This year I conducted a local issues online survey to drill down into detail about what residents’ views and priorities are. I mainly wanted to use the survey results to:
- Understand what residents think of my performance so far
- Help guide how I prioritise my time and energy
- Provide evidence of residents’ views to back up my calls for policy changes
Overall, I’ve found the survey process and results to be a useful and enlightening source of information and inspiration. A couple of the outcomes surprised me, while most responses confirmed what I’d already been picking up on from the electorate through other channels. This summary report outlines key findings from the survey and also comments on the reliability and usefulness of the data. The latter part of this report focuses on how representative the data is. In the interests of complete transparency, we’ve also provided an unformatted spreadsheet of responses at this link (with some data points and responses removed to protect privacy). The decision to publish the raw data is perhaps an unusual one for a politician, as it gives my political opponents access to this extremely useful information about the electorate. But if they do end up using these results to inform their own policy priorities and election commitments, that's a good outcome in my view.
This initial report is broken up based on attitudes to transport issues, general priorities for different issues around the neighbourhood, and how I should conduct myself as a councillor. We haven't summarised and graphed the results of every single survey question - just the ones that we thought were most interesting. Over the coming months, we might conduct further analysis of some of the results to drill down into whether there are noticeably divergent views in different neighbourhoods, or differences between age groups or household types. We’ll share further analysis and findings via my email newsletter, which you can sign up to if you haven’t already done so.
To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest survey of its kind ever undertaken in Brisbane (even though it’s actually still pretty small). It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that most councillors gauge the mood and priorities of the people they represent based primarily on the people who proactively contact them, without necessarily doing a good job of reaching out to the silent majority. For example, our office gets contacted a lot by residents with concerns about parking, but the survey results suggest that parking is not actually the most important issue for most people, and that concerns about public transport are a much higher priority.
I’m very grateful to all the people who took the time to let me know what you think via this survey, because it will definitely help me make decisions and inform how I spend my time and energy as your elected representative.
We asked quite a few questions about transport-related issues, because we know a lot of people have strong views about this and I want to make sure I’m representing residents’ views properly. One question we asked in the survey was “How often do you use each of the following types of transport?” Comparing our survey responses to census data from 2016 suggests that in our survey, motorists were slightly over-represented whereas public transport users were slightly under-represented, so it’s important to keep that in mind in interpreting the data.
Unsurprisingly, survey respondents generally think that improving public and active transport is an extremely high priority while making car travel easier is a relatively low priority. It was interesting that even though the Gabba Ward has much better footpath coverage than most outer-suburban parts of Brisbane, improving disability access still rated reasonably strongly. This is a good reminder that we need to continue advocating for accessibility improvements to problem spots like the Thornton Street pedestrian underpass in Kangaroo Point.
The results confirm that I should advocate shifting investment from projects that prioritise private cars towards projects that prioritise public and active transport. This is something I’ve already been doing for the past two years, but it’s nice to see that a lot of residents support this view.
Respondents are divided on whether to lower speed limits on major roads, with no clear mandate either way. I wish I had broken up this question into separate questions for each road to see exactly which major roads residents do and don’t want lower speeds on, but that would’ve made for a very long survey. It was interesting that a solid 40% of residents were supportive of dropping Ipswich Rd to 40km/h, which is not something I have seriously considered pushing for.
The question about what the default speed limit should be throughout the Gabba Ward (excluding main roads) also received mixed responses. We will be breaking up this data in further detail according to suburb, to see what kind of variation there is across different neighbourhoods.
The survey shows there is quite strong support for removing on-street parking on main roads to build protected bike lanes. As the second graph shows, support is strong even among residents who never ride a bike and use a car every day.
We asked a specific question about bike lanes on Vulture Street, because this is a route that lots of cyclists have raised safety concerns about, and there aren’t any direct, safe, alternative cycling routes between West End and Woolloongabba. A response rate of 69% in support and 10% undecided gives me confidence that this is a change that I should continue pushing for within council, but obviously it will be important to conduct a lot more consultation and hold further community meetings before any decisions are made to actually start building permanent bike lanes (apart from the existing Woolloongabba project).
There’s a long and diverse list of issues that Gabba Ward residents are concerned about. In asking residents to rank their priorities, I’m seeking to better understand how I should allocate my time and energy, mindful that if I spread myself too thin and push for change on too many different issues at once, I won't get as many tangible outcomes. Overall, the three highest priorities were improving public transport reliability and affordability, improving pedestrian safety and convenience, and protecting and planting trees on public land.
