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WA redistribution and Canning – open thread

There are two major electoral events in Western Australia which kicked off last week. I’m still working on maps for these projects, so this is an open thread for discussion on these topics until later this week.

The draft electoral boundaries for the 2017 WA state election were released on Friday. I’ll be publishing an interactive map later this week. In the meantime, Antony Green has described the changes, and calculated estimated margins, at ABC Elections.

A federal by-election is also due for the WA seat of Canning following the death last week of Liberal MP Don Randall. I’m also working on a guide for the by-election, which should be up later this week.

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Map update – WA ward maps

Western Australia will be holding council elections on 17 October 2015 – over the course of the subsequent year, there will be local government elections across Australia’s four largest states.

Since the 2008 elections, I’ve produced ward maps for councils in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, but until now I’ve never done maps for Western Australia.

Over the last month or so, I’ve been working on a map of Western Australia’s local council wards, as of the last council election in 2013.

You can download the map here.

I’m now working on updated ward maps for Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia. Conveniently, the electoral commissions provide a neat summary of which councils are changing their wards, along with the timelines and all relevant information. I’m not so lucky in the case of New South Wales and Western Australia.

In both cases, I am going to assume that councils without wards are undergoing no changes, and then go through the painstaking process of identifying which warded councils require changes, and identifying the new boundaries for those councils which are undergoing changes. If you have information about a warded council in NSW or WA, I’d appreciate it if you posted the information as a comment.

In the meantime, you’ll likely hear from me next when the next round of draft boundaries from the various federal, state and territory redistributions are released.

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Yes, rules matter, and they need to be fixed

On Saturday, Fairfax newspapers published an op-ed from Richard Denniss, chief economist at The Australia Institute, arguing against the proposed reforms to abolish group voting tickets (GVT) and introduce optional preferential voting (OPV) for Senate elections.

Unfortunately the article gets quite a lot wrong about the current arrangements, why there is a need for change, and who is supporting the change. I have written about group voting ticket reform a number of times recently (see this and this).

I wanted to specifically address a number of the claims Denniss makes in his op-ed. I’m going to respond to a number of the things he says, below the fold. There’s a lot to say. If you want a high-level summary of why reform is necessary, check out my two links above, or this piece from Antony Green.

Denniss correctly states that the process of deciding on our voting system is very serious, and it’s for this reason that reform is desperately needed. The current Senate voting rules are broken, and if we care about public faith in democracy and fair election results, change is needed.

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Brisbane – draft ward boundaries released

BCCredistThe Electoral Commission of Queensland on Friday released its draft boundaries for the 26 wards covering the City of Brisbane – Australia’s biggest local council.

The process is similar to processes followed for state, territory and federal electoral redistributions, a number of which are currently taking place. In December, I posted about the prospects for the redistribution.

Despite the twelve northern wards being substantially larger than the fourteen wards south of the Brisbane river, the ECQ has chosen to not draw a ward crossing the river, thus leaving the north with twelve wards, all slightly larger than the fourteen on the south side.

In this blog post, I will describe what changes have taken place, and what they mean for the electoral landscape of Brisbane. I’ve also included an interactive map of the new boundaries.

You can now download the draft boundary map here. In the next few months I will also prepare updated maps for all the other councils in Queensland undergoing ward redistributions, as well as those in three other states.

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Local government mergers – in WA and New Zealand

While New South Wales is currently undergoing a process of considering metropolitan council amalgamations, Western Australia has recently reached the unsuccessful conclusion of a similar process – which ended with a number of overwhelming ‘no’ votes in local referendums and an abandonment of the process in February 2015. New Zealand, which already has much larger councils than in most of Australia, is also currently considering a number of council mergers.

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NSW government pushing for council mergers

Local councils across Sydney are currently going through a process of making submissions to the state government’s ‘Fit For The Future’ program, which is aimed at judging councils on a bunch of criteria, seemingly with the goal of consolidating the number of local councils, producing a smaller number of more populous councils.

In practice, the criteria are largely arbitrary, based on some vague concept of “big is better”, and attitudes of local councils towards amalgamation seem based on base politics, with various councils effectively promoting hostile takeovers of their neighbours in ways that will help their political party solidify its hold.

