Last Friday saw the much anticipated release of draft state electoral boundaries for South Australia.
I say anticipated because the redistribution was the first held since the Weatherill Labor government repealed the state’s electoral fairness provision in late 2017. The repeal was the government’s last legislative measure before losing office.
Would the new boundaries be drawn with no attention paid to fairness, undermining the Liberal government’s electoral position and paving the way for a Labor victory at the 2022 election? Once released, it became clear the short answer was no, the long answer more complex and well worth a blog post..
Without an overriding fairness provision, the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission did not repeat its exercise of four years ago in drawing boundaries that sacrificed the principle (though not legal definition) of enrolment equality in favour of electoral fairness.
Against Labor’s hopes, the Commission did not entirely abandon fairness arguments. But it could no longer use fairness to dismiss other criteria set down in the Constitution for drawing electoral boundaries .
In summary, the new boundaries retain the existing two-party division of the House of Assembly where, not including elected Independents, there are 27 underlying Liberal electorates to 20 for Labor.
However, on the new boundaries, the Liberal Party has more marginal seats and the uniform swing to lose office is reduced. The big loser of the redistribution is Independent MP Geoff Brock, whose regional seat of Frome has been dismembered to solve enrolment shortfalls in country districts.
As is usually the case with South Australian redistributions, and not usual in other states, the Commissioner’s report spends more time talking about the law than its reasons for drawing the boundaries. I’ll summarise those legal issues in this post, but if you just want to know the political impact, this link will take you to the point in this post where I compare the old and new margins and provide a new pendulum.
The Legal Arguments over the Redistribution
One of the achievements of the Dunstan Labor government in the 1970s was to introduce one-vote one-value electoral boundaries. The constitution was amended to make equality of enrolment the main principle for drawing electoral boundaries, though the wording of the provision acknowledged that absolute equality was impossible.
Section 77 – Basis of redistribution
(1) Whenever an electoral redistribution is made, the redistribution shall be made upon the principle that the number of electors comprised in each electoral district must not (as at the relevant date) vary from the electoral quota by more than the permissible tolerance.
(2) In this section –
“electoral quota” means the nearest integral number obtained by dividing the total number of electors for the House of Assembly (as at the relevant date) by the number of electoral districts into which the State is to be divided as at the first polling day for which the order is to be effective;
“permissible tolerance” means a tolerance of ten per centum;
“the relevant date” means a date specified in an order as the relevant date, being a date falling not earlier than six months before the date of the order.
The new electoral quota ended decades in which South Australia had used a zonal electoral system with different quotas for city and country electorates. At the relevant date when boundaries are drawn, all electorates must have an enrolment within 10% of the state quota. This criteria is a legal obligation for the Boundaries Commission, different from the other criteria for redistributions set out in Section 83 of the Constitution.
While campaigning against the Dunstan reforms in the 1970s, the Liberal Party argued that the geography of South Australia meant that fairness had to be a criteria in drawing boundaries as well as equality. The Liberal Party’s strongest support had always been concentrated in country seats, which is why the party had previously supported a zonal electoral system that granted extra seats to country areas. And why Labor had always wanted one-vote one-value boundaries.
The Liberal Party’s fairness argument received a boost when the Bannon Labor government was re-elected in 1989 as a minority government from only 48% of the two-party preferred vote. Political pressure forced the government to hold a referendum bringing on a redistribution applying a new fairness provision.
Section 83 of the Constitution contains the criteria beyond equal enrolment that can be applied in drawing electoral boundaries. The extract below is the section as it appeared from 1991 to 2017. Clauses (1) and (3) were repealed by the Weatherill government before the 2018 election, a change that was the main cause for legal debate before the 2020 Boundaries Commission.
Section 83 – Electoral fairness and other criteria
(1) In making an electoral redistribution the Commission must ensure, as far as practicable, that the electoral redistribution is fair to prospective candidates and groups of candidates so that, if candidates of a particular group attract more than 50 per cent of the popular vote (determined by aggregating votes cast throughout the State and allocating preferences to the necessary extent), they will be elected in sufficient numbers to enable a government to be formed.
(2) In making an electoral redistribution, the Commission must have regard, as far as practicable, to –
(a) the desirability of making the electoral redistribution so as to reflect communities of interest of an economic, social, regional or other kind;
(b) the population of each proposed electoral district;
(c) the topography of areas within which new electoral boundaries will be drawn;
(d) the feasibility of communication between electors affected by the redistribution and their parliamentary representative in the House of Assembly;
(e) the nature of substantial demographic changes that the Commission considers likely to take place in proposed electoral districts between the conclusion of its present proceedings and the date of the expiry of the present term of the House of Assembly,
and may have regard to any other matters it thinks relevant.
