Electoral reform Archive


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.


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.


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.


NSW Nationals want smaller seats – how?

Last month, Nationals MLC Ben Franklin announced that he would seek a parliamentary inquiry into the size of the western NSW electorates of Barwon and Murray, which cover a majority of the New South Wales land mass. Today, according to a tweet from the party’s account, the NSW Nationals passed a motion calling for smaller electorates in regional NSW.

It’s true that these electorates are huge, and are a challenge to represent, but this simply reflects the low populations living in these areas. While there are some variations in electoral boundaries which could make Barwon at the least slightly smaller, any legislative changes would likely require increasing the population contained within seats in Sydney and along the coast, unless the Nationals are considering a proposal to increase the size of the Legislative Assembly.

The proposal also ignores the fact that the Nationals actually benefit from our electoral system. In 2015, the Nationals polled about the same as the Greens, but won 17 seats to the Greens’ 3, due to their vote being concentrated in particular parts of the state.

Franklin ignores all the other conditions that can make it harder to represent an electorate, such as having a large number of residents who don’t speak English, many residents with problems needing support from their local MP, such as public housing issues. It’s a lot easier to measure the landmass a seat covers, but it doesn’t mean it is the only problem faced by MPs in representing their electorate. Yet we don’t discuss weighting electoral power based on any other type of disadvantage – it’s one person, one vote.

There is a long and ugly history in Australia of electoral laws being used to increase the voting power of rural voters at the expense of urban voters – in effect MPs represented land, not just people. In New South Wales at a state level, and in most other jurisdictions, different quotas were set in rural and urban areas, meaning that there were much smaller numbers of voters in a rural seat than in an urban seat. Read the rest of this entry »


Senate reform – questions that need answering

Two weeks ago I wrote a piece for the Guardian putting the case for reform to the system of Senate group voting tickets, in response to a number of pieces arguing against reform on the basis of who is for the reform, or who supposedly will be favoured.

Today I want to write about a few points I didn’t get to cover in my post, and respond to stories about politicians (primarily in Labor and the Greens) expressing hesitation about supporting the reform seemingly due to concerns about the partisan impact on their parties, and the proposal of a (very bad) idea to keep group voting tickets but impose a minimum vote threshold of 4% for any candidate to be elected.

Antony Green has previously conducted an analysis of how the proposed system of above-the-line preferencing and optional preferential voting would likely change the make-up of the Senate, assuming no major change in voter behaviour. His predictions would have seen Labor and Coalition each hold two additional seats in the current Senate. The Greens would hold one less seat, with a number of other crossbenchers missing out. Nick Xenophon would have likely been joined by his #2 candidate under the proposed system.

It seems some people in Labor and the Greens seem to think that their respective party could be disadvantaged by these reforms. The problem with making predictions about how the system would work (as acknowledged by Antony Green) is that a change in system will change the behaviour of parties, candidates and voters. The changed system would likely result in fewer parties running, and over time this could see different voting blocks developing. A smaller ballot paper would likely have hurt the Liberal Democratic Party, who won in NSW on the back of substantial confusion over their name.

While it looks like the Coalition would have been the chief beneficiary of no group voting tickets in 2013, at other times the reforms would have more likely benefited Labor. This has been explained by Kevin Bonham.

Others have opposed these reforms because they have been pleased with the impact of Ricky Muir and others on the Senate crossbench. Like with any lottery, it’s possible for it to produce a positive result, but that doesn’t mean it is fair or that it can be predicted to produce another result you like in the future.

Ultimately, you need to make your judgement about Senate reform on its impact on the system as a whole, and whether it is fair, not whether it advantages your side, or politicians that you like. That may seem naive, but in the medium term it’s the only sensible approach to electoral reform.

We have seen the impact of short-term thinking in New South Wales and Queensland, where past Labor governments introduced optional preferential voting, in part to benefit from division between Liberal and National candidates (and Queensland Labor went further in benefiting from vote-splitting between the Coalition and One Nation in 1998, encouraging voters to ‘Just Vote 1’).

Since then, the Liberal and National parties have merged in Queensland and gotten better at avoiding three-cornered-contests in other states, and One Nation has disappeared, while the Greens now take a much larger part of the left vote, and those same ‘Just Vote 1’ messages first used by Peter Beattie were used by Campbell Newman for the opposite effect earlier this year.

In addition to us not being able to make any certain or long-term predictions about the partisan impact of a reform, there are deeper issues with the current Senate system, beyond which candidates might win.

The group voting ticket system, with full preferences and almost-complete control of those preferences by parties, tends to produce results where the exact order of elimination of candidates is critical to the result, and small changes in the order can produce dramatically different results. We saw this in Western Australia in 2013, when a gap of 14 votes (or was it 12 votes?) changing who won two Senate seats.

This problem hasn’t gone away, and if we continue down the current trend of increasing numbers of parties and candidates, it will continue to get worse. We may well see another very close contest at the next election, resulting in another recount and more pressure on the AEC to go above and beyond its normal responsibilities.

So this isn’t just about who wins and who loses, this is about having a democratic process which is understood, respected, and not seen as producing arbitrary results which have little to no relationship to the votes cast.