Through the course of this month, each council in the Sydney region is making a submission to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) about how their council meets the criteria set by the NSW government as to whether they are ‘fit for the future’. This process has involved many councils undertaking consultation, and coming to decisions about their recommendations, which have focused on whether councils support amalgamating with their neighbours.

The criteria cover the capability of the council, along with its efficiency, financial sustainability and management of infrastructure. The other criteria, ‘scale’, seems to be particularly arbitrary – the government has set a presumption that councils should have a substantially larger population than they have now, which necessitates significant amalgamations regardless of how a council performs on the other criteria. No number has been set for this criteria, with various figures suggesting different figures throughout the process.

While the process is requiring councils to produce public submissions, there is no such requirement for the state government to be transparent in their decisions – the IPART decisions will remain secret, and we won’t know whether any decisions by the state government to recommend amalgamations was made based on an IPART recommendation, or despite IPART’s recommendations.

There are undoubtedly some parts of Sydney which could do with local council amalgamations (hello, Burwood and Hunters Hill), but it is very unclear how much Sydney councils would be improved through amalgamations. While there may be some efficiencies, these in part could come from reductions in duplicated services, which may not be appreciated by their residents, and there will be a substantial cost to amalgamate different councils. Different councils provide different levels of service, and it remains unclear whether amalgamated councils would raise all parts of the council area to the highest standard, or lower services to the minimum.

Many councils are already benefiting from efficiencies created by cooperation between councils, sharing procurement and other parts of a council’s work, through the existence of regional organisations.

Looking at the list of councils who have expressed an openness to amalgamation, it has little to do with which councils are in most need of amalgamation, but more to do with politics – larger councils attempting to take over their smaller neighbours, and councils finding ways to design new boundaries that benefit the politically-dominant faction. In some cases, councils which are not considered to be in any need of merger have launched attempts to take over their neighbours.

In most of these cases, these councils are run by Liberals or Liberal-aligned independents.

Warringah Council, which is already well above the average population, has launched a bid to merge with its neighbours in Manly and Pittwater, neither of which support amalgamation.

In the north-west, The Hills, another large conservative council, is seeking to take over Hawkesbury Shire, which has about one third of the population but covers a large swathe of north-western Sydney. Hawkesbury, despite its small population, was not targeted for amalgamation because it covers such a large area. Hornsby Shire has also proposed a merger with Ku-ring-gai, who have refused the overtures.

In the inner west, most councils have opposed amalgamation, but in some cases councils have adopted ‘back-up options’. Leichhardt Council has proposed an amalgamation with Canada Bay and Ashfield councils, which would produce a strange Y-shaped area, but would conveniently weaken the Greens, who topped the poll in Leichhardt in 2012.

Further out in the inner west, Auburn and Burwood councils both agreed to a merger with Canada Bay council, but Canada Bay rejected the proposal. The three-council merger proposal was already strange, as it would leave Strathfield council alone (one of the smallest with a population of 37,000) surrounded by a new council on three sides which would include a population of over 190,000. It’s even more ridiculous without Canada Bay, because Burwood and Auburn do not share a boundary. Auburn intends to still push for the merger despite Canada Bay’s objections.

While Auburn is eager to merge with councils to its east, it has been resistant to joining an enlarged City of Parramatta with Holroyd (which is also anti-amalgamation) and Parramatta, which is generally supportive. One wonders whether this is linked to the political make-up of the councils, and where the centre of gravity would lie in an Auburn-Burwood-Canada Bay council compared to a City of Greater Parramatta.

The most ridiculous case comes in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. The original proposal from the independent panel was to merge the councils of Botany Bay, Randwick, Waverley and Woollahra into the City of Sydney, so that Sydney would cover the entire eastern peninsula. The other four councils all oppose this option, but their tactics to prevent it have varied.

Waverley and Randwick councils, which both have substantial numbers of Labor and Greens councillors but are currently dominated by conservatives, have both supported mergers with Woollahra and Botany Bay councils respectively, and possibly as a merger of all four councils. In Randwick, the Greens have come on board with the Liberal plans to launch a hostile takeover of Botany Bay council, which is dominated by Labor and strongly opposed to a merger.

