To bloc or not to bloc



Videos below this report: Outgoing Mayor on bloc voting, incoming Mayor on winning by two votes.

In a show of hands on a motion in council, Mayor by two votes Matt Paterson will have no more influence than primary votes champion Jimmy Cocking.

Is there a point to being Mayor? Not really, unless he or she is also in the majority. And that’s five.

Is this 14th Town Council going to have a voting bloc again? Will it be progressive unlike the 13th?

Mayor Paterson, commonly regarded to be conservative, could be having a lonely time at the top: Progressive re-elected members Cocking and Marli Banks will be joined by new members Kim Hopper, Allison Bitar and Michael Liddle. Wow, thats five! How will they vote?

And not-easy-to-box Eli Melky is prone to take a look at all sorts of ideas. 

Cr Cocking had a few on his mind yesterday morning when the recount was under way: Skatepark, an Arrernte First Nations Voice Council, multi cultural advisory committee, “reaching out to the NT Government, especially the Chief Minister, and looking to re-set that relationship,” a number of advisory committees.

“We don’t have a direct link [to Arrernte people]. Tennant Creek has a circle of elders,” he told the Alice Springs News.

Maybe blocs have gone out of fashion.

Cr Cocking echoes Cr Hopper, whom he describes as “my Number Two” saying: “You’ve got to work with the whole council.”

The days when only “the five” were kept in the loop may be over, says Cr Hopper: The Council has moved more to the centre left:

“We have a lot to learn … not to form blocs …. be more fluid about the relationships … a whole of council approach.”

We asked Cr Melky this morning: Given Cr Cocking’s strong primary vote, does he have a mandate for promoting his progressive policies?

MELKY: No. His campaign didn’t indicate he had any policies that I could identify.

NEWS: What mandate does Mayor Paterson have?

MELKY: Matt doesn’t have a mandate. He said during the campaign he isn’t promising the world. Neither candidate promoted a policy. It was a contest of popularity. They appealed to the community on the basis of same old, same old.

Steve Brown, re-elected after a break, says everyone has the right to promote progressive policies: “Jimmy is no more progressive than anyone else. In fact it’s the other way ‘round so far as I’m concerned. His policies are regressive. They hold us back.

“I get on well with Jimmy, as long as we have good rational discussions.”

Mark Coffey resolutely rejects ever becoming part of any bloc, pledging to deal with “issues as they arise and in accordance to his constituents’ wishes.

“Jimmy, like everyone, has a mandate to bring forward proposals” which need to be discussed on their merits.

Does Mayor Paterson have a mandate, winning by just two votes?

“You only need to win by one,” says Cr Coffey. “That’s democracy.”

PHOTO: The counting room in Alice Springs from which the unusual two votes win for Mayor Paterson emerged late yesterday.

UPDATE 5.30pm

When asked by the Alice Springs News this afternoon whether the slim winning margin of two votes affected his authority and mandate, Mayor Paterson said this:-

And the outgoing Mayor Damien Ryan, asked to comment on the public perception of bloc voting, gave this answer:-



  1. To my knowledge the closest result in the NT’s political history occurred in the very first Legislative Council elections of 13 December 1947 – and it happened here in Alice Springs.
    Four candidates stood for Alice Springs; and after distribution of preferences it was independent (and decidedly left-wing) lawyer Dick “Red Richard” Ward who won the seat with a majority of a single vote over Labor candidate Frank Johnson.
    When one looks at the history of Territory politics overall, Alice Springs stands out from the pack on many occasions.
    This latest result for the election of mayor of Alice Springs is very much in keeping with the Centre’s very distinctive – and indeed unique – political history in Australia.

  2. Cr Hopper is well known as a strong supporter of women’s representation.
    To Jimmy Cocking she is his no 2.
    But at least Jimmy has come down to earth.
    The skatepark is firmly on his agenda at last.

  3. @ Pseudo Guru: Yes many issues but improving the council isn’t just up to the elected members.
    The council executive needs to reflect on the high level of secrecy it orchestrated in the life of the last council.
    A good question is whether the confidential briefings by CEO Jennings were designed to keep elected members informed or to make sure that ratepayers were kept in the dark?
    The Local Government Act prohibits breaching confidentiality and prescribes serious penalties.
    “A Councillor, a member of a delegated committee or a member of Council staff, must not intentionally or recklessly disclose information that the person knows, or should reasonably know, is confidential information.”
    The executive, not elected members, decide what is confidential and once councillors have been provided with a confidential briefing they are not at liberty to inform ratepayers or the media.
    Case in point: The library staff claim they were unfairly treated and forced to resign.
    By providing confidential briefings to councillors CEO Jennings effectively silenced them with the weight of the confidentiality provisions of the LGA.
    Cr Melky commented (4th August) that the matter had been discussed with the CEO and “we are bound by process and there are strict penalties if confidentiality is breached”.
    This is just one example of elected members being muzzled by the confidentiality provisions of the LGA.
    Then we have operational secrecy.
    Once an issue is in the hands of the CEO the elected representatives are effectively shut out.
    As Jimmy Cocking explained “we have to see where it lands”.
    Unfortunately, issues dealt with by the Council can not land at all or result in poor outcomes such as the Harley St solar lights.
    Both the LGA confidentiality provisions and the operational divide eroded openness, transparency and sound decision making in the last council.
    The new council provides an opportunity for the executive to make positive changes.


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