January 2024

Victorian Federal Redistribution using Updated Enrolment Data

Last October, eagle eyed observers spotted that there was something wrong with enrolment projection data for Victoria released by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). The projections were released as base data for the looming federal redistribution to remove one of Victoria’s 39 seats in the House of Representatives.

A 2023 decision by the Australian Electoral Commissioner under Section 24 of the Constitution had determined that NSW and Victoria would lose House seats and Western Australia gain a seat. The size of the House of Representatives for the next election will be reduced from 151 to 150 seats. I wrote a post at the time explaining the decision.

Victoria had gained an extra seat at each of the two previous elections. Both had been created in western Melbourne, Fraser before the 2019 election and Hawke ahead of 2022. The redistribution creating Hawke had been based on population data from before the 2020 arrival of Covid. With overseas immigration halted for two years, and internal migration to the outer states continuing, Victoria’s population declined relative to other states over the three intervening years.

But removing a seat won’t simply be a matter of abolishing Hawke or Fraser. As the projected enrolment data released last week shows, population growth in Melbourne’s north and west is faster than in Melbourne’ east and south-east. A seat must be abolished in Victoria and the corrected projected enrolment data indicates strongly that a seat will be abolished in Melbourne’s east.

The first projected enrolment data released last October had been prepared by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). The data was flawed in applying a uniform growth rate across the state. The corrected enrolment projections released by the AEC last week now have growth rates that vary across the state.

(Happy to post comments with people’s suggestions on where the changes will occur.)
Read More »Victorian Federal Redistribution using Updated Enrolment Data

WA Federal Redistribution Prospects using Updated Enrolment Data

Last October, eagle eyed observers spotted that there was something wrong with enrolment projection data released by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). The data had been released as base data for redistributions in Victoria and Western Australia. Data for the NSW redistribution was not affected.

The same enrolment growth rate had been applied across both states down to local statistical area level. This was a ridiculous assumption. It turned out the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) had provided the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) with the wrong data.

In the last few days the has AEC released corrected enrolment projections with growth rates that vary across both states. This post examines how this new data will influence the redistribution in Western Australia. A second post, hopefully tomorrow, will run through a similar analysis for Victoria.

In a previous post I explained why the seat numbers by state are changing. Another post, now superseded by the post you are reading, looked at boundary change implications from last October’s initial release of incorrect enrolment projections.

What doesn’t change is that Western Australia is gaining a seat in the current redistribution, restoring the 16th seat removed three years ago. Population trends mean the new seat will be created in a different part of Perth than the previously abolished seat of Stirling.

In short, the projected enrolment data makes even clearer that WA’s new seat will be created in Perth’s east. The other 12 Perth seats will shuffle west towards the Indian Ocean. Current enrolment data, and last October’s incorrect projected enrolments, indicated that a Perth seat would need to cross the metropolitan boundary. The new projections remove this prospect meaning the redistribution will be largely confined to metropolitan Perth.Read More »WA Federal Redistribution Prospects using Updated Enrolment Data

Background on Federal By-election Swings

Federal politics will soon kick into gear for 2024 with campaigning for the Dunkley by-election, likely to be held in late February or early March.

The by-election has been caused by the sad death of former Labor MP Peta Murphy, who succumbed to breast cancer at the end of 2023. It will be the third by-election since the election of the Albanese government in May 2022.

You can find more on the seat of Dunkley and the by-election in my seat profile on the ABC Elections site.

The by-election will be a test for Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party, keen to retain what is a marginal seat despite its on-paper electoral buffer of 6.3%.

It will also be a challenge for the Liberal Party and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton. After the Liberal Party’s historic loss at last April’s Aston by-election, the opposition needs a good result in Dunkley to confirm recent improvement in opinion polls.

But there are arguments for and against whether Dunkley will be a good test of the national electoral mood.

Being fought in Victoria, currently Labor’s strongest state, can Dunkley be viewed as representative of the national electorate? The 2022 federal election reduced the Liberal Party to just eight of 39 Victorian seats, since cut to seven seats by the Aston loss. Only two of those seats, Deakin and Menzies, are entirely suburban.