Woollahra council, which is also dominated by the Liberal Party, also rejects amalgamation – unlike its neighbours to the south, the Liberal Party has a solid hold on Woollahra which is unlikely to change. It seems like those ‘marginal Liberal’ councils may see amalgamation as a way to solidify their hold on the east.

Of course, we have no idea how seriously these local council positions will be taken. Apart from Randwick and Waverley, no two other neighbouring councils support merging with each other. So any mergers will require the overriding of councils, at which point it seems far more rational to draw new boundaries where the government sees the most need, rather than drawing them according to the short-term political interests of sitting councillors.

We also don’t know what other reforms could come along – the independent review panel also recommended direct election of mayors, and possibly other structural reforms. I would personally like to see larger councils (including those large councils that already exist) given a larger number of councils than the current limit of 15 – but the trend seems to be in the other direction, treating councils as ‘boards of directors’ which are easier to manage with less representation.

While local government in New South Wales isn’t perfect, triggering a frenzy of amalgamation pushes across Sydney won’t do much to improve it – so much of the problems local councils have relate to the costs that have been imposed on them by other levels of government, and the ways in which they are restricted in finding funds to cover their work. Consolidating local councils into larger units won’t do much at all to fix that fundamental problem, but that’s a story for another day.

The deadline for local council submissions is next Tuesday, 30 June, so we may well see solid proposals for council amalgamations, likely forced, later this year, in time for council elections in 2016.

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Why can’t Greater Sydney be run as a democracy?

There was a story yesterday about plans by the NSW government to form a “Greater Sydney Commission”, which would take charge of planning for development across Sydney, and seemingly also have some kind of responsibility for infrastructure and transport.

Apparently the Commission was announced in 2014, although I missed it at the time. It appears to be linked to the government’s ongoing plans for local government reform (which I will cover later this week), with the Commission effectively including both council and state government representatives and would take control of setting housing targets and a variety of other Sydney-wide planning concerns.

The Sun-Herald described the Commission as ‘London-style’, but there’s a critical difference. In London, where there is a city-wide Greater London Authority alongside local borough councils, the Authority is a democratic organisation, run by a directly-elected Mayor and a 25-member Assembly, elected using proportional representation.

Instead, the proposed Commission would appear to have twelve members. The senior public servants covering roads, transport and planning for the NSW government would be represented, alongside three “independent members” (who knows what that means – just NSW government appointments?) as well as six representatives of local councils. It appears that six regional organisation of councils will each have a representative on the Commission.

So this body that would be taking over responsibilities from the democratically-elected state government, and from democratic local governments, would always be at least two steps removed from the will of the voters – voters elect councillors, who elect regional representatives, who elect Commissioners, while state government representatives are public servants appointed by the relevant ministers.

I can see a lot of value in a body that would look at planning issues for the whole of Sydney, in a way that is hard for either the state government or small local governments. But there’s no reason this can’t be democratically run.

There are two places in Australia where a democratically-elected government effectively covers an entire city, but no more – the City of Brisbane, which covers a large part of the Brisbane urban area, and the Australian Capital Territory, in which nearly all of the population lives in Canberra. In both cases we have ‘big city government’ that prioritises the city as a whole, rather than small parts of the city, or a bigger area of which the city is one part.

There’s a tendency amongst those pushing for local government reforms to push for any mechanism which takes the decision a step away from the voters: creating panels of mayors (thus excluding the vast majority of local representatives), or creating apolitical commissions. It’s almost like democracy is a necessary evil, and where possible it should be pushed into the corner.

There are real political issues to be debated across Sydney – which areas should receive the brunt of the new housing needed for current and future population growth, and how much investment should go into public transport or roads. But they should be debated in democratic forums.

I don’t see a good reason why such a body couldn’t be democratically elected. It could be elected at the same time as the next local government elections in September 2016. You could elect it using the same voting system, with a number of large ‘wards’ or electorates covering a number of local government areas.

