Our journalism usually sits behind a paywall, but we believe this is the time to make more of our content freely available to as many readers as possible. For more free coverage, sign up to COVID-19 Watch.

John So has swept through the field to take the crown as Melbourne’s first directly elected Lord Mayor in a major upset.

The Bracks-backed Spotless heir Peter McMullin couldn’t even manage to finish second after a poor run of preferences, most notably the failure of his team to lock in a deal with fourth place-getter Clem Newton-Browne.

So’s win is a triumph for big money local politics. The three top candidates spent more than $500,000 on the campaign in a demonstration that local government can be bought.

The Hong-Kong born council veteran now has a raft of ambitious policies to implement including cheaper parking, lower rates, a free Swanston Street tram and extending the Bourke Street Mall to Russell Street. With $80 million of cash in the bank he’s got the strongest balance sheet of any mayor in Australia.

Two of John So’s children featured in photographs today but son Alex was not present. Alex was fined $450 in the Magistrate’s Court back in 1999 for possession of heroine and this might just reflect John So’s tough attitude to drug dealers whereby he wants council offices to help police the problem in the city. An email to Crikey subscribers this morning over-stated the Alex So situation and we’d like to stress that there was no conviction and it was a possession charge with no suggestion of trafficking. Apologies to the So family for that.

As to the result, Peter Sheppard was the early leader on primary votes and his excellent PR boss Suzanne Northey will be spinning him a T-Shirt that says: “I spent 200 grand & all I got was one lousy councillor.”

The Greens ran a good campaign and whilst Harry Barber won’t be Lord Mayor, David Risstrom, the only elected Green anywhere in Victoria, will be comfortably returned to council after being the best-performed councillor last time around.

The Labor Party have successfully got comely Kimberley Kitchens, the wife of Labor Party stalwart Andrew Landeryou, onto the council and Labor Party maverick Kevin Chamberlin is safely back for another stint and will continues to be a thorn in the side of John So.

Peoplepower.org.au will not be serving on the next council and like virtually all of the leading contenders, we’ve comfortably over-estimated out primary vote. Ouch.

The other interesting development is that Melbourne City Council will be ruled by a majority of women with the final details to be announced tomorrow.

The full council is likely to be:

John So (Lord Mayor), Susan Riley (deputy Lord Mayor), Chaimberlin (Make Melbourne Shine), Kimerberley Kitching (ALP), Kate Redwood (McMullin-Canty), David Risstrom (Greens), Catherine Ng (Melbourne Living), Rev David Wilson (Working Together), and the final spot to Clem Newton-Brown’s Civic Group, either Sue Bourke or Irene Goonan.

Needless to say, the McMullin-Canty people looked very unhappy as the results started to flow. It was like they’d been picked at fullback for Freo.

Peter McMullin and Steve Bracks only have themselves to blame for their failure. His preference “deals” were awful and his bedside manners were worse than Blighty’s. The voters have done a Rod Butterss, tapped him on the shoulder and said: “You’re the weakest link.”

It is interesting to compare how the leading candidates performed and what they predicted before the poll. Crikey did a survey of Lord Mayoral candidates on the roof of The Age building last night when we all assembled for a photo call that appeared on the front page of early editions of the paper before Malcolm Blight emerged from his Brighton home.

The survey was most amusing because six of the candidates tipped that they would win but only John So was right. And it is clear that absolutely everyone has overstated their primary vote, including Crikey and John So.

So let’s check out the pre-vote tips from the leading contenders:

Peter McMullin: pro-Palestine, former Communist, Bracks-backed Spotless heir and Carlton solicitor: I’ll get the highest primary vote of 30 per cent and will win with shoe retailer Peter Sheppard coming second. In the end he got about 14 per cent of the vote and came third after preferences were distributed.

Peter Sheppard: millionaire shoe retailer who has spent $200,000: I’ll finish first on primaries with 20 per cent and become Lord Mayor with Peter McMullin finishing second. He scored 14 per cent of the primary and finished a distant second by 5000 votes to John so after preferences were distributed.

Clem Newton-Browne: Liberal deputy Lord Mayor, barrister and cafe51 proprietor backed by Ron Walker, Dulcie Boling and Garry Morgan: I’ll finish fourth on the primaries with 12 per cent of the vote but my smart preferencing (ie pulling out of a McMullin swap but still getting his preferences) strategy will see me win on Green and McMullin preferences from Peter Sheppard. Finished fourth on the primaries with about 10 per cent.

Don Chipp: ageing Democrats founder. I’ll get at least 15 per cent of the primary and win from one of the Peters. Finished 5th with less than 10 per cent of the vote.

Harry Barber: Green candidate and general manager of Bicycle Victoria: I’ll get 10 per cent of the primary and finish fourth but my smart preference strategy will see me win from Peter McMullin. Unfortunately, Harry’s vote dropped to about 6.5 per cent so he was never in the running.

John So: Proprietor of 7 Chinese restaurants and councillor since 1991 who has spent $100,000 on his campaign including hiring choppers and double decker buses: I’ll get 15 per cent of the primary but will win on Don Chipp’s preferences with Clem Newton-Browne finishing second. He was right about winning but slightly over-estimated his primary vote which was just below 14 per cent.

Between them, these six candidates had a collective case of candidates disease because only John So was right and their combined predicted primary vote was 102 per cent and that was before considering how the other 13 candidates polled.

Peter Fray

This crisis will cut hard and deep but one day it will be over.

What will be left? What do you want to be left?

I know what I want to see: I want to see a thriving, independent and robust Australian-owned news media. I want to see governments, authorities and those with power held to account. I want to see the media held to account too.

Demand for what we do is running high. Thank you. You can help us even more by encouraging others to subscribe — or by subscribing yourself if you haven’t already done so.

If you like what we do, please subscribe.

Peter Fray
Editor-In-Chief of Crikey

Support us today