Labor is expected to hold the balance of power in at least two Hunter councils after strong swings towards the party in Saturday’s local government elections.
“Labor is back and we’re back for good,” said councillor and incoming Mayor of Lake Macquarie Kay Fraser, as she delivered her victory speech to a crowd of about 60 party faithful at the Windale Gateshead Bowling Club.
“Its been a bit of a hard slog, we all know it was a difficult pre-selection and we’ve had to work extremely hard...but we’ve had a 12 per cent swing and we are back.”
Midway through the count of first preference votes on Saturday night there was also an 18 per cent swing towards Labor in its Cessnock heartland, with incumbent Country Labor mayor Bob Pynsent all but certain of retaining power.
The party also expected to secure two extra seats on the council. “We’ve had fantastic support from the community,” Cr Pynsent said.
Labor insiders suggested some of the state government’s policies had been on the nose with voters in the lead up to the poll, including the greyhound racing ban and council amalgamations.
Lake Macquarie Liberal councillor Jason Pauling admitted both those issues had been raised by voters on the campaign trail.
“But I think clearly the most prevalent thing is there is a predisposition to Labor in this area, that is no surprise,” he said.
“For many decades it has been very heavily dominated by Labor and this is a Labor town.”
Cr Pauling said his party expected to again have three councillors on Lake Macquarie council, but with two new faces – Nick Jones in the East Ward and Kevin Baker in the North Ward.
”We’re pretty chuffed and we didn’t expect much more than that. Anything beyond that would have been a dream,” he said.
“From what we can see, particularly the independent Lake Alliance appears to have taken a bit of a pounding.”
He said he was “deeply disappointed” that Cr Fraser had castigated him for a negative campaign style in her victory speech.
“From our perspective, the Liberals ran a very positive message,” he said.
“I will highlight that ALP heavyweights attacked all three of our candidates who have ultimately been elected.”
In the speech, Cr Fraser thanked her husband and sons Pete and Steve for their support and accused Cr Pauling of running a “disgraceful” campaign by sending text messages to ratepayers saying Labor wanted to take away their weekly garbage bin collection.
She said the independents – including Cr Laurie Coghlan – had tried to run on the “coat tails” of the old Lake Alliance while Labor had run a positive, grass-roots campaign.
“We’ve been getting up and going to train stations every morning – freezing – door knocking, letter-boxing, going to the markets, we have been working extremely hard.”
Cr Fraser was “elated” that she will become the second female mayor of Lake Macquarie when she takes over from MP Jodie Harrison.
“I think as a female to run the council is really an honour and a privilege and I think we bring other values to that position as well,” Cr Fraser said.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.