Pushing back against tall and bulky highrise towers, increasing the supply of public green space, and supporting frontline community services also rated as quite high priorities for most respondents. It will be interesting to dig down into the data further to see whether attitudes to highrise towers vary much between people who live in apartments and people who live in free-standing homes.
Based on these responses, I intend to spend more time pushing for improvements to public transport in 2019. Public transport is a difficult area to achieve positive outcomes on, because any changes to fares or routes require agreement between both BCC and the State Government, and also have pretty big associated budgetary impacts. So advocacy on this front is really about shifting political will in the lead-up to the 2020 city council and state government elections, rather than achieving immediate short-term outcomes.
It was particularly interesting to unpack residents’ views on housing issues. Most people did not think I need to spend much energy supporting the construction of more privately owned housing (obviously the property industry is already very effective at advocating for itself on that front), but there was quite strong support for more inner-city public housing. I’ll be sharing this result with other city councillors and also our State MP, Jackie Trad, to make sure everyone understands that when public housing is well-designed and mixed in with other kinds of housing, there is not as much community opposition to it as some politicians might expect.
Strengthening renters’ rights and reducing the cost of renting came through as a stronger priority than reducing house prices. Obviously, this data needs to be read in the context of who responded to the survey. As discussed below, almost 60% of the people who responded to this survey are homeowners, whereas census data suggests that over 60% of Gabba Ward residents are renters. We would naturally expect that homeowners are less likely to want me to spend time and energy pushing for lower property values, but we will be breaking these responses down by demographic to analyse them in greater detail.
Residents thought that construction noise was a much bigger concern than noise from bars, restaurants, and community venues. This lines up with what we’ve been hearing through other channels, which is that the majority of inner-city residents accept that there will be a bit of night-time noise from live music and bars, but think that we need tighter restrictions against noise pollution associated with construction projects.
It was interesting that while there was generally strong support for protecting and planting trees throughout the city, quite a few residents placed a lot more importance on trees located on public land as opposed to private property. It’s obvious to me from this survey that pushing for more public parkland and space to plant trees is a good use of my time, which also means I need to focus on preventing council and the state government from selling off publicly owned land to the private sector, which unfortunately is still happening on a regular basis in Brisbane.
One outcome that surprised me a little was that most respondents did not consider that reducing council’s quarterly rates bills was a high priority. It seems that many homeowners in the Gabba Ward don’t mind paying council rates as long as they feel like that money is being used appropriately to address some of the other priority issues discussed in this survey.
We asked a specific question to help guide spending on local park upgrades. There’s a lot of variation, but the general tendency among survey respondents was towards vegetated natural areas. Again, as mentioned further down, it’s important to remember that younger people were generally under-represented in this survey.
There was quite strong support for rethinking the way infrastructure charges are calculated and collected, so that developers contribute more towards the cost of local infrastructure. This is clearly an area where the political establishment - particularly at the state government level - is well out of step with the expectations of residents. From a policy perspective, the best way forward is for the state government to remove the arbitrary, uniform caps on infrastructure charges to allow different city councils around Queensland to set their own infrastructure charges based on local needs and circumstances.
How I Operate as a Councillor
We asked a couple of questions to understand how residents think I should make decisions, and also just generally about my performance. The individual comments make for very interesting reading, and I’m grateful to the many respondents who took the time to offer detailed and thoughtful advice.
We asked: “How do you think Jonno should make decisions about upgrades to public spaces?”
15.7% of respondents said we should give residents all the decision-making power using direct voting.
10.2% said I should simply make the decisions myself as the elected representative.
36.6% said I should consult extensively using a range of deliberative democracy processes (which takes a lot of time and resources) but make the final decision myself.
37.5% said I should consult extensively using a range of deliberative democracy processes where participating residents make the big decisions and I am responsible for the smaller detailed decisions.
From these results, we can see there's a wide range of views among local residents as to how much decision-making power should be devolved to residents, and how much power I should retain as the elected city councillor. Less than 16% of respondents expressed support for pure 'direct democracy' in the form of binding local referendums. But when you add that to the people who want residents to have meaningful power via deliberative democracy processes and leave detailed implementation up to the elected councillor, we end up with a slim majority of 53% of residents who want a lot more say in local decisions about public spaces than they currently enjoy.