The Liberal Party has also performed badly in Victorian state politics, losing six of the last seven state elections. There was a swing to the Coalition at the November 2022 state election but the Liberal Party lost seats and has since been dealing with internal party recriminations.

Arguing for the by-election’s importance, Dunkley is the sort of outer-suburban seat the Liberal Party needs to start winning if it hopes to overcome the loss of once blue ribbon Liberal seats to Independents.

Dunkley includes some newer housing estates where interest rate rises have bitten. Across the electorate there are families who are feeling the effects of inflation.

Based on national opinion polls, there is not enough movement to predict the Liberal Party will win Dunkley.

But by-elections are an opportunity for voters to send a message when the government’s fate is not in play. Will the anti-government swing common at by-elections be large enough to deliver victory to the Liberal Party?

The swing needed is 6.3%, and Labor achieved a 6.4% swing the other way to win Aston. Covering the full period since Federation, the average anti-government swing is a little under 4%.

More recently there have been 52 by-elections since the election of the Hawke government in 1983. Of those, 28 were traditional two-party contests between Labor and the Coalition, the type of contest we will see in Dunkley.

Across the 28 two-party by-elections, the average anti-government two-party preferred swing was 3.5%. It was 4.7% against Labor governments in 17 contests, and 2.3% against Coalition governments in another 11.

Of the 28 by-elections, 15 were in government held seats and 13 in seats held by an opposition party. The average swing against government in government held seats was 5.4% compared to only 1.2% in Opposition held seats.

At the eight by-elections in Labor seats during Labor governments, the average swing was 8.2% compared to 2.3% in seven similar contests during Coalition governments.

The Labor Party had an astonishingly good result in Aston, in contrast to poor first term by-election results for Labor governments led by Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd. Under both Hawke and Rudd, Labor was further ahead in polls than the Albanese government at the time of its Aston victory.

Not that average swings are a useful measure given the wide variety of swings at by-elections. Swings are more about the time specific circumstances of a by-election and are not always comparable with an average calculated over several decades.

Larger swings than required in Dunkley afflicted the Hawke government at third term by-elections in 1988. The Adelaide and Port Adelaide by-elections, fought on the now forgotten issue of timed local calls for home phones, cost the government Adelaide and produced a double digit swing in Port Adelaide. Another double digit swing struck at the Oxley by-election later the same year. Labor’s position in all three seats was restored at the 1990 election when the Hawke government was narrowly re-elected.

Not so with the 16.2% swing that delivered a rare Liberal win in the ACT at the 1995 Canberra by-election. Labor recovered Canberra at the 1996 election, but it was a pallid highlight amidst the wreckage of the Keating government’s defeat.

Going further back in time to June 1975, the famous Bass by-election produced a Liberal gain after a 14.3% swing, accurately predicting the Labor Party’s fate under Gough Whitlam later in the year.

The biggest anti-government swing under a Coalition government was in the Brisbane seat of Ryan in March 2001. Labor won the seat after a 9.7% swing. John Howard famously described the result as not a repeat of Bass and Canberra, and the Howard government recovered Ryan and was re-elected to office at the 2001 election.

So will the by-election produce an average anti-government swing and see Labor retain Dunkley, or will we see larger swing that delivers victory to the Liberal Party?

Either way, the Dunkley by-election will set the frame for politics in the first half of 2024.

For more on the Dunkley by-election, see my profile of the electorate and candidates at the ABC website.

And for more on by-elections and results, read on in this post.
Read More »Background on Federal By-election Swings

Brisbane City Council Election Guide Launched

The federal by-election in the south-east Melbourne seat of Dunkley is set to be the big electoral event of February 2024. You can find my by-election guide here.

After that, the biggest election in the first half of 2024 will be the Brisbane City Council election on 16 March, one of the 77 local government elections held across Queensland that day. I’ve just published my ABC election guide for the election here.

The results of the Brisbane Lord Mayoral and City Council elections will attract more national attention than usual. With a Queensland state election set for 26 October, and a federal election due by May 2025, the Brisbane results will be dissected for their state and federal implications. Will the Greens’ breakthrough to win three Brisbane seats at the 2022 Federal election be repeated at the council election, and could this be a portent for the state election?Read More »Brisbane City Council Election Guide Launched