Sure, such an elected Greater Sydney Assembly would be likely dominated by members of the political parties, but that’s democracy, and such an election would have different dynamics to state and council elections, and would focus attention on the needs of Sydney as a city, in a way that doesn’t happen in NSW state elections.

It appears this Commission will have a lot of power over planning Sydney’s future – and that power should go to a body that represents the people of Sydney. If things work out well, such a body could then go on to take on other responsibilities currently sitting with state or local government.

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NT redistribution – draft boundary map finished

Following up on Wednesday’s post about the Northern Territory redistribution, I’ve now completed my Google Earth map of the electoral boundaries.

You can download the map here, and it’s embedded below (sorry no stats, just the boundaries).

As explained last week, the Alice Springs area effectively lost a seat to the Darwin area.

Overall, this redistribution has been more dramatic than the last one, with big shifts in the Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs areas.

Prior to the redistribution, the Alice Springs area included three seats entirely contained in the town, but the seat of Araluen has been abolished, and the seat of Stuart has shifted south to take in parts of Alice Springs and taking on a new name of Battarbee.

In the top end, Nhulunbuy (renamed Milirrpum) has expanded to take in Groote Eylandt from Arnhem, which then shifts east to take in territory from Arafura. The seats of Goyder and Daly both shifted south, following the trend caused by the abolition of Araluen.

A majority of seats in the Northern Territory are included in the two northern urban areas of Darwin and Palmerston, and traditionally there has always been one seat straddling Darwin and Palmerston. That seat is currently Fong Lim, but Fong Lim has retracted into the Darwin area, with the creation of a new seat called Spillett covering parts of Palmerston, and the fringe areas between Palmerston and Darwin.

Antony Green has done his usual estimates of the partisan impact of the changes.

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Draft boundaries released for NT redistribution

Amongst many other redistributions, the Northern Territory is redrawing the boundaries of the 25 electorates for the territory’s Legislative Assembly.

The redistribution map was released yesterday. I’m working on my map of the new electorates, and should have it finished by Monday.

In short, the town of Alice Springs has lost one of its three seats to the Darwin area, with a new seat created in the Palmerston area on the fringe of Darwin.

Antony Green has produced a good summary of the boundary change proposal.

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Federal redistribution update

The Australian Electoral Commission is currently undertaking federal redistributions in New South Wales (which is losing one seat), Western Australia (which is gaining one seat) and the ACT (which should see minor changes on the border between the two seats.

Since I last wrote about these redistributions, we have seen two rounds of submissions in New South Wales and Western Australia, with a variety of individuals and groups, including political parties, putting in ‘suggestions’ and then a second opportunity for individuals and groups to make ‘comments on suggestions’.

I’ll only briefly cover the ACT, where the process is at a slightly earlier stage. With only two divisions, and with the southern division of Canberra under quota and the northern division of Fraser over quota, you would expect a few suburbs at the southern edge of northern Canberra to be transferred, but the process is relatively simple. In fact, no political party bothered to put in any suggestions.

In the case of Western Australia, I’ll keep my summary simple, and refer to WA resident William Bowe’s summary at Poll Bludger.

In short, both major parties agree on creating a new division out of parts of Hasluck in south-eastern Perth. Labor recommends calling the division ‘Tonkin’, and the Liberal Party recommends ‘Court’, both using the names of deceased former WA premiers who belonged to those respective parties. The WA Greens  proposes naming the sixteenth division ‘Vallentine’ after former senator Jo Vallentine, who was elected for the Nuclear Disarmament Party, became an independent then helped form the WA Greens. Vallentine would be a strong candidate for a seat name, except for the fact that AEC guidelines recommend that divisions be named after deceased persons, and Vallentine is very much alive. These guidelines can be ignored, so the option is still a possibility.

I wanted to focus most of my writing on New South Wales, the largest state with the most complex electoral boundaries. I’ve waited until after the second round of submissions were released last week. In this post, I’ll run through some interesting points in the map where the parties have disagreed on their approach.

This blog post is quite lengthy, and runs through five key parts of the state, and what each of the parties has proposed. I will return to these three redistributions (along with the state redistribution in Western Australia and the Brisbane City Council ward redistribution) when the draft boundaries are released.

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