The first step in the redistribution of NSW federal electoral boundaries began yesterday with a call for submissions and the release of base enrolment data.
The major scale of boundary changes required has been revealed by the released projected enrolment figures.
NSW is losing a seat at the next Federal election, the state’s representation reduced from 47 to 46 seats.
In addition, with seven years having passed since the last redistribution, enrolments by electoral division have diverged widely from the state average.
Abolishing a division while bringing all divisions back within the permitted variation from quota will require major surgery to some electorates.
And boundary changes will almost certainly have big political consequences.
Several electorates in the state’s west are well below quota and require major changes. Seats in Sydney’s west and south-west are well over quota, in contrast to under quota Sydney seats closer to the coast.
Evening out the enrolment numbers across the Sydney basin will not be easy. Sydney’s many bays and inlets give the city a distinctive political geography. Wholesale boundary changes are going to jumble the electoral margins of many seats.
In the immediate firing line are the four ‘teal’ Independent seats in Sydney’s east.
The seats of Wentworth (Allegra Spender), Mackellar (Sophie Scamps), Warringah (Zali Steggall) and North Sydney (Kylea Tink) are all well under quota. All these seats must increase their enrolment, eating into the territory of seats to their west.
Sydney’s Liberal heartland north of the Harbour looks certain to lose a seat, possible forcing a Liberal MP to nominate against one of the ‘teals’.
There will be a new seat created in Sydney’s outer south-west and the possible abolition of a seat further east. This creates a complex electoral jigsaw that the redistribution commissioners will first have to unpick and then re-assemble.
Inside the post I have maps highlighting the enrolment variations and provide analysis of how new boundaries might be drawn.
In a previous post on NSW redistribution prospects, I looked only at what current enrolment numbers could tell us about the redistribution. In this post I am using the more important projected enrolment numbers.
(And I’m happy to receive and publish suggestions on how the new boundaries might be drawn.)
Setting the Quotas
The abolition of a seat means that all divisions need an average gain of 3,000 voters. That is in addition to changes made to iron out the over and under enrolments that have developed across the state in the seven years since boundaries were last re-drawn.
Two quotas apply for the redistribution, a current enrolment quota set for 9 August 2023, and a projected enrolment quota set for 10 April 2028.
On current enrolments, the 46 new districts must have enrolments within 10% of the current enrolment quota of 121,011 electors. All new divisions must have current enrolments between 108,910 and 133,112.
But the projected quota is much tighter, with all districts required to be within 3.5% of quota. The projected enrolment quota is 129,621. All new divisions must have a projected enrolment in the narrower band between 125,085 and 134,157.
Almost all districts that fit within the projected quota limits will also fit within the current enrolment quota limits. The projected quota is the more important value for drawing boundaries and can force redistribution commissioners to divide areas of high enrolment growth.
The map below shows variation from projected quota for all seats. The two lightest shades show seats within the permitted 3.5% variation from quota. The darker the shade of brown, the further a division is below quota, and the darker the shade of green, the more a division is over the projected quota. If you are using a mouse you can hover to see names and variations from quota, or you can tap the map if you are on a mobile device.
This map can drill down into the Sydney metropolitan area, but there is a more detailed map for Sydney further down this post.
On the North Coast, only Cowper (NAT held, +4.6% quota) is outside the permitted range. On the edge of the Hunter, Paterson is over quota (ALP held, +11.7%), Hunter (ALP, +4.6%) with Shortland (ALP, -5.3%) and Robertson (ALP, -3.4%) under quota. It is possible that imbalances with these seats can be resolved without adjusting the boundary with New England. If required only a minor change is necessary.
Moving west, major changes will be required to bring rural divisions within the projected quota. New England (NAT held, -11.0% from quota, Barnaby Joyce MP), Parkes (NAT, -15.5%), Riverina (NAT, -9.4%, Michael McCormack) and Eden-Monaro (ALP, -4.4%) are all under the permitted variation. Hume (LIB, +6.5%, Angus Taylor) and Gilmore (ALP, +4.1%) are the only seats over quota. Macquarie (ALP, -9.1%) on the western edge of Sydney will likely be resolved by a boundary adjustment with the Sydney seats of Lindsay or Mitchell.
Alternatively, the Hawkesbury region of Macquarie could be added to a Sydney north shore seat and Macquarie stretch west to Lithgow and Bathurst. That is an alignment that has only been used once in the last forty years. It would have the consequence of making it more likely a country seat would be abolished.
Overall the area from New England anti-clockwise round to Hume and Cunningham has 0.4 seats too many seats for voters. If New England moves west, Parkes needs even more voters, but where from? You can see Riverina being scavenged to shore up enrolments in other seats, but Riverina would then need to take voters from Eden-Monaro and Hume. That either pushes Eden-Monaro north with the likely consequence of pushing the southern Sydney seat of Hughes west into Liverpool, or Hume must push further into outer Sydney.
An alternative is to abolish a country seat. Abolish Riverina and put Wagga Wagga in Farrer. Abolish Parkes and put Broken Hill into Farrer, and re-unite the Riverina districts in Riverina. Calare would face a major re-arrangement.
Abolishing a country seat would draw Hume out of the metropolitan area, and drag Macarthur along with it and leave room for a new seat in south-west Sydney. Currently an entirely urban seat, Macarthur would return to one of its previous alignments combining the edge of Sydney with the Southern Highlands.
