ACT redistribution finalised

The Australian Electoral Commission today announced the final boundaries for the ACT at the next federal election. They haven’t made any changes to the draft boundaries announced in September.

This means that the northern seat of Fraser will be renamed ‘Fenner’ after virologist Frank Fenner, freeing up the former name for a Victorian seat to be renamed after former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

Antony Green estimates that the ALP’s margin in Canberra will increase from 7% to 7.4%, and will stay the same in Fraser/Fenner, at 12.6%.

In other news, the AEC recently announced its final boundaries for Western Australia. Frustratingly, the AEC is delaying releasing the final detailed maps for both WA and the ACT until January. It’s not a big deal in the ACT where there are no changes, but the final announcement for WA refers to a number of “minor boundary changes” which aren’t explained, making it impossible to be sure of the new boundaries, although the substantive changes have been announced. For this reason, I’ll wait until January before completing the WA federal map.

You can download the ACT map here.


NSW council amalgamations deadline looms

Yet another NSW government deadline looms today for local councils under the threat of amalgamation, and this time it looks likely to result in a number of significant amalgamations in Sydney and other large urban areas.

The Baird government has pursued a deliberate strategy to encourage councils to agree to amalgamations without using the full force of their legal power, through a combination of carrots (funding for councils agreeing to amalgamate) and sticks (the threat to immediately sack councils which they merge if they don’t cooperate). Up until the latest round of the process, most Sydney councils rejected amalgamation and insisted on standing alone.

With the release of the flawed Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) “Fit For the Future” report, which declared most Sydney councils to be ‘unfit’ due to their size despite giving them the tick on all financial criteria, the state government imposed today, 18 November, as another deadline for councils, with the clear threat of sacking for those councils which don’t consent to amalgamations.

It’s been very unclear as to how much power the state government has to implement amalgamations, short of passing legislation through a Legislative Council which at the moment is opposed to amalgamations. The government has some power to sack councils, and to refer changes to the boundaries commission, but whether they have the power to do this with councils which haven’t consented is unclear.

The Greens have argued that the state government doesn’t have this power, but they have also suggested it will be easier to do so if a council has given a stated preference for amalgamation, suggesting the question of the state government’s power is less clear – and clearly there are quite a few councils which don’t believe that the government doesn’t have the power to force through its agenda.

Councils have been asked to fill in a form indicating their preference for amalgamation, and they have only been given room to write 50 words explaining their decision. In numerous cases, councils have indicated that they agree to a particular amalgamation preference on the understanding that their preferred option remains to stand alone.

It’s hard to pull together information on which councils have made decisions, but here’s a summary of information I’ve found:

