Northern Territory

2020 Apportionment of Seats: Part 3 – Changing the Formula for States

(Update 3 July – the determination has been published confirming that Victoria will gain a seat and Western Australia and the Northern Territory lose seats. Details here.)

On 3 July, Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers will issue his determination on how many electorates will be contested and representatives elected for each state and territory at the next federal election. The determination will be based on Australian Bureau of Statistics population statistics to be released this week.

Based on population trends, it is expected that Victoria will gain a seat to 39 seats, and Western Australia will lose the 16th seat it gained in 2016. More controversially, the Northern Territory will lose the second member it has elected at every election since 2001.

This is the third of three posts on the subject of apportioning seats to states and territories under Australian constitutional and electoral law.

The first post looked at the constitutional allocation of seats to states under Section 24 of the Constitution, how the current formula works, past attempts to change the formula, and how past High Court cases have interpreted the workings of Section 24.

The second looked at the constitutional basis and history of territory representation. As I explain in the post, the allocation of seats to the territories is governed by legislation, not the constitution. The Parliament can change the territory allocation formula, and I propose that it should be changed to use what is known as Dean’s method. This would provide a fairer and more stable method of allocating seats than the current formula, though it would not guarantee the Northern Territory two seats into the future.

A private member’s bill has been introduced in the Senate to guarantee a minimum two seats for the Northern Territory. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has launched an inquiry into the bill with submissions closing on 10 July. You can find details of the inquiry here.

In this post I will re-cap the US apportionment methods I discussed in my post on the territories and ask whether they could also be applied to the Australian states without risking the wrath of the High Court. In short my findings are that across 26 Australian apportionments since Federation, Dean’s method would have added one seat to one state at one of the 26 apportionments, one change out of 416 state allocations.

For this reason I argue that switching formula to adopt Dean’s method would meet the tests for changing the constitutional formula discussed in McKellar’s case (1977). (See me first post for details). It can be argued that Dean’s method, by minimising the difference between the average enrolment in each state and the national quota, provides a more proportional method than the variant of Webster’s method set out in Section 24 of the constitution.

Read More »2020 Apportionment of Seats: Part 3 – Changing the Formula for States

2020 Apportionment of Seats: Part 2 – Allocating to the Territories

(Update 3 July – the determination has been published confirming that Victoria will gain a seat and Western Australia and the Northern Territory lose seats. Details here.)

On 3 July, Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers will issue his determination on how many representatives (seats) each state and territory will have at the next federal election.

As the numbers stand, it is expected that Victoria will gain a seat to 39 seats, and Western Australia will lose the 16th seat it gained in 2016. Most controversially, the Northern Territory will lose the second seat it has had since 2001.

This is the second of three posts on Australian apportionment. The first post looked at the constitutional allocation of seats to states under Section 24 of the Constitution, how the current formula works, past attempts to change the formula, and how past High Court cases have interpreted the workings of Section 24.

In this post I concentrate on the constitutional basis and history of territory representation, and in what ways Territories are treated differently from the states in allocating seats.

The Labor Party is proposing a bill to save the NT’s second seat by legislating that the Northern Territory have a minimum of two seats. The NT’s Country Liberal Party has expressed some support for the idea. As was the case with a similar bill when the NT’s second seat was marked for abolition in 2003, the bill will be the catalyst for a more detailed discussion of the issue.

In my opinion, it would be better to change the formula as it applies to the territories rather than return to fixing the number of seats. In technical terms, my proposal is that the allocation of extra seats should be determined by rounding at the harmonic mean of two alternate allocations rather than the current arithmetic mean. In the case of the Northern Territory, that would involve allocating a second seat if the quota calculation is above 1.33 rather than the current 1.50. This would almost certainly save the NT’s second seat for the next election.

If you don’t have time to read through all the detail in this post, click here to go to the tables showing how the proposed change formula would have applied to the NT and ACT at apportionments since 1991.
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Greens Preference Against Labor in Johnston By-Election

In what is a rare move, the Greens have chosen to direct preferences against Labor at the Northern Territory’s Johnston by-election, to be held on Saturday 29 February.

In the past the Greens have often chosen to make no preference recommendation, but to actively recommend preferences to conservative parties ahead of Labor is very unusual.

The decision is attracting a lot of attention to an otherwise obscure local by-election in an electorate of just 4,988 voters in the northern suburbs of Darwin. If you are after more information on the Johnston by-election, check my background page at the ABC’s Election website.

The decision has started arguments back and forth between Labor and Green partisans, but i’ll leave it to participants to argue the subjective point of whether the decision is right or wrong in policy and/or strategic terms.

But that leaves plenty of room to examine whether the decision is important to how preferences will flow, to the result of the Johnston by-election, and to the Northern Territory election in August.

Update At the by-election, 56.9% of Green voters gave preferences, around 20 percentage points lower than the usual flow of Green preferences. You can find my commentary on the result and preferences at my Johnston by-election page.
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2019 Northern Territory Redistribution

The Northern Territory goes to the polls on 22 August this year with the Gunner Labor government seeking re-election against the backdrop of a stagnant local economy and problems with the Territory’s public finances.

While this will be a tough environment for a first term government, Labor is helped by the weakened state of the opposition Country Liberal Party after its spectacular ejection from office in 2016.

The 2020 election will be fought on new electoral boundaries released last September. On paper the boundaries cost Labor a seat, but also boost the party’s prospects in two marginal seats.

But margins matter little in the Northern Territory given the average enrolment per electorate is only 5,500. This creates geographically huge electorates in the sparsely populated outback, but tiny seats of a few dozen streets in Darwin and Palmerston. Candidate profile is as important as party vote in determining who wins seats in the Northern Territory, especially after redistributions.
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2019 Northern Territory Senate Election – Results and Preference Flows

Summary of findings

  • Preferences were not distributed in the NT, the lead Labor and CLP candidates declared elected on the first count.
  • At 19.5% the Northern Territory had the highest rate of voters going beyond six preferences above the line, four times the national average. This was helped by there being only nine ballot paper groups in the NT.
  • 77.7% of Green preferences reached Labor, but not by following the Green how-to-vote. Of all Green votes, 45.5% went to Labor as a second preference, another 21.3% at the third preference after giving a suggested second preference for HEMP.
  • United Australia Party (UAP) preferences favoured Labor, against the party’s how-to-vote recommendation for the CLP, largely because one in five UAP above-the-line votes were donkey votes.
  • On how-to-vote concordance, 16.0% of Labor voters followed the how-to-vote exactly compared to 10.3% for the CLP and 10.2% of the Greens. Green concordance rates were lowered by the 2nd preference being given to HEMP rather than Labor.
    Read More »2019 Northern Territory Senate Election – Results and Preference Flows