Prospects for the Federal Redistribution in Western Australia

In brief – Western Australia will gain a 16th seat for the next Federal election. A redistribution drawing boundaries for 16 seats will begin later this year. Current enrolments mean that most of the state’s current districts will need to shed electors. The geography of the state points to the new seat being created in Perth’s east.

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. The determination will be made based on the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) quarterly population statistics. The latest population figures by state and territory, for the fourth quarter of 2022, will be released on Thursday this week.

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 Constitution also states that the Commissioner will use the “latest statistics of the Commonwealth”, a phrase the High Court and Parliament has determined will be the quarterly population statistics, that is Thursday’s ABS release.

(Update: After release of the ABS statistics, I have published a post setting out in full the formula allocating representation to states.)

Based on the trend in quarterly population statistics since 2020, it is certain that Western Australia will gain a seat with both Victoria and New South Wales set to lose a seat. Queensland is close to gaining a seat, but whether it does will depend on Thursday’s release. If Queensland’s numbers are unchanged, the changes in other states will reduce the House of Representatives from 151 to 150 seats at the next election.

Any change in seat entitlement for a state triggers a redistribution drawing boundaries for the new allocation of seats.

In this post I will concentrate on how the redistribution could unfold in Western Australia with posts on other states to follow in the next few days.

(Note: happy to add comments with people’s views on how the new boundaries might be drawn.)

Redistribution Rules

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.

But we do have the most recent enrolment figures as at 30 April 2023. These will be updated to the start date of the redistribution process, but it is possible to comment on how the redistribution might unfold given the current enrolments.

Current Enrolment Numbers

As at 30 April there were 1,799,764 voters on the electoral roll in Western Australia.

With 16 seats to be drawn, a provisional quota based on the 30 April enrolments is 112,485 electors. This is around 7,500 electors fewer than required for 15 districts.

All current districts are currently above this provisional quota. All new districts must have an enrolment within 10% of the state average, that is between 101,236 and 123,733. With only three years since the last redistribution, all districts are currently below the upper enrolment bound.

Current Divisional Enrolment and Variation

Western Australia is not so much gaining a 16th seat as regaining the seat it lost in the 2020 apportionment. That loss was caused by slower population growth in the wind down of the mining construction boom. In 2023 the two year Covid19 immigration hiatus has altered population relativities. WA has continued to grow thanks to interstate migration, while Victoria and NSW were cut off from the overseas migration tap that usually counteracts both state’s internal population loss to other states.

The table below shows Western Australia’s 15 current divisions, the current holding party and margin as well as enrolment on 30 April. All 15 divisions currently have enrolments above the new 16-seat quota. The final two columns show the elector variation from the new quota and the percentage or quota variation in the final column.

For the discussion that follows, the electorates have been listed with regional divisions first, then Perth divisions north of the Swan River, then Perth Divisions south of the Swan. The Perth divisions are listed running inland from coastal seats to the eastern edge of Perth.

‘*’ indicates divisions gained by Labor at the 2022 election.

WA Divisions – Variation from 16-seat Quota

Enrolment Variation
Division Margin Enrolment Votes Percentage
Regional seats (Total 0.148 quotas over)
Durack LIB 4.3 119,378 +6,893 +6.1
O’Connor LIB 7.0 119,330 +6,845 +6.1
Forrest LIB 4.3 115,522 +3,037 +2.7
Perth North of the Swan Divisions (Total 0.458 quotas over)
Curtin * IND 1.3 120,116 +7,631 +6.8
Moore LIB 0.7 120,089 +7,604 +6.8
Pearce * ALP 9.0 118,169 +5,684 +5.1
Perth * ALP 14.8 122,940 +10,455 +9.3
Cowan ALP 10.8 123,358 +10,873 +9.7
Hasluck * ALP 6.0 121,592 +9,107 +8.1
Perth South of the Swan Divisions (Total 0.394 quotas over)
Fremantle ALP 16.9 118,994 +6,509 +5.8
Brand ALP 16.7 121,539 +9,054 +8.0
Tangney * ALP 2.4 122,670 +10,185 +9.1
Swan * ALP 8.8 121,820 +9,335 +8.3
Burt ALP 15.2 115,752 +3,267 +2.9
Canning LIB 3.6 118,495 +6,010 +5.3

Changes to the Regional Divisions

The map below is dominated by the giant seats of Durack and O’Connor. This makes it hard to see variation in metropolitan divisions so a second map concentrating on Perth is seat out down the page.

The vast electorates of Durack and O'Connor are both 6.1% over current quota. Both electorates have low rates of growth so both seats could be untouched by the redistribution. It is possible upper Swan Valley areas around Bullsbrook could be transferred from Durack to a Perth seat and there may also be other tinkering with the rural areas abutting Canning in Perth's south-east.

Forrest is only 2.7% over quota but has a higher population growth rate and would require at most only minor changes.

The release of projected enrolment numbers will give a clearer picture of possible changes to regional boundaries, but it is clear that most major boundary changes will be confined to the Perth region.

Changes to Perth Divisions

The map below shows the 12 Perth divisions. If you hover/tap any of the divisions you can see their name and their variation from the new 16 seat quota. As the colouring makes clear, all 12 electorates are over quota, six of them more than 8% over-quota.

It is very unusual for the Swan River to be crossed by electoral boundaries down river from Guilford. The drawing of boundaries almost always begins at the Swan River's mouth, drawing Curtin and Fremantle before moving inland.

North of the Swan, the Redistribution Commissioners could choose to retain the three current seats along the coast, Curtin, Moore and Pearce. The only factor working against this alignment is the high enrolment growth at the northern end of Pearce.

