(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.