The problem I face is that whether the results of a deliberative democracy process are binding or just heavily persuasive, meaningful consultation that ensures everyone gets an opportunity to have a say takes a lot of time and resources (which I don't necessarily have access to). So as a councillor, I have to make a difficult decision as to how much time and energy I put into consulting on a specific issue, knowing that whatever approach I use, a reasonable chunk of residents are probably going to be unhappy with the process. Going forward, I intend to continue experimenting with a range of different approaches to decision-making, offering residents a direct vote on straightforward questions (such as the name of a new street), using participatory design processes to come up with concept designs for new parks and squares, and sometimes simply making decisions myself on the basis of what residents have told me via previous consultation processes like this survey.
Happily, it seems the majority of respondents are reasonably satisfied with how I'm going as a councillor. 68% of respondents said they are likely or very likely to vote for me in 2020, which is substantially higher than the 58.9% of survey respondents who said they voted for me in 2016.
One of the most interesting questions was about whether people supported me organising and participating in protests about important issues. This question was a bit vague, and we probably shouldn't have conflated the terms 'protest' and 'civil disobedience' because there's a big difference between standing on a footpath holding some protest signs as opposed to blocking an expressway or occupying a building.
Nevertheless, I found the strong positive responses (56.2% 'Yes' and 26.6% 'Depends on the issue and kind of protest') to be quite reassuring, and a validation of the admittedly controversial tactics I've used regarding issues such as road safety and homelessness.
Overall, the responses to these questions suggest to me that I don't need to make any major changes in terms of how I'm operating as a councillor, but that I need to keep facilitating more community conversations about what kinds of decisions should be left up to the elected representative and what kinds of decisions should be made by residents themselves.
In case anyone's wondering, here are the responses to the logistical question about email newsletters. It's more time-consuming for our office to send out localised emails for each suburb, so in the absence of a really strong push against ward-wide emails, we will continue to send out a single email newsletter covering all seven suburbs of the Gabba Ward, with only the occasional targeted update about highly localised issues sent to specific neighbourhoods.
That's about it for substantive results... the following sections talk briefly about how reliable this survey is and whether it's truly representative of the broader electorate...
The survey went live on 14 May this year and stayed open until 14 October. We initially promoted it via a letter sent through Australia Post to all 30 350 households in the Gabba Ward. The number of households is increasing all the time, and as of December 2018 is up to 32 264 (according to Australia Post). We also offered to provide a printed version of the survey to anyone who felt uncomfortable using a computer, but we didn’t receive any requests for this.
After a couple of weeks, I also started promoting the survey via email newsletters, via my official Facebook and Twitter pages, by sharing links to the survey on other community social media groups and pages, and in meetings with local P&Cs, Neighbourhood Watches, and other community groups. This delay in promotion allowed us to observe roughly how many people filled out the survey in response to the printed letter, as compared to other forms of promotion.
It seemed like only about 150 people completed the survey shortly after receiving the letter, while all up we had a total of 1137 responses, so it’s safe to assume that online promo was the main driver for residents to complete the survey. Obviously we would’ve liked to promote the survey even more widely, but we had very limited time and budget available to do so.
The survey is completely anonymous. Respondents weren’t required to provide a name or contact details, and the data is not linked in any way to our main office database. We did ask people for their street name, suburb and age range, but all fields were optional. We asked for a street name mainly because we wanted to be able to identify potential trends in different parts of the electorate (e.g. being able to identify a cluster of streets in one neighbourhood where there’s particularly strong concerns about noise), but also so we could be confident that the survey had good coverage across the electorate.
The advantage of anonymity is that residents will feel comfortable filling out the survey honestly without fear of privacy violations. We’ve noticed that other elected representatives sometimes host surveys that require an email address or are quite obviously connected to an electoral roll database, and we think that’s a major barrier to participation.
The downside of an anonymous survey is that it’s hard to guard against the same person filling it out multiple times. However the size of this survey and the nature of the questions makes it pretty unlikely that someone would want to fill it out repeatedly. We did exclude a couple of responses where a respondent had only filled out the first couple of questions and then given up.
Survey Representativeness and Reliability
A key question is how much weight I should place on the results and views expressed in this survey. One factor is how many responses we received, but it’s also important to consider whether the demographics and geographic spread of the people who responded actually matches up with the demographics of the electorate. An easy way to do this is to compare survey responses to census data.
Overall, we received 1137 survey responses, but because all questions were optional the exact number of responses to each question varies a little bit. We were very happy with the number of responses we received. There are just under 50 000 residents living in the Gabba Ward, 32 000 of whom are enrolled voters (there’s a high proportion of international students, short-term workers/visitors, people under 18, and young adults who’ve recently moved into the neighbourhood but are enrolled elsewhere). As a proportion of the total population, our survey results are arguably more representative than most market research polls, and definitely more representative than Brisbane City Council’s dubious ‘Plan Your Brisbane’ consultation.
