Caveat 27 July – This post was one I was unable to complete before I left for overseas at the end of June. I am publishing it here in partly completed form as I believe the changes to state representation in the House of Representatives could be released as early as today. I hope to update this post next week after I return from overseas.
In brief – The determination of House seats to be released by the Electoral Commissioner in the next week will see NSW lose a seat at the next Federal election, reduced from 47 to 46 seats. High growth rates on Sydney’s south-west fringe makes it likely a seat will be abolished in Sydney’s middle distance suburbs, possibly on the North Shore where all seats are well under quota. Abolishing a Sydney seat would draw the seat of Hume into south-west Sydney.
Another possibility is that two seats will be abolished, one in Sydney, one in the country with Hume pulled out of the metropolitan area and a new seat created on Sydney’s south-west fringe.
The redistribution will have major political consequences for both sides of politics as well as the independents.
For the Liberal Party, Bradfield (Paul Fetcher), Berowra (Julian Leeser) and Mitchell (Alex Hawke) will undergo major boundary changes, and one of these seats may even be abolished. Hughes (Jenny Ware) in Sydney’s south may be moved significantly into Sydney’s south-west suburbs. The rural seats of Farrer (Sussan Ley) may undergo major changes, and there is a chance that Hume (Angus Taylor) could be pulled into outer Sydney suburbs around Campbelltown. In between these two seats, the National seat of Riverina (Michael McCormack) may be forced to adopt new boundaries.
For Labor, any seat abolished on Sydney’s north shore would have major implications for Bennelong (Jerome Laxale), Parramatta (Andrew Charlton) and Greenway (Michelle Rowland).
North Sydney (Kylea Tink) is certain to have major changes flowing on from adjustments required to increase enrolments for the coastal seats of Mackellar (Sophie Scamps) and Warringah (Zali Steggall). Distance from the coast mean that the boundaries for Fowler (Dai Le) are likely to undergo major change.
The Broad Picture
With seven years since the last NSW redistribution, disparities in enrolment are much greater than in either Victoria or Western Australia, both of which underwent redistributions only three years ago. The need to abolish a seat, plus rapid growth on Sydney’s south-west fringe make for a complex redistribution. The Hawkesbury River and Blue Mountains are strong boundaries for the greater Sydney region, leaving seats south-west of Sydney along the Hume Highway carrying the weight of balancing country and urban numbers.
While redistribution coverage tends to concentrate on which seats are abolished or created, the political geography of Sydney and the moving south-west boundary with country seats mean that there are always political implications well beyond just the seat or seats abolished.
(Note: happy to add comments with people’s views on how the new boundaries might be drawn.)
Why will there be a Redistribution?
One year after every Federal election, the Australian Electoral Commissioner is required to make a determination on how many House of Representatives members each state will elect at the next election. Commissioner Tom Rogers will make that determination in the last week of July based on Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) quarterly population statistics published on 15 June.
The Commissioner has no personal choice in making the determination. The method is strictly defined in law. For states the Commissioner will apply the formula set out in Section 24 of the Constitution. For the Territories the Commissioner will use the formula set out in the Electoral Act. The High Court and parliament have determined that the Constitution’s reference to the “latest statistics of the Commonwealth” is the ABS statistics mentioned above.
The published figures show Victoria will lose a seat (see my previous post on Victorian redistribution prospects), as will New South Wales. Western Australia will gain a seat. (see my post on the Western Australian federal redistribution). The House of Representatives will be reduced from 151 to 150 seats at the next election.
Once Commissioner Rogers issues his determination at the end of July, redistributions will get underway immediately. Based on past experience, the new boundaries will be in place by mid-2024. The process will be over before the traditional election window opens between August 2024 and May 2025.
While seats are allocated to states based on population, redistributions within each state are conducted based on enrolment. All new seats must have an enrolment within 10% of the state average. A second quota also applies based on projected enrolments. All newly drawn districts should have an average projected enrolment within 3.5% of the state average.
The narrower projected quota has more impact on the redistribution than current enrolment and forces the drawing of boundaries to take account of slow and fast growing areas.
Within the quota restrictions, the Redistribution Commissioners can take account of –
- community of interests within proposed districts, including economic, social and regional interests
- means of communication and travel within the proposed district
- the physical features and area of the proposed district
- the boundaries of existing districts
It is hard to make comment on the projected enrolment numbers as they will not be published until after the redistribution process begins.
This post has been prepared based on enrolment figures as at 30 April 2023. These will be updated to the start date of the redistribution process, but this post will comment on how the redistribution might unfold based on current enrolments.
(Enrolment figures for June 2023 have now been released but should have only minor variations from the April figures analysed below.)
Current Enrolment Numbers
As at 30 April there were 5,538,119 voters on the electoral roll in NSW.
With 46 seats to be drawn, a provisional quota based on the 30 April enrolments is 120,393. This is around 2,500 electors more than required for a 47-district quota.
All new districts must have an enrolment within 10% of the state average, that is between 108,354 and 132,432. Currently two districts are more than 10% over quota and six seats more than 10% under quota.