(3) For the purposes of this section a reference to a group of candidates includes not only candidates endorsed by the same political party but also candidates whose political stance is such that there is reason to believe that they would, if elected in sufficient numbers, be prepared to act in concert to form or support a government.
State-wide two-party preferred vote was adopted as the appropriate measure for Sub-section (3). Boundaries were therefore drawn to try and ensure the group with the majority of the two party preferred vote would win a majority of seats. But as has been discovered, drawing boundaries using past votes to predict future results is difficult.
Labor entered government in 2002 having polled only 49.1% of the 2PP, a minority government that grew increasing support from the crossbench. Labor won in 2010, a majority with 26 seats from only 48.4% 2PP. There was further swing against Labor in 2014, and despite polling only 47.0% of the 2PP, Labor won 23 seats and resumed government with the support of the crossbench.
Having chosen not to undertake a radical redistribution in 2012 in response to the 2010 result, the Boundaries Commission changed its approach in 2016. The Commission acknowledged the historical record that Liberal support was locked up in country seats. The Commission decided to address the Section 83(1) fairness requirement by making greater use of the 10% enrolment variation permitted under Section 77.
Table 1 – Percentage Variation form Quota in Country Districts – 2016 and 2020 SA Redistributions
|District||2016 Redistribution||2020 Redistribution|
All the districts in the 2016 column were drawn at the lower end of the permitted variation from quota, allowing the Commission to meet its equality obligation under Section 77. This added up to about half a seat worth of extra country voters and wriggle room for seats to cross the rural urban divide. Not all of the work on fairness needed was concentrated on altering the boundaries of Adelaide districts.
By abolishing the fairness provision, the Weatherill government prevented this approach being adopted by the 2020 Boundaries Commission. In a lengthy legal argument in its report, the Commission sets out that the removal of Sections 83(1) and 83(3) means that the issues set out in Sections 83(2)(a-e) can no longer be ignored in favour of fairness.
The 2020 Boundaries Commission has chosen to adopt a maximum 5-7% variation from quota as meeting the goals of enrolment equality while giving regard to the other issues set out in Section 83(2). The Commission stated it can still take into consideration the issue of fairness, but fairness can no longer override the interaction of Sections 77 and 83(2).
The results of this can be seen in the 2020 variation column of Table 1. Distant Flinders and Giles are still under quota, but by less than in 2016, and all other rural electorates have been set over quota. The Commission refers to a shortfall of 9,000 electors that has had to be corrected across northern and central South Australia.
This has led to a clockwise rotation of electoral boundaries around Spencer Gulf, a contraction of Hammond and Schubert towards the metropolitan area, and seen Morialta and Newland revert to being entirely metropolitan seats.
The greatest impact has been on the electorate of Frome, held by Independent Geoff Brock. The only way to fix the enrolment shortfall in Flinders, Giles and Stuart, and create sensible electoral boundaries north of Adelaide, has been to transfer Port Pirie from Frome to Stuart.
The last time Port Pirie and Port Augusta were in the same electorate was in 1989 when Stuart was a safe Labor electorate with no rural hinterland. Such has been the decline in SA rural population in three decades that to again combine the two ports in one electorate would create a ridiculously large surrounding rural electorate. Port Pirie is now in Stuart, but part of Port Augusta has has to be transferred to Giles to meet the quota for both seats.
Stuart’s Liberal MP Dan van Holst Pellekaan tried to resolve the northern enrolment problem by reviving the method adopted by the 1991 Boundaries Commission, the first to apply fairness. He argued for adding Kangaroo Island to the Eyre Peninsula district of Flinders to add population to the northern districts. This had too much opposition from residents, and consequences for southern Adelaide districts, to gain support.
Independent MHA Geoff Brock polled 78% of the two-candidate preferred vote versus the Liberal Party around Port Pirie, votes that have now been transferred to Stuart. He polled half that at 39% in the areas that remain in the redrawn Frome. (See map below which also shows Brock versus Liberal polling place results from 2018. Click the 2018 box to show the old Frome boundaries.)
Instead of a mixed industrial-rural electorate, Frome is now entirely rural and Stuart should remain a Liberal seat despite the infusion of Brock voters from Frome. The new boundaries take a seat that is held by Brock but classed as Liberal-held in the Boundaries Commission’s 2-party preferred calculations, and turns it into an actual Liberal seat.
