By Stephen Mayne
With the 2020 City of Melbourne elections now due in less than a year, it’s a reasonable question to ask: which of the current 11 councillors are running again?
With the exception of Lord Mayor Sally Capp, the 10 other existing City of Melbourne councillors are all being very coy on this question – twice declining to provide any response when asked if they’d be staying or going during public question sessions at recent committee meetings.
This is understandable as potential retirees don’t want to be seen as a lame duck councillor and the horse trading on tickets and preferences is yet to begin.
The only guaranteed certainty is that Sally Capp will be running again for Lord Mayor and will be hard to beat. What is not known is who she is likely to have on her ticket and who her main rivals will be.
Council watchers believe that the existing Deputy Lord Mayor, Cr Arron Wood, is the most likely incumbent councillor who could potentially form a ticket and run for Lord Mayor against Sally Capp.
He did a good job as Acting Lord Mayor before Sally Capp was elected but hasn’t been close to the new Lord Mayor, most notably splitting on the plans for Queen Victoria Market after Heritage Victoria knocked back the planning permit.
If Cr Wood was to run for Lord Mayor, it would most likely be with the support and encouragement of other residual members of the old Team Doyle, such as Cr Bev Pinder and Cr Susan Riley.
The situation with planning chair Cr Nicholas Reece is interesting. The Labor heavy hitter who has served as state secretary and a senior adviser to Premiers and Prime Ministers, was first elected in 2016 on the Team Doyle ticket but was then instrumental in backing the Capp campaign for Lord Mayor and is considered an obvious choice to be deputy on the Capp ticket.
But what would that mean for the Labor Party as a whole, given the party has resolved to formally contest local government elections in 2020, partly to combat the Greens?
Ultimately, the decision will be made by local Labor Party members through a committee which Cr Reece chairs. If the party was to sit out the election, it would presumably only be if there was a Labor flavour to the Capp ticket, even though Capp is actually a former member of the Liberal Party.
Cr Reece has been an excellent councillor and is clearly capable of being Lord Mayor, but the optics of attempting to defeat the first female Lord Mayor in more than two decades would not look good, particularly after encouraging her to run in the first place when Robert Doyle resigned.
Veteran pollster Gary Morgan is once again expected to run for Lord Mayor and he has traditionally delivered one councillor to the chamber over the years: firstly Liberal finance committee chair Peter Clarke and latterly Labor Party member Jackie Watts.
After eight years on council, some are expecting Watts to retire but this hasn’t been confirmed as yet. If she goes, that would open up a spot for Gary Morgan to sponsor a new councillor into the chamber because it is difficult to get elected to council without running on a Lord Mayoral ticket.
If Sally Capp is regarded as a shoo-in for Lord Mayor, the challenge then becomes finding Lord Mayoral candidates who will stand in order to assist running mates get onto council.
The Greens will contest as usual with Cr Rohan Leppert not expected to run again for Lord Mayor but instead seek a third term on council, presumably at the top of the Greens ticket. After 12 years of solid service, his colleague Cr Cathy Oke is believed to be considering retirement. If that happen, the two key questions here are who will replace her and can the Greens repeat their effort from the last two elections and secure two of the nine councillor positions. Probably, but it will depend on who else is in the field.
With an expected 20 per cent-plus vote in the Lord Mayoral elections, the Greens are likely to be kingmakers in determining who is Lord Mayor courtesy of their preferences. The single biggest threat to Sally Capp would be if Arron Wood ran a big budget Lord Mayoral campaign while agreeing to swap preferences with the Greens.
After voting for declaring a climate emergency and supporting a progressive transport strategy to more pro-actively reduce car usage in the city, the Lord Mayor’s policy commonality with the Greens has been noteworthy, even though she is former CEO of the Property Council. But could the two groups reach a formal agreement?
Robert Doyle used to joke about his Green-Liberal Coalition at Town Hall and the residual Team Doyle councillors still comprise five of the 11 votes, although they are not acting as a bloc.
If Arron Wood doesn’t double down for a run at Lord Mayor, you could expect to see some retirements, including the long-serving Cr Kevin Louey, who has spent 11 years on council and before that seven years as chief of staff to former Lord Mayor John So.
Philip Le Lui is the only card-carrying Liberal Party member on council but with his former Lord Mayoral running mate Ken Ong not running again, his intentions are unclear and the Liberal Party itself is also yet to resolve whether to formally get involved in the 2020 elections. It’s less likely than Labor.
And finally, that leaves transport chair Nicolas Frances Gilley, the accidental councillor who only ran last time in order to support the efforts to elect a first ever Indigenous councillor. His passion to see this happen remains, but it is not clear who that Indigenous candidate would be.
Robert Doyle was the longest serving Lord Mayor in history and the current councillors collectively have more than 80 years of service under their belt, which is arguably too much.
Sally Capp has a been a breath of fresh air as Lord Mayor and with the Doyle era now over, the 2020 election presents a good opportunity for further renewal on the council, which would be a good thing.
Stephen Mayne is a journalist and former councillor, who chaired the City of Melbourne finance committee from 2012-16.