The age spread of our survey was pretty good, although generally speaking, younger people were slightly under-represented in our survey, whereas we had particularly strong response rates from people aged 45 and over. This is obviously something to keep in mind when interpreting responses.
The suburb spread of respondents was also quite healthy, and lines up pretty well with census data. The western and northern sides of the Gabba ward are much more densely populated than the east. (A lot of people don’t realise that Dutton Park’s population is less than ⅕ of West End’s)
In our survey, Woolloongabba was slightly over-represented and Kangaroo Point was a little bit under-represented. The obvious outliers are that West End had a very high number of respondents (31% of the total) while South Brisbane had a low response rate (7%). This is probably explained by the fact that South Brisbane is a younger, newer community with many more renters, international students and short-term residents who aren’t as closely connected to local council issues. This tells me that I can feel more confident relying on this survey as an indicator of what West End residents care about, whereas it might paint a slightly less reliable picture for South Brisbane or Kangaroo Point.
Importantly, people who live in free-standing houses were over-represented in this survey. Whereas ⅔ of Gabba Ward residents live in a flat or apartment and less than ⅓ live in free-standing homes, the split in our survey was closer to 50/50.
As these two graphs show, homeowners were also over-represented in this survey. Again, this is not too surprising, as owner-occupiers tend to take a stronger interest in local council-related issues than people who are renting and don’t know whether they’ll even be living in the same neighbourhood in a few years’ time. Roughly 61% of Gabba Ward residents are renters, whereas only 37% of the people who responded to the survey said they rented.
So basically, what all this tells me is that while people from all ages, suburbs and housing situations have shared their views via the survey responses, this survey data is more heavily weighted towards older owner-occupiers who live in free-standing houses, and under-represents the views of younger people, renters and apartment-dwellers. I’ll be sure to keep that in mind in interpreting and relying on this data going forward.
Are all the people who filled out this survey just greenies who really like Jonno?
Even though there was a pretty good spread of respondents from different suburbs and ages, it’s very important to acknowledge that people who like me and closely follow what I do were a lot more likely to fill out this survey. To account for this, we also asked the question “Did you vote for Jonno/the Greens at the last council election in 2016?”
58.9% of respondents answered ‘Yes’ to this question, while 25.5% answered ‘No’ and around 15% answered ‘Prefer Not to Say,’ ‘Can’t Remember’ or ‘Who the Heck is Jonno?’ Almost 80 respondents also chose not to give an answer to this question, which is fair enough.
So while just under 3/5 of the people who answered the question said they voted for me, there was still a significant proportion (at least 1/4, and possibly more than 1/3) who did not vote for me at the last election. I’m very grateful that even though some people did not necessarily think very highly of my approach as a councillor, they still took the time to share their views.
With this in mind, I'll obviously be cautious of making generalised claims about how representative these survey results are of the electorate as a whole. On the other hand though, I don't have access to any other more accurate information to understand what residents of Brisbane's inner south side want. I can separate out the responses of the people who said they definitely won't vote for me, and use that as something of a guide about what non-Greens voters want, but even that's a very unreliable and imperfect approach.
All political representatives are operating in something of an information vacuum, where we don't have time to hear from every single individual we represent, so we end up placing more emphasis either on our own views and values, or on the input we do receive from the minority of residents who actively engage with us. Surveys like this one are never going to tell the full story or paint a comprehensive picture, but a reasonably diverse sample of 1100 residents is a lot better than any other source of information that's currently available.
As mentioned at the outset, we'll be doing more detailed analysis of these survey results over coming months to identify trends and patterns (particularly in specific neighbourhoods and among specific demographics).
I hope to run a similar survey again in late 2019 so I can benchmark and compare my performance and see how the views of residents are shifting over time. Thanks again to everyone who filled out the survey, and particularly to all the people who left detailed individual comments.
The overall picture painted by the survey (including the individual comments) is that most people who responded are pretty happy with how I'm going, and the people who don't like my approach are particularly frustrated about the policy positions I've taken regarding development and transport (in particular, the view that we should give less priority to cars and provide more support for other modes of transport). If anyone has any specific questions about the survey results, you can email my office at firstname.lastname@example.org, but please keep in mind that we only have two full-time staff roles and roughly 50 000 residents to cater to. Remember, we've shared the raw data as a spreadsheet so you can go through it for yourself if you really want.
There's a lot of info about the various issues covered by this survey on my blog, which I encourage you to check out. Remember you can also sign up for my email newsletter if you haven't already done so.
Thanks for reading!