Fixing the country district enrolment shortfalls shown in Table 1 also meant boosting numbers in Chaffey, Hammond and MacKillop. Hammond shrinks dramatically and now unites Murray Bridge with Mount Barker along the South-East Freeway.
Mount Barker was the major centre in the under-quota Adelaide Hills seat of Kavel, and its removal has had a dramatic affect on Kavel, greatly expanding its area to cover all of the northern Adelaide Hills. It absorbs the Hills communities previously in Newland and Morialta, pushing both seats back into the plain of metropolitan Adelaide. The consequence is the Liberal margin in Newland declines from 2.0% to 0.1% by my calculations, or 0.4% on the Commission’s. (Click boxes to see the adjust boundaries in the map below.)
The other district squeezed in boosting country district enrolments has been Schubert. It loses much of its rural component and gains the Gawler metropolitan area. That causes the electorate to shrink in area and the Liberal margin to shrink from 14.3% to 6.4% according to my calculations, or 5.4% using the Commission’s estimate. Neither of those calculations take account of the fact that Labor will lose the benefit in Gawler of Light Labor MP Tony Piccolo’s personal vote.
Unable to use differential enrolment to achieve fairness, the Commission’s report points to take fairness into consideration in drawing boundaries in the metropolitan area. This revives the weakness that has plagued the Commission’s methodology in the past – trying to predict what will happen based on past results.
On current boundaries, Labor needs four seats on a uniform swing of 4.4% for majority government. Those seats are King 0.7%, Adelaide 1.0%, Newland 2.0% and Elder 4.4%. But Labor needs only a 2% swing for a majority of the two-party preferred vote. So again, the Boundaries Commission has set out on a quest to make the swing in marginal seats match the state wide two-party result.
All that attention has fallen on two neighbouring seats in inner south-east Adelaide, Badcoe and Elder. Instead of being the fourth seat to fall on 4.4%, Elder is now the most marginal Liberal seat on 0.1%. It has shed Liberal voting territory in the east to Waite, and swapped territory with neighbouring Badcoe.
The change also produces a second marginal seat Labor seat. Previously Mawson on 0.3% was the only Labor seat on a margin below 3.5%. Now the boundary swaps with Elder reduce the Labor margin for Badcoe from 5.5% to 1.4% on my calculations and 2.0% on the Commission’s.
The map below can be manipulated to show the old and new boundaries for both Badcoe and Elder.
The failure of the Liberal Party to win Elder in 2014 despite its small margin, was one of the reasons Labor was re-elected. The 2016 redistribution made Elder a notional Liberal seat for the 2018 election and the Liberal Party won it. Now the party has to put considerable effort into trying to hang on to the seat in 2022.
Given that it was the Liberal Party behind the 1991 changes to Section 83, and Labor that removed 82(1) and 83(3), there are two ironies that the measure of fairness in 2020 has come down to the boundaries of one seat, Elder.
The first is that Labor abolished the fairness provision to stop the Boundaries Commission from creating rural electorate with low enrolments as a way of addressing fairness. They have achieved that aim, but the Commission has still applied fairness in deciding Adelaide boundaries, but has done so in Elder in a way that works in Labor’s favour.
The second concerns one of the changes to Section 83(2) in 1991 to make the fairness provision workable. Existing boundaries had previously been taken into account, an issue still considered elsewhere in Australia. That was removed as it could contradict with fairness.
Had existing boundaries been a consideration today in Section 83(2), it would have been an argument against the swaps between Elder and Badcoe. Instead, all across Adelaide, and especially in Elder and Badcoe, the Boundaries Commission has continued its past practice of shuffling suburbs between districts to balance out the electoral pendulum.
Fairness may have been removed as a requirement in drawing South Australian electoral boundaries, but its ghostly presence is still there in the process.
The Political Consequences and the New Electoral Pendulum
The result of the 2018 election in seats won was Liberal 25, Labor 19, and three Independents. Of those Independent held seats, Frome and Mount Gambier had underlying Liberal two-party preferred majorities, and Florey a Labor majority. So using 2PP as a fairness measure, the Liberal Party had 27 seats and Labor 20. The Liberal Party won the 2PP vote 51.9% to 48.1% for Labor.
On the old boundaries, and sticking to 2PP measures, Labor would have needed four seats on a uniform swing of 4.5% for 24 seats. On the new boundaries, that remains four seat but the swing drops to 1.5% by the Commission’s calculations or 1.6% by mine.
Another big difference caused by the redistribution is that on current boundaries, Labor could have gained three seats on a swing of 2%, and then gained the support of Independent Geoff Brock to govern. That option has probably been removed by the boundary changes leaving Brock effectively without a seat.