  • Randwick and Waverley have previously agreed to amalgamate. Woollahra remains opposed to amalgamation – while the remaining existence of a Woollahra council doesn’t cause immediate problems for a new Randwick-Waverley council, Woollahra would be an unusually small council compared to its neighbours, making it a likely target for a forced amalgamation.
  • Auburn, Burwood and Canada Bay councils have also previously agreed to amalgamate, but their amalgamation only really makes sense if Strathfield, which sits in the middle of the proposed council, is included. Strathfield is strongly opposed to any amalgamation.
  • The City of Sydney remains strongly opposed to any merger, although Marrickville has indicated a second preference to merge with Sydney.
  • Ashfield, Marrickville and Leichhardt have previously been opposed but the three councils all passed similar motions that indicate a preference for the three councils to merge, and the three mayors have met with the minister. The merger appears one of the most likely to proceed.
  • Rockdale and Kogarah councils have indicated a preference for a merger of their two councils with Hurstville to create a St George regional council. Hurstville is open to merging with Kogarah but explicitly rejects a merger with Rockdale.
  • Canterbury sits between the potential St George, Ashfield/Marrickville/Leichhardt and Auburn/Burwood/Canada Bay mergers, but is not part of any of them. It could merge with Bankstown, but it would be an awkward shape for a council. I think it’s likely Canterbury will survive unscathed.
  • The Hills council continues to campaign for a hostile takeover of its neighbour Hawkesbury, and Hawkesbury continues to resist.
  • Warringah continues to be strongly supportive of a single Northern Beaches council, taking in its northern neighbour Pittwater and southern neighbour Manly. Both its neighbours prefer to stand alone, but they have both indicated a second preference to split Warringah between them to create Greater Pittwater and Greater Manly. The planning minister, Pittwater MP Rob Stokes, has advocated for the abolish-Warringah option.
  • Holroyd remains strongly opposed to any merger, which would presumably be with Parramatta. It’s unclear where Parramatta stands on such a change.
  • There’s a series of small councils on the lower north shore, stretching from Hunters Hill to Mosman. As far as I can tell, none of them have expressed an amalgamation preference, with North Sydney gearing up for a fight.
  • The two Central Coast councils of Gosford and Wyong, which already cover quite large areas and quite large populations, have agreed to merge. This isn’t a backup option if standing alone is rejected – it’s their first preference.
  • It was previously assumed that Newcastle and Lake Macquarie were being pushed together to form a Greater Newcastle council which would take a majority of its population from Lake Macquarie, but neither council prefers that option. Lake Macquarie expressed a preference for merging with Wyong, but Wyong has indicated a preference for merging with Gosford, leaving Lake Macquarie on its own.
  • Last night, Newcastle Council voted against voluntarily amalgamating, but expressed a backup preference for a merger with Port Stephens.

This is basically Lake Macquarie’s position:

Feel free to use this comment thread to discuss what comes after today’s deadline.


Polwarth and South-West Coast by-elections

7:25pm – The Liberal Party looks set to retain both seats. At the moment they are on 47.7% in Polwarth, which should easily be enough. In South-West Coast they are on 36%, but with ex-Labor candidate Roy Reekie second on 17.7% ahead of the Country Party and the Nationals. This should also be enough.

6:18pm – Polls have now closed in these two state by-elections for these seats in south-western Victoria.

I haven’t done my traditional booth-matching work for these by-elections, but will post occasional updates as results flow in.


North Sydney by-election – December 5

northsydney1-LIBThe by-election for Joe Hockey’s seat of North Sydney has been scheduled for Saturday 5 December.

I’ve now posted the guide to the by-election, which is likely to see Liberal candidate Trent Zimmerman elected to finish Hockey’s term.

Read more


NSW redistribution – map complete

I’ve now completed the Google Earth map of the draft federal electoral boundaries for New South Wales.

Download the map here.

I’ve also produced a fusion table combining the map with the notional estimates of the two-party-preferred margin and primary votes for Labor, Coalition, Greens and others in the 47 new electorates.


Increase to Queensland malapportionment on the cards?

I’ve missed a story which has been quietly bubbling along for the last few months which could see a bill introduced by the opposition Liberal National Party passed, increasing the electoral bias in favour of large rural seats in the Queensland parliament. There are stories today suggesting the legislation could be passed as soon as tonight.

Queensland (along with most states) has a history of malapportionment in the 20th century. Malapportionment (often incorrectly termed a ‘gerrymander’) is where some electorates are drawn with a larger population than others, usually putting more voters in each urban seat and less in each rural seat. This has the effect of making the votes cast in more populous seats less valuable. For most of the twentieth century, this imbalance has favoured the conservative parties, with urban Labor voters packed into a smaller number of seats.

Most of these imbalances have been removed from Australia’s electoral system, with the Western Australian Legislative Assembly moving to ‘one-vote-one-value’ last decade, but a few parts remain.

There are a series of large electorates in northern and western Queensland which have a substantially lower enrolment than the rest of the state, thanks to a policy which grants “phantom electors” to large seats in proportion to their landmass.

All seats are required to fit within 10% of the quota, but seats that are larger than 100,000 square kilometres are allowed to count 2% of their square kilometres towards the quota. So for a seat which covers 200,000 square kilometres, they are allowed to have 4,000 less voters than the average. Robbie Katter’s seat of Mount Isa covers over 570,000 square kilometres, and has less than 20,000 voters, while most seats have between 30,000 and 40,000 voters.