If there are still three coastal seats, they will shed electors to the east into Cowan, Perth and Hasluck, all of which are already well over quota. As the furthest away from the coast, Hasluck will undergo the greatest change. It is currently based the rapidly growing Ellenbrook area in the upper Swan Valley as well as the Perth suburbs in the Darling Range. It may be that the seat currently called Hasluck becomes an entirely Swan Valley based seat. It may need to include some slow growing areas to counteract growth around Ellenbrook.

In total the six seats north of the Swan have enough voters for six and a half seats. The creep of boundaries towards the ocean will leave enough voters in suburbs in the Darling Range and around Midland-Guilford to be the base for a new seat.

South of the Swan, Fremantle, Brand, Tangney and Swan must shed voters and all are likely to creep north and west towards Fremantle. There is a high probability that Canning will contract towards Mandurah in the south, leaving parts of south-east Perth around Armadale to be merged with the surplus north of the Swan. This would probably produce major changes to the boundaries of Burt.

If the new eastern Perth seat is too elongated north-south to accommodate a sensible community of interest, it may be others seats will need to adopt a new alignment.

There are many ways that the boundaries can be drawn, but the key point to make about the redistribution in Perth is that the seats close to the Indian Ocean are likely to see the least change, with the rolling transfer of enrolments creating greater change further inland and leaving room for a new seat in Perth's east.

On another note, what I have described is the creation of a new and unnamed seat in Perth's east. It may be this seat retains the name Hasluck and it is a seat further west that becomes the new district name on WA's electoral map.

6 thoughts on “Prospects for the Federal Redistribution in Western Australia”

  1. Where was the old 16th seat based? I’d imagine it the new map would look similar to that one, unless enrollment / growth areas necessitate the seat being located elsewhere.

    COMMENT: The abolished seat was Stirling, previously squeezed between Curtin, Cowan and Moore. At the time Pearce only included the very top end of Perth’s northern beaches and stretched east to include both Ellenbrook and the Avon Valley. It was way over quota, and the projected enrolment numbers will make it very difficult to put the northern beaches and Ellenbrook back into the same seat. If a seat like Stirling was re-created (and I doubt it would have the same name), it would shove everything west and Hasluck would end up where I suggested the new seat be created. Given you can have three seats along the coast with clear boundaries, I’d be surprised if they went back to four seats with northern Perth beach frontages. But it will be governed by the numbers.

  2. I think removing the north-eastern section of Swan makes a lot of sense for a community of interest perspective. I think given your observations and data, I can see a new seat roughly appearing in the old rural section of former Pearce around Northam and then take a lot of current eastern Hasluck, with Hasluck slightly moving west taking on small parts of Cowan, Perth and north-east Swan. And then Tangney to cede part of its south-east to Burt.

    I’m no expert, but at a glance that seems to make sense.

  3. I feel the easiest way would be to convert Hasluck and Canning into 3 Divisions instead of 2.

    One seat covering Midland, Ellenbrook and maybe pushing westwards into Ballajura and Beechboro (which helps Cowan and Perth absorb the northern suburbs excess).

    One seat covering the Darling Range and the foothills suburbs (absorbing the excess from the south-eastern seats)

    One seat covering Mandurah and the Peel area.

    Depends on the numbers but that’s how I see the general arrangement going…..

  4. While it would be good from a communities of interest perspective to have the new seat taking in all of Darling Range and the Foothills (think bits of east Burt, east Swan and south Hasluck), in my view this is unlikely due to the fact that this community would take in only ~125k people at best. (from my rough calculations)

    What is more likely (in my view) is that the new seat is created from the portions of western Burt, south-east Tangney, south west Fremantle and northern Brand. This grouping contains both rapidly growing communities like Treeby and Wandi, and also older, slow-growth suburbs like Thornlie. Drawing a seat bound by Thomas Road, Roe Highway, Kwinana Freeway and the Huntingdale-Gosnells boundary will create a new seat of roughly ~170k population, taking pressure off Fremantle, Tangney and Brand.

    While this may seem counter-intuitive at first, this will allow Burt to stretch east and south, taking in Byford/Roleystone from Canning (allowing it to shrink to Mandurah/Peel only) and eastwards to Forrestfield and Kalamunda to take pressure off Swan and Hasluck respectively. Then as Alex W says, this will allow Hasluck to shift to a slow-growth area like Beechboro/Lockridge in east Cowan, allowing Cowan to shift slightly west/south/north to take pressure off Moore, Perth and Pearce if required.

    There is also the off-chance that Canning could shift south to take in northern Forrest, which will allow Forrest to expand slightly east to Collie and take pressure off O’Connor. Obviously, the Commission could choose to name the new seat Burt and give the reconfigured Burt a new name, but in my view these changes mentioned above factor in communities of interest as well as keeping seats roughly equal-sized.

  5. When there are vast differences in population growth between various areas, the boundaries are effectively determined by the much narrower projected enrolment requirement. This growth will create a strong pull to the growth corridors and will definitely pull Pearce coastwards and in my opinion probably leave space for a new north eastern metropolitan division.

    It could also require changes to the boundary between slow growth divisions like O’Connor and Durack. Although the different population centres within these divisions make a sensible border hard to create. The state redistribution highlights these problems.

    It will be so interesting to see the differences in growth when we get these figures when the redistribution kicks off.

  6. I’m sure the ALP would have liked to gain Curtin – if for the laughs if nothing else. It certainly would have made the fall of Tangney a very minor footnote in the election.

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