All new electorates are set out on the new pendulum below. These are margins based on my own calculations which have small differences from those published in the Boundaries Commission report.
More information on the redistribution, the Commission’s own estimates of the new margins, and maps of proposed districts, can be found on the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission website.
|Liberal Seats (27)||Labor Seats (20)|
|LIB 0.1||Elder||ALP 0.6||Mawson|
|LIB 0.1||Newland||ALP 1.4||Badcoe|
|LIB 1.0||Adelaide||ALP 3.8||Wright|
|LIB 1.6||King||ALP 4.7||Lee|
|LIB 6.3||Schubert||ALP 4.8||Torrens|
|LIB 6.7||Hartley||ALP 8.4||Hurtle Vale|
|LIB 6.8||Colton||ALP 8.8||Enfield|
|LIB 7.4||Waite||ALP 9.4||Reynell|
|LIB 7.4||Dunstan||ALP 11.2||Taylor|
|LIB 8.0||Heysen||ALP 12.2||Florey (IND held)|
|LIB 8.1||Davenport||ALP 12.8||Light|
|LIB 9.4||Black||ALP 14.2||West Torrens|
|LIB 9.4||Morialta||ALP 14.9||Giles|
|LIB 10.0||Gibson||ALP 15.6||Cheltenham|
|LIB 10.3||Morphett||ALP 16.0||Kaurna|
|LIB 11.3||Unley||ALP 16.7||Playford|
|LIB 13.6||Stuart||ALP 17.1||Port Adelaide|
|LIB 14.6||Kavel||ALP 17.3||Elizabeth|
|LIB 14.8||Finniss||ALP 18.7||Ramsay|
|LIB 14.8||Hammond||ALP 24.5||Croydon|
|LIB 18,5||Mount Gambier (IND held)|
Notes on all the boundary changes and new margins are set out below.
|Change in Margin||Notes on Changes|
|Old||LIB 1.0||Minor changes to the northern boundary with Enfield.|
|Old||ALP 5.5||Gains Cumberland Park and Westbourne Park from Elder and Ascot Park, Edwardstown and South Plympton go in the opposite direction. Gains Camden Park and the rest of Plympton from Morphett, Kings Park from Unley and Marleston and Netley from West Torrens. The net affect is a significanr cut in the Labor margin.|
|Old||LIB 8.7||Gains South Brighton from Gibson, loses O’Halloran Hill, Darlington and Seacombe Heights to Davenport.|
|Old||LIB 17.4||Various suburb swaps with neighbouring Dunstan, Unley and Morialta.|
|Old||LIB 17.3||Gains around 4,300 voters in Karoonda East Murray District Council and parts of Mid Murray Council from Hammond.|
|Old||ALP 15.9||Loses Woodville North to Croydon.|
|Old||LIB 7.9||Loses Glenelg North to Morphett. Gains part of Grange from Lee.|
|Old||ALP 24.4||Gains Woodville North from Cheltenham, loses the rest of Allenby Gardens, Welland and West Hundmarsh to West Torrens.|
|Old||LIB 8.8||Loses Cherry Gardens to Heysen and Bellevue Heights to Waite. Gains Darlington, O’Halloran Hill and Seacombe Heights from Black.|
|Old||LIB 6.1||Various suburbs swaps with neighbouring Bragg and Hartley.|
|Old||LIB 4.4||Has an influx of Labor voting suburbs from Badcoe in exchange for Liberal voting territory going in the opposite direction. Loses parts of Liberal voting Hawthorn to Unley and Bellevue Heights to Waite. The changes come close to wiping out the Liberal majority.|
|Old||ALP 17.7||Gains Hillbank from King and Elizabeth North from Taylor, loses Blakeview and parts of Craigmore to Light.|
|Old||ALP 7.9||Minor changes, the most important being the transfer of Lightsview into Torrens.|
|Old||LIB 14.2||Gains Langhorne Creek and Milang from Hammond, Ashbourne and Yundi from Heysen.|
|Old||LIB 26.3||Gains Cowell, Kimba and a large but thinly populated area in the west of the state from Giles.|
|Old||ALP 11.0||Nips and tucks with neigbouring electorates. Florey is currently held by Independent Frances Bedford, her margin against Labor in 2018 6.1%.|
|Old||LIB 11.1||Radically re-drawn. Port Pirie, Risdon Park and Solomontown have been moved into Stuart as the electorate shifts closer to Adelaide. Frome is currently held by Independent Geoff Brock and he polled 78% of the two-candidate preferred vote in the area transferred to Stuart. Margins shown here are based on two-party preferred results. Brock’s margin versus the Liberal Party in 2018 was 8.2%. It is impossible to calculate a new 2CP margin for either Frome or Stuart.|
