Special Armidale KORE Poll

KORE CSR has relocated to Armidale in NSW. It’s a great little town on the verge of a big boom, but it has some issues. So, we did a local issues poll to introduce ourselves to the neighbours.

For those new to the KORE Poll, we run regular political polls. Each poll we ask about who people are are intending to vote for, plus some issue questions. This special Armidale poll was limited to people in the greater Armidale area, and asked about federal and local government voting intention, employment, housing, shopping, and three very specific issues: the Rail Trail proposal, the closure of the hydrotherapy pool, and the merger of the two public high schools.

Some 800 people participated in the poll, and the local’s test worked well in identifying the city people that just wanted to say how much they hated Barnaby (and, more interestingly, a heap of people that only wanted to comment on the rail trail). Respondents were only removed if they failed both the local questions, and something else gave them away. Some openly told us they were from Sydney, Melbourne, Coffs or elsewhere, but there were other giveaways, like listing their favourite Armidale business as a store that has never been in Armidale. Buhbye now. After cleaning, there were 649 valid and complete responses, wonderfully balanced in gender and age across the community with just men under 24 slightly under represented, giving us a good representative sample with a 3.5% margin of error.

Vote Intention

We asked about two upcoming elections: the Armidale Regional Council election next Saturday and the New England federal election whenever that happens.

REALLY IMPORTANT NOTE: The sample is a Armidale only. Not the entire Armidale Regional Council area, and definitely not all of New England. Armidale is interesting because this is the only progressive stronghold in the entirety of New England, but these numbers are in no way predictive of the entire New England election result. They are a pretty good indicator for the ARC, but candidates with a strong Guyra base like Steve Mepham will do better than the below numbers indicate.

I had to remove the 42.4% undecided from the ARC graphic as it made the rest of it too hard to read. It would be safe to assume that Labor and the Greens will have at least have their lead candidates elected, as well as Independents Bradley Widders, an Anaiwan man and former counsellor, Sam Coupland, whose biggest claim to fame seems to be his father-in-law Bob Katter, and Todd Redwood, a chef who has worked around the globe and, like me, has recently come back home to be pretty disappointed at what has happened to the place. With 42.4% undecideds though, it’s really up for grabs.

The New England numbers are about what you get any day of the year. Remember again this is Armidale, and even with a third of voters undecided, Barnaby still gets 25% of the vote in the most hostile part of the electorate. (Dear city people: Get over it.) The independent baseline vote being higher than Labor is also normal, and the independent vote being split is also normal, which is why I specifically asked like/not like Tony Windsor in the question. Nothing to see here.


Employment is an interesting topic in Armidale at the moment, with nearly 300 vacant jobs in a town of 25,000 indicating this centre is in a boom phase. The establishment of two government departments in town – the federal APVMA and the state Department of Regional NSW – has also caused a significant demographic shift and lifted average incomes. But, despite the abundance of jobs and low unemployment, 15% of respondents – around half of those said they have looked for a job in the last year – found it hard going.

Youth unemployment is an interesting issue in the Armidale context. As one of the few rural towns with an average age (34) below the national and state average (38), and the distorting influence of the university meaning there’s always a high level of young adults, Armidillians are hard-wired to be perpetually worried about youth unemployment. That’s reflected in the above numbers. In reality, pretty much anyone who wants a job in Armidale can get one, as witnessed by the aggressive advertising for unskilled labour. Red Rooster is even running radio ads to try and get both service and delivery staff. Actual figures on youth unemployment in Armidale are unavailable, so there’s no way of knowing if y’all are worried about nothing.


So, two government departments, more jobs than you can poke a forky stick at, a growth rate over 6%, a pandemic and lockdown leading to people fleeing the cities, and… guess what happens next? You run out of houses. The tornado flattening 11 and damaging 200 didn’t help matters. Chatting with a real estate agent today, I learned that normally there are around 500 homes for sale in Armidale on the market at any given time – at the moment there’s barely 200, and almost everything is selling above asking. The new developments are building as fast as they can but it simply isn’t enough to keep up with demand. You can’t book a local builder less than 12 months in advance, even the big chain builders you’re looking at a 6 month wait. And the rental market is just as hot, with as many people going through some inspections as you’d see in a capital city.