Northern Sydney Changes
The projected enrolments point to Sydney electorates requiring major surgery. Central Sydney is filled with under quota divisions, the metropolitan area framed by a halo of over-quota divisions.
The north shore has seven seats but only 6.4 quotas of electors. Working in from the coast, everything is under quota until you reach Mitchell.
The three teal seats along the coast and harbour are all under quota, Mackellar (-9.0%, Sophie Scamps), Warringah (-18.3%, Zali Steggall) and North Sydney (-13.2%, Kylea Tink). If is an the past, Mackellar shifts south and Warringah west, then North Sydney is either squeezed off the map, or pushes significantly into Bradfield (LIB held) or Bennelong (ALP held).
With Liberal held Bradfield (-15.5%, Paul Fletcher) and Berowra (-15.8%, Julian Leeser) both well under quota, there is a high likelihood one of these two seats or North Sydney will be abolished. There is likely to be a seat centred on Hornsby on the upper north shore, and Mitchell (LIB held, +14.6% quota, Alex Hawke) will move east, which has consequence for over quota Labor held seats to the west.
The current Windsor Road boundary between Mitchell and Greenway (ALP held, +11.2%, Michelle Rowland) is one of the clearest in Sydney and stands out on electoral maps going back decades. It is also the boundary between Blacktown City Council and The Hills Shire. It is the boundary between Liberal heartland on the north shore, and Labor's territory in Sydney's western suburbs.
On the published enrolments, it seems hard to find a way not to draw a boundary that crosses Windsor Road. Perhaps the shortfall in the north can be solved by transferring voters to Macquarie (ALP held, -9.1%), but this may still not be enough to stop Windsor Road being crossed. As I mentioned in discussing country electorates, Macquarie could be split, Hawkesbury Council added to Mitchell or Greenway, keeping the Windsor Road boundary and pushing Macquarie west to Bathurst.
Another way to keep Windsor Road is adjustments in the lower Hills between Mitchell, Bennelong (ALP, -7.8%, Jerome Laxale) and Parramatta (ALP, -7.8%, Andrew Charlton). As with skinning the proverbial cat, there is more than one way to draw electoral boundaries. How the boundaries are drawn along the line from Parramatta to Windsor will be interesting to observe in the party submissions.
South of the Harbour
The area between Parramatta, Villawood and the coast in Sydney's east is 0.75 quotas short of the current seat numbers. Will this result in a seat being abolished, or will there just be a general shift west of all existing seats?
The problems begin at South Head with Wentworth (IND held, -21.0% quota, Allegra Spender), Kingsford Smith (ALP, -6.8%, Matt Thistlethwaite), Sydney (ALP, -6.1%, Tanya Plibersek), Grayndler (ALP, -14.0%, Anthony Albanese), then every seat to the west between 5% and 8% under quota. How will these shortfalls be dealt with?
Bringing Wentworth back within quota causes major changes to Sydney and Kingsford Smith, and that propagates through Grayndler, Barton, Reid and beyond. Do Watson or Blaxland further west disappear, or do all seats get pushed further west to absorb surplus to quota votes in western and south-western Sydney?
Does in-quota Cook, held by Scott Morrison, get pushed back south of the Georges River. That and other possible changes south to the Victorian border have implications for Hughes (LIB, -7.0%). State electorates in the area covered by Hughes have been pushing into south-west Sydney in recent state redistributions.
Another way to fix Hughes would be to abolish Banks (LIB, -7.8%, David Coleman) and push Hughes into southern parts of Canterbury-Bankstown Council. Depending on which name Commissioners want to retain, the name Banks could be retained, and Blaxland (ALP, -5.3%, Jason Clare) disappear, freeing up numbers for Reid (ALP, -3.0%) and Watson (ALP, -4.8%, Tony Burke).
Commissioners want to keep seats named after former Prime Ministers, which is why Banks and Blaxland are more likely to disappear than Hughes, Reid, Watson or Barton (ALP, -5.9%, Linda Burney). Of all the current electorate names, Grayndler has the least historical importance, but abolishing the Prime Minister's seat would be unusual. There are other options.
The New Seat
In Sydney's south-west, Macarthur (ALP held, +32.5% to quota) and Werriwa (ALP, +22.7%) between them have half a seat of excess electors. Further north Greenway (ALP, +11.2%), Chifley (ALP, +14.7%) and Lindsay (LIB, +11.4%) need to shed voters. In-between McMahon (ALP, -2.9%, Chris Bowen) and Fowler (IND, -1.5%, Dai Le) do not need to change, but will change to cope with the excess in surrounding seats.
The general rule is that the redistribution commissioners start drawing Sydney seats on the coast and work inland. As each redrawn division eats into the territory of its neighbours to the west, the changes to seats grow in magnitude.
By the time you reach western Sydney, the changes to electoral boundaries can be massive. Decisions made on abolishing seats further east will impact on what happens in western and south-western Sydney.
Whatever else happens elsewhere, there will be a new seat in Sydney's outer south-west. If the redistribution does not involve crossing Sydney's south-west boundary, then it is possible a seat will be abolished both north and south of the harbour and a new seat created in Sydney's south-west. This scenario might still involve Hume moving into Sydney's south-west.
If a country seat is abolished, then there will still be a Sydney seat abolished, a new seat created in Sydney's south-west, and a seat like Macarthur might end up extending into the Southern Highlands.
Whichever way the redistribution goes, the boundary changes for NSW are going to be major and with important political implications.