|Old||LIB 9.3||Gains parts of Somerton Park from Morphett and loses South Brighton to Black.|
|Old||ALP 15.2||Loses Cowell and Kimba to Flinders, gains Port Augusta West from Stuart.|
|Old||LIB 19.5||Major changes, shrinking to become an electorate based on Mount Barker and Murray Bridge. Areas to the east transferred to Chaffey and MacKillop with Mount Barker gained from Kavel.|
|Old||LIB 7.8||Gains Dernancourt from Torrens and Felixstowe and Glynde from Dunstan. Loses parts of Newton and Magill to Morialta.|
|Old||LIB 8.5||Minor boundary adjustments with all surrounding electorates.|
|Old||ALP 5.3||Strengthened for Labor by a number of suburb swaps with Kaurna and Reynell.|
|Old||ALP 14.9||Strengthened in boundary changes with neighbouring Hurtle Vale and Reynell.|
|Old||LIB 14.8||Little political impact despite major boundary changes. Loses Mount Barker to Hamond, and expands by gaining hils districts from Morialta, Newland and Schubert.|
|Old||LIB 0.7||Loses Hillbank to Elizabeth, gains Fairview Park and Yatala Vale from Newland.|
|Old||ALP 3.8||Strengthened for Labor by losing parts of Grange to Colton while gaining Ethelton and Semaphore South from Port Adelaide.|
|Old||ALP 9.9||Major boundary changes. Loses Gawler, Hewett and Willaston to Schubert, gains Blakeview and parts of Craigmore from Elizabeth..|
|Old||LIB 25.0||Gains the eastern parts of Hammond.|
|Old||ALP 0.3||Main change is gaining part of Maslin Beach from Kaurna.|
|Old||LIB 10.7||Loses its eastern end in the Adelaide Hills to Kavel and Heysen. Gains parts of Magill and Newton from Hartley.|
|Old||LIB 10.5||Gains Glenelg North from Colton. Loses Camden Park and Plympton to Badcoe, part of Somerton Park to Gibson.|
|Old||LIB 18.5||Unchanged. Held by Independent Troy Bell whose margin versus the Liberal Party in 2018 was 10.3%.|
|Old||LIB 17.4||Gains parts of Clare and Gilbert Vallys Council from Frome, loses Dublin and Mallala to Frome.|
|Old||LIB 2.0||Gains Modbury from Florey and Redwood Park from Wright. Loses Fairview Park and Yatala Vale to King. Loses its eastern end in the Adelaide Hills to Kavel.|
|Old||ALP 16.3||Gains Salisbury Downs from Ramsay, loses Para Hills to Florey.|
|Old||ALP 16.8||Minor adjustments with neighbouring electorates.|
|Old||ALP 18.9||Minor changes with neighbouring Playford, Taylor and Wright.|
|Old||ALP 14.5||Labor margin weakened in suburb swaps that strengthen Labor in Hurtle Vale and Kaurna.|
|Old||LIB 14.3||A major re-drawing, losing significant rural districts to Kavel and Frome, and gaining all of Gawler north of the river. This slashes the Liberal margin from 14.3% to an estimated 6.3%. The Boundaries Commission’s estimated new margin is 5.4%.|
|Old||LIB 23.1||Loses Port Augusta West to Giles, the southern end of the electorate has been transferred into the re-drawn Frome, but the most significant change is the transfer of Port Pirie, Risdon Park and Solomontown from Frome. This produces a huge cut in the notional Liberal majority. The Port Pirie area voted 78.0% for Independent Geoff Brock at the 2018 election and the area was his electoral base in the old Frome.|
|Old||ALP 10.8||Loses Two Wells to Frome and swaps suburbs with Port Adelaide, Ramsay and Elizabeth.|
|Old||ALP 4.6||Gains Lightsview from Enfield, loses Dernancourt to Hartley.|
|Old||LIB 11.3||Loses areas in the north-east to Bragg and shifts south taking Kingswood, Netherby and Urrbrae from Waite.|
|Old||LIB 7.8||Significant suburbs swaps all round but with little impact on the Liberal margin.|
|Old||ALP 13.2||Gains the balance of Allenby Gardens, Welland and West Hindmarsh from Croydon, loses Marleston and Netley to Badcoe.|
|Old||ALP 3.5||Gains Modbury North from Florey, Loses Redwood Park to Newland and Brahma Lodge to Ramsay|