 90%.  There are local variations, and although we don’t intend to publish individual council data at this point if we look at regions, it shows the regional movements. The largest turnover is in our Far North Queensland cohort at 62.8%, and the lowest turnover is in the South East Queensland councils at 35.8%, with all other councils sitting between these two extremes.



Churn % by Size - Council Population

If we look at trends based on the size of councils and their populations, we see that the size of a council has a significant bearing on the longevity of elected members.


Small is defined as councils under 20,000 population, small-medium between 20,000 and 65,000 people, medium 65,000 people to 140,000 people, medium – large as 140,000 to 250, 000 people and large as any councils above this number.


These statistics could lead to a number of conclusions, including remuneration, support provided, and the fact that most of the larger councils have divisional representation. Brisbane City Council has the smallest churn of any council in Queensland, at 23%.



Churn Rate - Divisional vs Undivided

Queensland councils are either divisional or undivided. Divisional councils have councillors representing a region, whilst undivided councils elect councillors who represent the whole region. Divisional representation may be a factor in the longevity of elected officials as divisional elected officials change by an average of 44.9% each term, while undivided councils change by an average of 57.7% over the four elections we have analysed.


These statistics could lead to several conclusions, including less cost to campaign, local representation, community of interest representation, and councillors' more likely recognition in their local area. Queensland has 23 divisional councils and 54 undivided councils.



Mayor Insights

There are likely many reasons for the turnover of elected officials, but this paper will focus briefly on the impacts on the council itself. The role of a councillor is defined by the Local Government Act 2009 and...


  • Is an active and contributing member of the local government.

  • Makes considered and well-informed decisions.

  • Advocates on behalf of constituents.

  • Represents the overall public interest of the whole local government area, together with their geographical division.

  • Meets formally with other councillors, with an equal voice to make decisions by voting on matters.

  • Is responsible for strategic vision and planning for the future of the local government area to deliver outcomes for their community.

  • Is not responsible for the day-to-day administration of Council, operational matters, or overseeing the work done by local government employees.

  • Cannot direct any Council employees.


The mayor has the same duties as councillors, but as part of the leadership role, the mayor is involved in advancing community cohesion and promoting civic awareness. The mayor is also the principal member and spokesperson for the Council, including representing the council's views on its local priorities. Promoting partnerships with other stakeholders is another important role of the mayor.


The mayor presides over the council meetings and manages the conduct of participants. They also preside over regular General Council Meetings, where councillors debate and vote on motions, and manage the conduct of participants at these council meetings.


Mayors need to understand the council's governance processes and require support from Council staff, especially governance staff.


The following graph shows the breakdown of Mayors after each election. The 2012 election was slightly abnormal as it was the one straight after the amalgamations. Significant numbers of mayors were not councillors in the previous terms. 35% of mayors elected in 2024 were not councillors or Mayors in the previous term. 22% of mayors were councillors in the previous term, and 43% were re-elected.



This creates significant work for council staff as they need to train not only a significant number of new councillors in the governance process but also the new chairperson of the council meetings.


The elected officials will need to be trained in how council meetings are run, how they get information for council meetings, how to vote, where resolutions stand, etc. In addition to council meetings, they will need to understand council plans, budgets, and policies and have access to that information. Of course, with a new council, many of these areas will change. Councillors will also need to be aware of their responsibilities, which include being spokespeople for their council and will need to be trained in their responsibilities, with social media being a significant area. This is significant work for council staff.


The importance of this research

Why did Redman Solutions conduct this research? Because we wanted to understand one of the biggest events for local government staff. Our council meeting software, strategic planning software, and social media archiving solutions support governance staff, and this research allows us to understand the impact of elections based on data rather than the significant workload we were seeing.


This data gave us an understanding of that workload and why the ability to create good meeting management solutions will make that changeover easier, why good strategic planning software that is easy to use can help in the transparency and transfer of stewardship of plans, and why good social media monitoring, archiving, and searching can ensure communications are managed well.

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We believe there should be more research done on why councillors and mayors retire or are voted out, and there could be many reasons including:


  • They achieved what they had set out to do when they decided to be councillors.

  • They realised it was more work than they originally anticipated.

  • They changed priorities.

  • The realised they couldn’t achieve what they set out to do - or,

  • Community changes

 

There is great change at every election in Queensland Local Government, and these changes may bring fresh ideas and energy to councils which may be great, but this research shows that it creates significant change every four years. If this trend, which seems very significant continues, it is fair to say that this will continue into the future and councils need to plan with this change in mind.

 

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