The next step in the re-draw of Victoria’s federal electoral boundaries has begun today with a call for submissions and the release of base enrolment data.
Victoria is losing a seat at the next Federal election, the state’s representation reduced from 39 to 38 seats.
Victoria gained a 39th seat ahead of the 2022 election, but a decline in the state’s relative population compared to other states will see Victoria revert to 38 seats. One of the state’s 39 seats is to be abolished, but it is unlikely to be the new seat of Hawke first contested in 2022.
The two year immigration halt caused by Covid, combined with on-going internal migration by Victorians to other states, is why the state is losing a seat.
Of the state’s 39 seats, 14 are below the permitted variation from projected enrolment quota. Thirteen of these seats cover parts of Melbourne and all will need to gain voters. Seats in regional Victoria are mostly within the permitted variation and will be largely untouched by the redistribution.
(I’m happy to publish comments on how people think the redistribution will unfold. Read on into the post for my thoughts.)
Setting the Quotas
The abolition of a seat will cause an increase in average enrolment of around 3,000 electors per division.
Two quotas apply for the redistribution, a current enrolment quota set for 9 August 2023, and a projected enrolment quota for 17 April 2028.
On current enrolments, the 38 new districts must have enrolments within 10% of the current enrolment quota set at 116,894 electors. All new divisions must have enrolments between 105,204 and 128,583. All districts currently sit within the allowed variation, but one seat must still be abolished.
More important to the redistribution is the tighter projected quota rules, with all districts required to be within 3.5% of quota. The projected enrolment quota is 127,238. All new divisions must have a projected enrolment in the narrower band between 122,785 and 131,691.
There are no districts above the 3.5% projected upper enrolment bound but 15 below the lower bound. Of the 15, 12 are in the metropolitan area. The 13th is McEwen, which extends beyond Melbourne’s northern metropolitan boundary, while further west the regional seats of Ballarat and Bendigo are under quota.
With all seats within the allowed variation from current enrolment quota, where new boundaries will be drawn is going to be determined entirely by the projected quota. All re-drawn seats that meet the projected quota will also be within the permitted variation from current enrolment quota.
With regional Victoria needing minimal change, it is certain that a seat will be abolished in Melbourne. The question is whether a seat will go east of the Yarra, or to the west and north of the Yarra.
Whichever side of the Yarra a seat is abolished, it will have major flow on consequences. There is a strong possibility that the Yarra will have to be significantly crossed somewhere along its length.
The 2020/21 redistribution set many regional seats above quota based on projected slow growth. Some remain above quota in 2023 even with the increased quota created by abolishing a seat, though all are under the permitted variation.
The 10 seats that can be classed as regional and rural, running clockwise from Corio to Monash, contain 9.87 quotas worth of voters. It may be that the edges of Melbourne are nibbled at to re-balance the country, but only Ballarat, Bendigo and the peri-metropolitan seat of McEwen have to change.
The map below colour codes all 39 divisions based on percentage above or below the 38 seat projected quota. Dark brown seats are more than 3.5% under quota and must gain electors. Yellow divisions lie in the permitted 3.5% under quota range, while the light green seats are over quota but within the 3.5% permitted variation.
You can use this map to drill down and look at Melbourne seats, but a larger Melbourne-only map is included and discussed further down the page.
When Victorian electoral boundaries are drawn, the first seats drawn tend to be those in the state's corners, Gippsland, Indi, Mallee and Wannon. As the map shows, none of these seats require change though there may be some tweaks. All the seats in rural and regional Victoria can be drawn before larger changes are required closer to Melbourne.
Most attention will be given to the regional seats of Ballarat and Bendigo, and McEwen on Melbourne's edge. There are enough numbers in surrounding seats to fix Bendigo, and a number of options to increase enrolment in Ballarat and McEwen by absorbing areas from the neighbouring metropolitan seat of Hawke. Taking voters from Hawke will increase the chances of a seat being abolished in Western Melbourne.
Monash to the east of Melbourne and covering the La Trobe Valley and west Gippsland may also see some boundary adjustments, perhaps absorbing semi-rural areas lost to La Trobe in the last redistribution.