Most of the respondents (62%) said the market was too expensive, and 24%, or well over half that have been looking for a house in the last 12 months, said it was hard to find a home.

There was a fair swipe taken at real estate agents in the comments. In particular, there is a perception that the property managers only give rental properties to people that they know or locals, making it extremely difficult for students and others relocating to town to find a home. Others commented that property managers and even some agents selling properties are smug and rude.

There were two other issues of concern that came through in the comments: high rates (and less so high water rates), and a significant lack of affordable housing.


Shopping in any small town is a mixture of (eclectic) local businesses and a few chain stores. Armidale’s shopping has taken a serious blow with the recent closure of Big W, and the mall is a constant source of anxiety and empty shops. The commonly expressed view that there is ‘nothing left’ in Armidale is probably because of the first number below: Armidillians aren’t browsers. They go to the shop they need to go to, and they go home. The third that do browse are mostly younger women, and those that purpose shop by going to areas with a number of similar shops are generally those magic “primary household shoppers”, or in more common parlance – mums. This is particularly important to understand as Armidale’s retail spaces aren’t really zoned, with similar businesses together, like they are if you went to say a Westfield centre. You have a discount store, next to Spotlight, next to a discount chemist, next to plus size clothing, next to Kmart; a chemist, next to a homewares and gift store, then a bakery, a discount store, and a sushi place. Something for the city strategic planners to think about is that the layout of the stores does not conduce browsing… so when a single large store goes the emotional negative reaction is far more amplified. And, businesses that fare best from browsing or comparison shopping, like electronics, toys, homewares, and clothing, will struggle to survive without that browsing traffic.

This second number is one people are probably going to argue with, given the widespread commenting that ‘everyone’ goes to other centres or buys online because there is ‘nothing’ left in Armidale. 13% shopping online was the national level pre-pandemic and it has jumped to over 16% since lockdowns forced people to learn how to shop online, so online shopping in Armidale appears to be lower than in the cities where they can go and get anything they want in person. There may be an element of social desirability bias in this – which is basically a fancy research term which means that people may bend their answers a bit because they want to be seen as good people, and there is a lot of social pressure to buy local… eg:

I try to buy locally but that has become increasingly difficult in recent years.
65-74 year old woman
There’s very few options in this town at the minute, first I research online, try to buy locally and if not head to Coffs.
35-44 year old man
Try to buy in Armidale but the choices are very limited.
55-64 year old woman

Respondents were also asked to nominate their favourite local store, and a business not in town that they would like to have in town. Here’s the top 10…

Favourite Wanted
1 Kmart Big W
2 The New England Collective Target (a real Target, not the Target Country that was here before)
3 Turners Best and Less
4 Concepts of Armidale JB Hi Fi
5 Reader’s Companion Men’s suits/ businesswear
6 Bunnings Officeworks
7 Spotlight A real deli
8 Boobooks Shoe maker/repairer
9 Bing Lee Mexican food
10 Gazman Homewares stores (Bed, Bath and Table, Adairs, etc)

Many of the people who nominated Kmart did so because ‘Big W is gone so it has to be Kmart’ (25-34 year old man)… like there is no other types of stores in the world but large chain department stores. There was some useful information in all the Big W comments though – affordable women’s underwear and kids clothing are the two most cited things that are now hard to get. There are a lot of comments that the quality of Kmart’s clothing is not good enough too.

People were also asked to say in their own words what they think of the Armidale Mall. The overwhelming response was dead, empty, and sad. (For non locals, the Armidale Mall is a beautiful paved mall in the centre of town and used to be a hive of activity, but for myriad of reasons – mostly prohibitively high rent – many mall stores now sit empty.)