I previously discussed the theory behind this approach back in June, when the NSW Nationals were lobbying for smaller seats in western NSW. While it is reasonable to provide greater resourcing for MPs covering large geographic areas, and it is a good argument for adding additional seats to the Parliament, malapportionment has clear party-political impacts which cannot be justified.

While Labor is in government in Queensland, the party does not have a majority. The opposition LNP has proposed a bill which would double the “phantom voter” allowance to 4% of the square kilometres in a seat, and add up to five more seats to the Parliament. The effect of this change would be to add a sixth seat to the area covered by the five large remote seats (Mount Isa, Dalrymple, Cook, Gregory and Warrego), and add four seats in the rest of Queensland, which covers over 95% of the state’s population.

It appears that the bill has the support of the two Katter’s Australian Party MPs, both of whom represent districts which benefit from the current malapportionment. With KAP and LNP supporting the legislation, the vote comes down to Billy Gordon, the member for Cook in Far North Queensland. Gordon was elected as a Labor MP but was expelled from the party earlier this year, and also represents a very large seat.

It’s unclear where Gordon stands on the issue, but there are reports that he is considering supporting the legislation, and it could be voted on as soon as this evening.

I normally try to avoid campaigning on this website but considering this issue I’m willing to make an exception. GetUp has set up a campaign to ask Queenslanders to email Billy Gordon or call his office to ask him to vote against the legislation. If you live in Queensland or care about fair electoral boundaries, give him a call now.


IPART declares NSW councils “unfit”, set for merger fight

The NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) has today released its report into the “Fit for the Future” process, which has been the program whereby the NSW Government has been pushing for wide-scale council amalgamations across New South Wales. Despite the rhetoric, the report tells us nothing about the sustainability of local government, while giving us an insight into the state government’s amalgamation agenda. Despite the sheen of objectivity, IPART’s assessment works on the basis that local councils must be bigger, and for those councils which fail to meet the size criteria set by the government, their financial position is largely irrelevant.

The NSW government set a variety of criteria which it expected councils to meet. One of these criteria was the vague concept of “scale and capacity”, which seemed to be code for “bigger”. Today IPART, following the very much non-independent criteria set by the state government, has declared a majority of the state’s councils as “unfit” – most of those declared unfit were because they failed to meet the arbitrary “scale and capacity” criteria, which appears to have been applied to different councils of similar sizes.

The NSW government has used rhetoric that implies that there is no alternative but to merge for these councils, and that they need to do so to be sustainable. Yet most councils declared “unfit” cleared the financial criteria set down, and instead were declared “unfit” because of a big-council political agenda being pursued by the government. It is laughable to call this process “independent” when you consider how the criteria have been framed. Read the rest of this entry »


Tuesday news open thread

We’re expecting two big bits of news today.

The Canadian election results will be flowing in over the next few hours. Polls close at 10am AEDT in Newfoundland and Labrador, and the final ridings in British Columbia will close at 1pm AEDT.

We’re also expecting the NSW Government to release its proposed council amalgamations this morning.

I won’t be blogging today but feel free to use this post as an open thread to discuss these two bits of news.


NSW redistribution – notional vote figures

I’ve been getting a bunch of questions about the relative strength of parties in the proposed new federal electorates which were released by the AEC yesterday.

William Bowe at Poll Bludger released notional two-party-preferred figures yesterday, and my calculations are pretty close to his, but I’ve also added primary vote figures for Labor, Coalition, Greens and “other”.

The AEC has released data on which ABS Statistical Area 1 units (the smallest analytic unit available) are in which seats, both on the existing boundaries and on the draft boundaries. I then mashed this up with Parliamentary Library data on how the primary vote and the two-party-preferred vote is estimated to have been split up by SA1 at the 2013 election to produce estimates.