Abolish a Melbourne seat - east or west of the Yarra?
The map below makes clear that the new quota leaves most Melbourne seats under quota. In total 12 seats must gain voters to reach the lower bound 3.5% variation from quota. Only three seats are above quota and do not require change.
The redistribution is going to be a cross between a jigsaw puzzle and playing a giant game of pass the parcel. From wherever the Redistribution Commissioners start drawing boundaries, every seat will need to increase its enrolment, cannabalising neighbouring seats until at some point an entire seat will disappear.
There are 16 seats east and south of the Yarra that are in total half a quota short of retaining 16 seats. North and west of the Yarra there are 13 seats and in total they are 0.4 quotas short of retaining 13 seats.
Wherever a seat is abolished, it is likely a seat will need to cross the Yarra to balance the population trends. But where to do it?
Will Macnamara be split with Southbank and Port Melbourne added to a seat across the river? Will the Yarra be crossed in it upper reaches, currently the boundary between Jagajaga and Menzies?
The map below again highlights below permitted quota variation seats in dark brown. The geographic size of Hawke and McEwen makes it appear that a seat must go west of the Yarra. The numbers also point to a western Melbourne seat going, with six of 13 seats in Melbourne's west and north below the allowed 3.5% variation compared to only five of 16 to the east.
Port Phillip Bay and the lower course of the Yarra tends to be the starting points for drawing boundaries. East of the Yarra, this sees Macnamara, Higgins, Kooyong and Goldstein drawn first. Low current enrolment and slow enrolment growth will cause these seats to grow eastward into neighbouring below quota seats.
There would be a similar pattern west of the Yarra, starting with Gellibrand and Melbourne, then working north and west.
But with enrolments so evenly balanced on either side of the Yarra, just drawing boundaries outwards from inner-Melbourne will be harder at this redistribution. All the major shortfalls are in outer Melbourne. The Redistribution Commissioners are going to need a strategy for drawing whole regions rather than simply cannibalising seats while moving outwards towards Melbourne's edge.
Working out that strategy makes submissions to the Redistribution Commission more important than normal.
If a seat is to be abolished west of the Yarra, then the seats to watch are Wills and Maribyrnong. Hawke may be under quota, but a newly created electorate named after Australia's third longest serving Prime Minister is not going to be abolished, though its boundaries could undergo radical surgery. Burke was abolished two decades ago so why not Wills as well? Maribyrnong as one of the few remaining Melbourne seats with a geographic name could also attract attention.
Other seats may undergo major changes but retain an existing name. Fraser, Scullin and Gorton are named after former Prime Minister while Cooper and Jagajaga are named after significant Indigenous Australians.
Gellibrand might be up for a name review, but being based on Williamstown gives the seat a geographic anchor that makes it unlikely to be abolished. Seats that could be abolished include Calwell and McEwen, neither having a clear geographic anchor and both named after lesser known politicians. (OK, no more messages. Jack McEwen briefly served as Prime Minister.)
If a seat is abolished west and north of the Yarra, a seat to the east of the Yarra will have to cross the river to take in eastern parts of McEwen and Jagajaga. There is a high likelihood the redistribution will produce a new upper Yarra seat on both sides of the river. Menzies and Casey are the seats most likely to slip into the void created by the abolition of a western Melbourne seat.
If a seat is abolished east rather than west of the Yarra, there is a strong chance the same upper Yarra seat could be drawn but end up being called McEwen. The abolition of an eastern Melbourne seat would most likely see either Chisholm or Hotham abolished.
Assuming seats like Macnamara, Higgins, Goldstein and Kooyong grow to reach the new quota, changes to seats further east will be amplified. The need for seats in inner Melbourne and outer south-east Melbourne to grow will push outer eastern Melbourne seats north. Unless an eastern Melbourne seat is abolished, the likelihood is that outer eastern and south-eastern Melbourne seats will shift north, and one electorate will end up straddling the Yarra in Melbourne's outer north-east.
In the end the redistribution looks set to make a choice between abolishing a western seat and rotating electorates clockwise, or abolishing a seat in the east and rotating seats anti-clockwise.