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The numbers have it: how bloc voting splits Adelaide City Council

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SPECIAL REPORT: Adelaide City Council’s majority Team Adelaide faction has voted together for more than 90 per cent of motions this council term, with business, heritage, transport and road infrastructure proposals among the most likely to get the team’s tick of approval.

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But councillors not part of Team Adelaide also act as an unofficial faction, voting as a bloc for a near-equal 89.5 per cent of motions.

InDaily has analysed voting results for the first seven months of the 2018-22 Adelaide City Council term, to find solid basis for accusations of factionalism from all sides of the chamber.

InDaily first reported on the emergence of Team Adelaide – then described as a “secret gathering of candidates recruited to influence the makeup of the council” – in August last year.

November’s council election resulted in six Team Adelaide-affiliates being sworn-in, including Deputy Lord Mayor Houssam Abiad, and councillors Arman Abrahimzadeh, Alexander Hyde, Franz Knoll, Mary Couros and Simon Hou, granting the group a majority say in the chamber.

But the team maintains they are no longer formally aligned, despite sustained criticism from non-Team Adelaide affiliates that the group continues to vote as a bloc.

Most recently, it has been argued by Team Adelaide-affiliates that the media only reports on one of two supposed factions  – the other comprising vocal Team Adelaide opponents Anne Moran, Robert Simms and Phil Martin, and to a lesser extent Helen Donovan.

Jessy Khera is the lone wolf – an “independent” councillor aligned with neither “bloc”.

In a council term that has been fraught with councillor infighting, InDaily has sought to uncover whether the city council really is as divided as it seems.

For the sake of clarity with regards to councillors’ political views, InDaily limited analysis to motions with or without notice, thereby disregarding any votes in relation to recommendations, passing of minutes or other administrative decisions.

While the data captured below is by no means a complete picture of the city council’s voting habits, it does paint a picture of how the council has fared so far, and what city ratepayers can expect for the remainder of this council term.

Voting habits

Adelaide City Council has debated 68 motions this council term – 54 of which passed (amended or otherwise) and 13 of which were defeated.

The remaining vote was laid on the table and has been disregarded for the sake of this analysis.

Team Adelaide voted as a bloc for 61 motions – representing 91 per cent of the total votes.

Graph: Nicky Capurso / InDaily

Councillors not part of Team Adelaide voted together for 60 motions – representing 89.5 per cent of the total votes.

Graph: Nicky Capurso / InDaily

The data suggests these two groups are just as unified as each other.

Despite infighting between councillors, the voting data presents a more cohesive side to the chamber.

Of the 67 votes counted, 39 were unanimous, representing 58 per cent of the total.

Graph: Nicky Capurso / InDaily

Eight motions were successfully amended – all of which were proposed by members of Team Adelaide, and all of which applied to motions put forward by non-Team Adelaide members.

Both Team Adelaide and non-Team Adelaide were more likely to support a motion when voting as a bloc.

Political inclinations

The majority of city councillors are not members of political parties (58.3 per cent).

Of those who are, 33.3 per cent are Liberal Party members.

Houssam Abiad, Franz Knoll, Arman Abrahimzadeh and Alexander Hyde are also Team Adelaide members, representing 67 per cent of the faction.

The Greens have one member in council – Robert Simms – a former senator.

Graph: Nicky Capurso / InDaily

What the council has voted on:

Major developments

Councillors have proposed 12 motions relating to major developments in the city. They include proposals relating to the former Le Cornu site, Central Market Arcade, the Adelaide Crows’ bid to build a new headquarters in the park lands, and major street redevelopments.

Of 12 motions proposed, eight were passed.

They include decisions to investigate building a car park at the former Le Cornu site, to budget for master plans for the Melbourne, O’Connell and Hutt Street precincts, and to provide a management plan for existing traders during the Central Market Arcade redevelopment.

Team Adelaide supported seven of the 12 proposals relating to major developments – representing 58 per cent of the total votes.

Park lands

The four park lands-related motions put forward by councillors so far this term include proposals to oppose the development of a hotel at Adelaide Oval, and a request for the State Government to contribute funding for protection of the park lands.

One motion was defeated – a bid to restate council’s opposition to building a helipad on the park lands.

The Team Adelaide bloc supported all three successful motions and was split on the helipad vote.

Environment 

InDaily has counted four environment-related motions, including motions relating to roof gardens, reducing single-use plastic and increasing tree canopies.

It is worth noting that some of the major climate-related decisions this council term have been discounted for this analysis – including an approval of the council’s sustainable events guidelines and a decision to hold-off from divesting from fossil fuels, as both votes were based on recommendations and not motions.

Also counted as a successful vote was a motion to declare a “climate emergency” in the city, which was later amended by Team Adelaide-affiliate Houssam Abiad to remove that declaration.