The following table provides the 2PP for Labor at the 2013 election (you can derive the Coalition figure by subtracting the percentage from 100), the change in that 2PP due to the redistribution the primary vote for Labor, Coalition, Greens and other, and the proportion of the new electorate which was not in the existing electorate.

The table is below the fold. Enjoy!

Read the rest of this entry »


NSW redistribution, council amalgamations and SA reform

There’s been a lot of electoral news this morning! I’ll try to run through it all really quickly. I’ll be putting together the new NSW electoral map over the next week and I’ll try to find some time to cover the other issues.

NSW redistribution

The Australian Electoral Commission has released the draft map of the new New South Wales federal electoral boundaries.

The federal seats of Hunter and Charlton in the Hunter region have effectively been merged. The seat takes in more voters from Charlton, but has maintained the federation seat name of Hunter.

The seat of Throsby (covering the Southern Highlands and southern Illawarra) has been renamed Whitlam after the former prime minister. The seat of Parkes has taken in Broken Hill, while Farrer and Riverina have consolidated into southern NSW.

In inner Sydney, Grayndler has shifted north, losing Labor areas in southern Marrickville and Ashfield and gaining Balmain, Annandale and Drummoyne. The seat of Barton (currently held by the Liberal Party on a slim margin) has shifted into that gap, and presumably will become a notional Labor seat. The seat of Cook, which covers Cronulla, has jumped the Georges River to take in parts of the St George region.

I’ll be working on my map of the boundaries, which is likely to take most of the next week.

We would normally expect Antony Green to calculate the seat margins for the redistribution, but he’s currently in Canada for Monday’s Canadian federal election. I’m not currently equipped to do the calculations for such a large state but will look into it if we haven’t heard from Antony by the end of next week.

NSW local government amalgamations

We’re still waiting to hear from the NSW government about it’s plans for council amalgamations across Sydney but we’ve gotten a seemingly well-placed report in today’s Daily Telegraph with some details about the proposal, although they are in part contradictory.

In one part, it suggests that Sydney’s councils will be cut from the current 42 to about 20, and that about one third of the state’s 152 councils will be cut. But in the article and on the map there are seven council mergers proposed, which would cut the number of councils by eight – a long way short of cutting 22 councils from Sydney.

It also talks about “as many as 30 rural and regional councils” being abolished, but also suggests a reluctance to touch rural councils – 30 rural councils being abolished is a lot.

The mergers proposed are:

  • Manly and Warringah
  • Canada Bay, Burwood and Strathfield
  • North Sydney and Mosman
  • Hornsby and Ku-ring-gai
  • Bankstown and Canterbury
  • Randwick and Waverley
  • Auburn, Holroyd and southern parts of Parramatta (Granville mostly)

There’s an interesting mix here. Some very small councils such as Mosman, Burwood and Strathfield are on the chopping block, but other small councils such as Hunters Hill and Woollahra appear to be saved. Large councils like Warringah, Randwick, Bankstown and Hornsby are also set to merge, sometimes with reasonably large neighbours.

Considering these discrepancies, it appears these might only be some of the mergers planned.

The report also suggests a delay in council elections until March 2017, although it’s unclear if this would only be for affected councils, or the whole state.

Watch this space.

South Australian electoral reform

The South Australian government has announced plans for a raft of electoral changes, including introducing the possibility of double dissolution elections to resolve deadlocks.

Interestingly, it also involves the abolition of preference voting for the Legislative Council, moving instead to a party list system using the Saint-Lague counting method. This is very similar to how most proportional systems work in Europe.

There won’t be any preferences, with only primary votes used to distribute seats, according to a method which involves dividing the number of votes by a party by the number of seats they have won.

It’s quite a good system to use for list elections, as it is much much simpler than the way we elect our proportional houses in Australia, but it is problematic if it’s used in elections where not that many candidates are to be elected. It would work much better in SA if they also moved to four-year terms for the upper house, and thus elected 22 candidates instead of 11, but I can’t work out if that’s part of the package.

The reforms will be put to a referendum in 2018.