Hydrotherapy Pool

Armidale had a hydrotherapy pool, but Hunter New England Health closed it because it needed maintenance. Local member Adam Marshall secured a $1.1m grant to build a new one, but Council handed the money back because they couldn’t afford the upkeep. The Hydrotherapy Pool is an excellent example of how rural towns like Armidale go backwards in terms of services. Unsurprisingly, people want the hydrotherapy pool.

The comments on this were really interesting. Many want the hydrotherapy pool, but don’t believe Council should be stuck with the bill for providing a health service that should be provided by and paid for by HNE Health. In other words: yeah thanks for the grant Adam, but your attempt to make it someone else’s problem isn’t gonna work – this is a state government responsibility.

Rail Trail

There are few issues as intensely debated in Armidale right now as a proposal to replace 103 kms of railway line between Armidale and Glen Innes with a bike riding track. Research on this issue previously has been very poor, with no explanation of what was being proposed, push-poll style questions, and the use of the term ‘Rail Trail’ as some kind of fancy tourist attraction rather than easy to understand language essential in any reliable research. We copped a fair bit of abuse and were accused of bias by asking more bluntly if people approved of ripping up the train line to put in a bike track, because apparently proposers of the Rail Trail expected us to also engage in the deception. Sorry, that’s not what we do.

As expected, these results will please no one. The issue is highly polarised, strong support and strong oppose with no clear majority opinion, and a whopping 22% who don’t care enough to have an opinion either way.

Of all of the (really bad) polling I’ve seen on the Rail Trail issue, none ask people how much they care about the issue. Given well over 80% know about the issue, that only a quarter care about it a great deal does reveal that it is what it feels like – a storm in a teacup. Of those who do care about it a great deal, twice as many oppose as support. The comments on this issue reveal that most aren’t opposed to a new tourist thing, but it’s not a priority, they don’t want Council to pay for it if it does go ahead, and don’t want the infrastructure of the rail line removed as part of it.

Some are also concerned it has a whiff of corruption about it… speaking of which…

High School Merger

In 2017 local member Adam Marshall announced that the two Armidale public high schools would be merged, and a new ‘super school’ built on the Armidale High School site. On this issue I have been personally very vocal and make no apologies for that – it was, as I said at the time, one of the most horrifying abortions of normal administrative process I’ve ever seen. From the ‘merger’ being announced before community consultations, to uniforms and school name chosen before environmental impact or traffic management reports complete, this awful, community destroying, decision was rammed through in a manner that has ‘THIS NEEDS TO BE INVESTIGATED BY ICAC’ written all over it.

But, I shelved my personal opinions to listen to the community. And the community appears to be angrier than I am, especially parents of kids at the school. 47% strongly disagreed with the merger and 48% want the Duval High campus redeveloped and re-opened as a high school. The unexpected boom in population and the fact that every primary school in town is full to the gills should give Marshall cover to change course on this, and motivation for Joyce to push for Duval to be reopened, so I guess we’ll see how beholden they are to their property developer mates who want that 5 acres of premium hill land to build on.   

Most importantly, there are very real concerns being expressed about bullying and violence at the merged school. Of particular note is parents of ADHD and autistic kids who are not doing well in such a large school environment and they have no alternative as they cannot afford private school. (Note: I have had a chat with the Department of Education who called about some of the comments on Facebook.)


Armidale is in this odd moment of significant change, where the years and years of erosion of infrastructure has run headlong into a boom in population, and a lot of things are getting squeezed. The negative disposition and attitude of many locals is the inevitable effect of having services ripped away for decades, but some do see potential and opportunity in what is going on now. Governments will need to act quickly and effectively to reverse some decisions, and make up for previous neglect… and the citizens of Armidale will need to get active rather than just dwell in negativity, not an easy thing to do given the years of conditioning. KORE CSR hopes we can help Armidale take advantage of this moment and be the great city it should be.