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Initial reflections on the Brisbane City Council election result

Well the city council election is over and the results are still rolling in as the final votes are counted.

I’ve been receiving so many supportive messages from people – I’m really sorry if it takes me a while to reply to you all.

I'd like to again express my deep gratitude to my partner Anna, to my family, to all the volunteers who put so much time into the Greens campaign, and to the 120 000 Brisbane residents who put a 1 next to my name on the mayoral ballot paper (a new record high for the Greens – yay!).

Thank you so so so much for having my back.
Right now, I’m feeling relieved that the intensity of campaigning is over, and pretty chuffed with the results all things considered, although I was definitely hoping for bigger swings to the Greens.

At this stage of counting, it’s looking very likely that the Greens will win 3 seats (a big improvement on our previous 1 seat), we’re still within striking distance of 2 more, and we’ve had positive swings towards the Greens right across the city.

In contrast, Labor has had a pretty rough result – their citywide vote has dropped significantly, and while they’ve done pretty well in Calamvale ward and might get over the line there, they’ve had a swing against them of over 20% in Wynnum Manly ward and might lose that seat to the Liberals.

There’ll be lots of time for more detailed analysis over the coming days once the final votes are counted and we have a clearer idea of where swings to the Greens did and didn’t occur.

To be frank, there are some really big variances in different parts of the city that don’t follow an obvious trend. For example in Forest Lake ward, there was a phenomenal 11.1% swing to the Greens that seems like it mostly came off Labor – we are now on a substantial primary vote there of 27.4% (woohoo!) – whereas in Bracken Ridge ward, the Greens vote only rose by 0.5% and the LNP vote grew by 7.6% at Labor’s expense.

What I suspect has happened (and will become clearer once we dive deeper into individual booth results) is that the Greens have been winning some votes off the LNP and a lot of votes off Labor, but Labor also lost voters to the LNP. So some of the LNP’s losses to the Greens were offset by their gains from Labor.

In areas of Brisbane where the Greens seemed like a realistic alternative to the major parties, either because we had a strong field campaign (e.g. Enoggera) or managed to get a lot of letters into letterboxes (e.g. Forest Lake) people shifted from Labor to the Greens. Whereas in places like Bracken Ridge, people who were unhappy with Labor swung to the LNP.

I’m sure a bunch of Greens supporters who saw how much more media coverage our campaign had this time around will be feeling disappointed that we didn’t see bigger gains, but it’s really important to remember a couple things:

1. Unlike state and federal elections, Brisbane City Council has an optional preferential voting system, which massively advantages the LNP.

Even though the Liberals’ citywide primary vote is well below 50%, they will end up with almost ¾ of the seats. Until the State Government gets off its backside and modernises this voting system, we’re gonna continue to have a situation where Brisbane City Council is led by a party that more than half the voters didn't actually vote for.

2. The major parties spent over $4 million combined on campaign materials/advertising, whereas the Greens’ spend was more like $250 000. In that context, where the LNP massively outspent us and shamelessly published outright lies and misleading attacks that directly targeted me and the Greens, a bit of extra mainstream media coverage and organic social media reach just wasn’t enough to counter the negative propaganda.

3. Perhaps most importantly (at least to me) is that the Greens policy platform in this council election was arguably the most radical and ambitious departure from the neoliberal status quo that modern Australia has seen from a serious political party. Sure, we talked about separated bike lanes and planting more street trees too, but much of our campaign messaging focussed on far bolder ideas, like freezing rent increases, a vacancy levy on investment properties, banning poker machines and shutting down horse-racing tracks to create more public housing and green space.

Winning an election with such a transformative policy platform was always going to be an uphill battle.

The image below shows page 1 of the 4-page letter we distributed to Enoggera Ward, where the swing to the Greens looks like it’ll be about 14%. We certainly weren't trying to hide the fact that we were calling for some big changes.

I suspect some Greens supporters didn’t fully appreciate how audacious the platform was… It represented a direct, unapologetic attack on the property industry, the gambling industry and car-centric urban planning. Yet we still got a big swing towards us.

If here in Brisbane, we can win over thousands more voters while talking about targeting property investors who engage in long-term land-banking with a 2000% rates increase, that should give other Greens campaigns across the country the confidence to be bolder and braver in terms of what policies we do and don’t think the voting public will be open to supporting.

The reality check of course is that we didn’t even come close to winning the mayoralty or enough wards to knock the LNP out of majority. To win a city as big as Brisbane (without a massive budget to spend on deceitful attack ads) takes a huge amount of work – we had solid volunteer numbers in most of our key wards, but nowhere near enough active supporters out on the ground to swing votes throughout the suburbs.

If you’ve been watching this campaign from the sidelines and are now feeling sad that the Liberals are still running our city, please take this as a reminder that change doesn’t happen unless we step up and fight for it.

It’s not enough to vote for change – we actually have to get out of our comfort zones and put time and energy into convincing others that change is necessary and possible.

I’m gonna spend the next 48 hours resting at the beach while watching the final results flow in, and thinking more deeply about what activism pathways represent the best use of my time and energy over this next chapter of my life.

I’ll try to synthesise and share some further, more cogent thoughts on the campaign in a couple of days. Until then, thank you.

The struggle continues...

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