Of the four motions proposed, all were carried with the support of Team Adelaide.

Transparency

Team Adelaide is most likely to oppose motions relating to transparency measures.

There were seven transparency-related motions proposed, but only two passed with the support of Team Adelaide – representing just 29 per cent of votes.

Of the two successful motions carried, one – a call for the State Government to consider reviewing political party memberships as part of the Local Government Act review – was amended by Team Adelaide-affiliate Houssam Abiad to remove that mention.

Heritage  

Improving heritage protection is a popular topic at Town Hall, with all three proposed motions carried unanimously.

They include proposals to replace the Dardanelles Cenotaph in the south park lands, researching the history of Town Hall’s Albert Tower Bells, and investigating a heritage rate rebate incentive scheme.

Transport

A cyclist travels along Frome Street bikeway. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Bike ways, buses and e-scooters dominated the city council’s five motions about transport, with all five proposals successfully passing the chamber.

Councillors were split on Helen Donovan’s motion to begin consultation on the east-west bikeway in April this year, with all other votes carried unanimously.

Team Adelaide approved all five motions – albeit after Donovan’s east-west bikeway motion was amended by faction affiliate Alexander Hyde.

Road Infrastructure

Councillors have proposed three road infrastructure-related motions this term, with all passing the chamber.

Robert Simms and Phil Martin voted against a proposal for council to note its disapproval of a State Government plan to remove right-hand turns along King William Street.

The two other motions passed unanimously.

Team Adelaide supported all three motions. 

Car parking

Photo: Nat Rogers / InDaily

The debate between improving car parking in the city versus increasing public transport patronage has been interesting to watch this council term.

Councillors are most likely to split their votes on motions relating to car parking, while Robert Simms and Helen Donovan commonly argue that they would prefer the council to instead focus on reducing car traffic in the city.

All four car parking-related motions passed the chamber with the support of Team Adelaide.

Social issues

Councillors voted unanimously for the majority of motions related to reducing social inequality in the city.

Those motions included increasing funding to the Adelaide Zero project to end street homelessness, asking the Lord Mayor to lobby for increased mental health, drug and alcohol funding from the State Government, and declaring a “crisis of homelessness” in the city.

Alexander Hyde, Simon Hou and Houssam Abiad voted against a proposal calling on the State Government to reconsider cuts to mental health funding.

Team Adelaide supported 83 per cent of proposals related to social issues, with that figure taking into consideration the split on the above-mentioned mental health motion.

Activations and events 

Motions to deliver a “Splash 2.0” city activation, investigate delivering an international ambassador-style program in the city and lobbying for a formula-e car race all passed unanimously in the chamber. 

Business 

InDaily counted three business-related motions this council term, all of which passed unanimously with the support of Team Adelaide.

Those motions included calls to consolidate permits for businesses and removing outdoor dining fees, to review the council’s procurement policy and to report on the businesses impacted by State Government changes to licensing fees.

Community

The council unanimously supported motions to lobby for improvements to the Federal Government’s community sponsorship program and to investigate increasing child care facilities in the city, but was split on consulting the Kaurna community about Australia Day celebrations in the city.

The split vote was cast down factional lines, with Team Adelaide voting against considering changes to Australia Day.

Core services 

Council-provided bins outside a city business. Photo: Bension Siebert /InDaily

Of four motions calling for improvements to the council’s core services, one lost – a proposal to lobby the State Government to grant greater powers to councils to clean up neglected and derelict properties.

Team Adelaide factional leader Houssam Abiad departed from his team to support Donovan, Moran, Simms and Martin in their support for the move.

The other three motions were carried with the support of Team Adelaide.

Rates and levies

Team Adelaide supported motions to review the Rundle Mall levy, introduce an owner/occupier rate rebate and consider a rate freeze for the next financial year.

It voted against a motion put forward by Jessy Khera calling for the rate freeze to extend for the rest of the council term. 

Administration

The city council unanimously voted in support of motions for Adelaide MP Steve Georganas to address council, and for the administration to report on the progress of motions.

Is the council divided? 

In an interview with InDaily earlier this year, Houssam Abiad said he intended to create a group of “independents that are very diverse and that love Adelaide and have chosen to loosely come together in good faith to unleash our city’s potential”.

In that same interview, Abiad also criticised InDaily for “choosing to continue with the (Team Adelaide) narrative” after former Lord Mayor Martin Haese decided to pull out from November’s election race.

Team Adelaide’s 91 per cent bloc voting rate proves the faction is just as active now as it was before the election.

So far, the council has voted unanimously for the majority of decisions. But for votes that have divided the chamber, the debate has been vicious and personal.

Adelaide City Council is clearly split between two groups. One named, one not.

But Team Adelaide’s size means it has default power over the chamber, and for that reason it should continue to be scrutinised.

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