Rocky had one mayor for 10 years – now 17 are vying for her job

Preferences are set to play a “crucial” role in the outcome of the Rockhampton by-election, with a record-breaking 17 candidates in the race to become the Queensland region’s new mayor.

Jan 19, 2021, updated Jan 19, 2021
Rockhampton residents will cast their vote for a new mayor by January 23. (Photo: ABC)

Rockhampton residents will cast their vote for a new mayor by January 23. (Photo: ABC)

In November, long-time mayor Margaret Strelow resigned after she was found guilty of misconduct by the Councillor Conduct Tribunal.

It put a spotlight on the State Government’s newly introduced local government legislation that meant the runner-up at the council election would automatically fill the vacant role.

Quirky environmentalist and arts collector Chris “Pineapple” Hooper was poised to become mayor as he was the only person to run against Strelow in last May’s poll.

The Government, however, intervened and changed the laws retrospectively, sparking this weekend’s by-election.

The events of recent months now come down to 17 candidates who all believe they will be best to lead the Rockhampton Regional Council.

‘Absolutely crucial’

Dr Paul Williams, a political commentator from Griffith University, said with the record number of candidates, preferences would be “absolutely crucial” in determining the result.

“The other problem, of course, with 17 candidates is you’re going to see preferences sprayed in every direction,” he said.

“It’s going to see the primary vote splinter — we’re not going to see the 60:40 or 70:30 split that we’ve seen in previous elections in Rockhampton.

“Any candidate is highly unlikely to get 50 per cent of the primary vote, so of course preferences will come into play.”

Williams said he also expected the count to be slow.

“It may be a couple of days until we see a result or at least a clear trend,” he said.

“It may well be the case that someone who is leading on the primary vote may end up coming second.

“You might see a second- or third-place candidate overtaking because there’s so many candidates.”

He said by-elections did not usually draw much interest from the immediate community let alone other regions, but given the unusual situation for Rockhampton this by-election was one to watch.

“[It has] a record field and some colourful candidates, so this election is unusual and I think a lot of people outside of Rockhampton are fascinated by what’s going to happen,” Williams said.

“By-elections produce some very strange results sometimes.

“Often people don’t feel it’s terribly important to turnout and they often stay at home so it will be interesting to see what the turnout will be like.

“Although, I suspect the turnout will be quite wealthy given there is a lot of interest in this election.”

Former mayor urges residents to preference votes

Strelow urged Rockhampton residents to preference their votes in a recent post to social media.

“For this election, please don’t, ‘Just vote one,’” she said.

“In a normal council election, anywhere up to 70 per cent of people only mark the one candidate.

“That is particularly dangerous for this election … with the number of candidates in the field, preferences will be critical in determining the winner.

“With this field of 17 candidates, if each candidate secures a minimum of 4 or 5 per cent, the winner may have a primary vote as low as 10 per cent.”

Strelow said people should number as many candidates as they would feel happy to see in the position of mayor.

“Put a ‘1’ beside your preferred candidate and then keep adding numbers beside as many as you could live with,” she said.

“That way, if your preferred candidate is eliminated early, then you get a second (and a third and fourth, etc.) chance to influence who gets to be mayor.”

– ABC / Rachel McGhee

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