30 April enrolment numbers and variations from a 46 seat quota are shown in a table at the bottom of the page.
The map below shows electorate variations from a 46 seats enrolment quota for non-Sydney electorates. Variations are shown as percentages, shades to red indicating below quota, shades to blue above quota.
North Coast, Hunter Valley Central Coast
All of the North Coast is slightly over quota, and projected enrolment looks certain to require both Cowper and Lyne to shed voters. But where to? It can't be to the south where both Paterson and Hunter are over quota. Paterson currently contains Maitland, Kurri Kurri and Nelson Bay but cannot continue to contain all three. Something needs to be moved out of the region, probably into New England. Could Muswellbrook be transferred? Hunter can be made safer for Labor at the expense of Labor's margin in Paterson, but I'm not sure Labor would like that option.
Producing a set of hunter and lower north coast boundaries to bring seats back within quota looks like being a complex game of jigsaw driven by the tyranny of numbers.
On current enrolments several seats sit right on quota, but it is highly likely all will be below the projected quota, Parkes a long way short of quota.
What to do? Parts of Eden-Monaro west of the ACT could be transferred to Riverina, but that could push Whitlam up into the Southern Highlands, or push Hughes out of the Sutherland Shire and into Sydney's south-west.
Another option (which depends on how the North Shore is re-drawn) would be to push Macquarie west into Lithgow and Bathurst, almost certainly requiring Calare or Riverina to be abolished. Or the western end of Hume becomes the saving numbers for Riverina, the Commissioners consider switching Wagga Wagga into Farrer, and Hume becomes based in Camden and Campbelltown. That won't be good news for Liberal frontbencher Angus Taylor, and may end up seeing Michael McCormack and Sussan Ley contesting the same seat.
Or Riverina is abolished, Hume withdraws from the metropolitan area, and a new seat gets created in outer south-west Sydney. (On a side-note, Riverina no longer covers the whole Riverina, is likely to cover even less if retained, and perhaps it is time the seat was given a new name if it is retained.)
Sydney's North Shore
(See Sydney variations map below)
Sydney Harbour and the Hawkesbury River have not been crossed by electoral boundaries for half a century. Windsor/Old Windsor Roads, the boundary between The Hills and Blacktown Councils, has been another boundary not crossed for decades. That leaves a small gap which causes Parramatta to slid north and south depending on numbers. When Parramatta shifts north it becomes a Liberal seat, when it shifts south a Labor seats. On current numbers shifting south looks likely.
The area between Windsor Road and the coast north of the harbour is a full 0.6 quotas short of the present number of seats. It is highly likely one of these seats will be abolished, or Mitchell will need to be augmented by gaining the Hawkesbury Council end of Macquarie (which would cause a major re-arrangement of the state's central west), or Mitchell would cross Windsor Road to include northern parts of Labor-held Greenway.
Boundaries start being drawn along the coast. Mackellar should be drawn first and could eat into northern parts of Warringah, which would cause Warringah to push into North Sydney. Bennelong and Bradfield would need re-arrangement by shifting west. If Berowra loses Hornsby to Bradfield, it seems hard to see how Berowra doesn't end up being abolished. If so, Mitchell would move north and Greenway might cross Windsor Road, or if Berowra stays, Mitchell will need to undergo massive boundary changes.
Either way, it seems likely the new boundaries will create problems for the Independents in Warringah and North Sydney, and result in a major internal Liberal brawl on who would be pre-selected for which seat in north-west Sydney.
South of the Harbour
As north of the harbour, all seats south of the harbour are under quota but there is more obvious room for them to shift west and south-west. With boundaries starting to be drawn from the coast, Wentworth will pick up normally Labor voting areas from Sydney, which should help Independent Allegra Spender. Every seat will shift west, and the only question will be whether a seat is also abolished in the process.
Much of this will depend on what happens north of Windsor Road (see above) as well as the fate of Hughes south of the Georges River. If the northern boundary of Cook reverts to its more traditional alignment on the Georges River, Hughes must move west, but how far? With Macarthur and Werriwa so over quota, either Hume or Hughes will be pulled in to south-west Sydney to soak up the over enrolments. Or if a country seat is abolished, a new seat will be needed around Camden and Campbelltown as Hume shifts south-west.
As elsewhere, re-drawing boundaries to absorb the surplus votes in Sydney's south-west will be a complex jigsaw puzzle.
Abolishing a seat in NSW has several solutions and all have major consequences for seats right across the state. Major geographical boundaries create problems for the Redistribution Commissioners within Sydney and in parts of the state like the Hunter and North Coast.
The order boundaries are drawn, starting in the corners of the state, and along the coast in Sydney, has major consequences for electoral boundaries far distant from where the Commissioners start drawing.
All sides of politics will put forward their solutions, cloaked in the words of community of interest but really about political advantage.
It will be the unenviable task of the Redistribution Commissioners to work out the best way to turn 47 seats into 46.
Current 47 NSW Divisions - Variation from 46-seat Quota
|Kingsford Smith||ALP 14.5||115,352||-5,041||-4.2|
|New England||NAT 16.4||114,842||-5,551||-4.6|
|North Sydney||IND held||112,112||-8,281||-6.9|