Finally, a number of media outlets have reported that some in the Greens including new leader Richard Di Natale are open to an alternative reform, which would keep the current system but exclude from election any candidate from a party that polled less than 4%.

This is a terrible idea, and would be worthy of the criticism that minor parties have directed at the reform process so far. It would be a bald-faced case of the major parties using their position to entrench their power at the expense of small parties, and would not fix the problem.

Preferences are not only abused by small parties – they can be abused by larger parties. In 1984, the major parties effectively used the new group voting ticket system to starve Peter Garrett (then of the Nuclear Disarmament Party) of preferences, and have often directed preferences away from the Greens.

A threshold system would be particularly bad for the Greens, who would still be vulnerable to losing Labor preferences.

Using thresholds would also completely fail to deal with the lack of transparency in the current system, and allow backroom deals to continue to be made, with results that are very hard to predict.

While the above-the-line voting system is unlikely to elect anyone with less than 4% of the vote, it keeps the option open, as down the track parties get better at encouraging their voters to mark preferences. It’s also completely out of keeping with the Australian system to impose an arbitrary threshold, where 4.1% makes you eligible to win and 3.9% means you can’t win.


City of Melbourne to end double votes for business?

While the NSW Governments and the Shooters and Fishers push ahead with legislation to institute the “Melbourne model” of two votes for each business and corporation paying rates and owning property in the city, an independent review of Victorian local government has recommended an end to the very same practice.

The independent Local Government Electoral Review Panel, chaired by former federal MP Petro Georgiou, has released two lengthy reports after a year of consultations and discussion papers. The panel’s two reports cover a wide variety of issues, and I will return at a later date to consider the report in full, but the report is particularly interesting in recommending significant changes to voting rights for local council elections.

The report is recommending that all permanent residents be given the right to vote in the local council where they live, even if they are not a citizen, and is recommending a significant simplification of the process by which non-residents gain the right to vote.

The report points out that the current process of enrolment fails tests for equity and transparency, for example:

The right to vote can be transferred from one party to another. Under section 15 of the Local Government Act 1989, other than those commercial tenants who are on the council’s rate records, if a commercial tenant wants to apply to vote as a ratepayer, they need the landlord’s consent. The
landlord can then choose whether or not to transfer their vote to a tenant. This is inequitable and anachronistic.

The potential for chaos has also been exposed under the proposed bill for the City of Sydney, as revealed by Sean Nicholls in the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday:

The information provided was it would mean any landholder who pays rates in the City of Sydney will get a maximum of two votes, regardless of the number of businesses operating in the building they own.

Those businesses would not be entitled to vote unless the ratepayer nominates them as one of the two eligible voters.

Currently all business owners who pay more than $5,000 a year in rent have the right to vote but are not automatically enrolled.

As a result, thousands of business owners who meet the rent threshold and are eligible to vote would lose the right under Mr Borsak’s bill.

Giving certain individuals or corporations the power to choose which of their tenants is given the right to vote opens the process up for further abuse.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Currently the City of Melbourne is the only council in Victoria where businesses are given two votes, but the process is needlessly complicated across the state, as seen in this diagram produced by the Review’s secretariat (right).

The Review’s report has significant implications for the political debate in New South Wales around voting rights for the City of Sydney.

The fact that a committee led by a former Liberal MP, and appointed by a Liberal state government, is so sceptical of double voting for businesses should demonstrate the folly of extending the experiment to NSW.

If these reforms are implemented, the business vote will be significantly reduced in City of Melbourne elections. At the moment, non-resident voters make up almost 60% of the electoral roll for the City of Melbourne.

In addition, the enfranchisement of permanent residents in council elections would be a significant step forward, and I think a positive step towards voting rights being extended to all those who a permanent members of a community, not just those who have achieved citizenship.


Parliamentary committee aiming to end group voting tickets

The federal Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters released its interim report yesterday, which covered recommendations for how to reform the Senate voting system.

The Senate voting system has come under criticism for the system of group voting tickets producing bizarre results and creating very close races, and a proliferation of political parties making hard for voters to cast a formal, informed vote.

The proposals, in short, are:

  • Abolishing group voting tickets for Senate elections, meaning that parties can’t direct preferences automatically to other parties without the voting expressing a preference.
  • Introducing optional preferential above the line voting, so that voters can number boxes for parties above the line, with a minimum of one preference for a formal vote.
  • Only requiring below-the-line voters to number as many boxes as there are vacancies (2, 6 or 12). This will make it much easier to cast a formal vote below the line.
  • Tightening party registration processes:
    • Requiring parties to have at least 1500 members (up from 500)
    • Requiring parties to go further to demonstrate membership numbers.
    • Easier processes for a party to register for just one state.
    • Giving existing parties one year to meet the stricter standards.
    • Banning the practice of a person serving as registered officer of more than one registered party.

The committee also suggested that there is a need to restrict candidates to run in the state where they live, but didn’t propose a specific solution. The committee did not support the Liberal proposal for thresholds.

Overall, it’s a very good outcome. Abolishing group voting tickets and making it easier for voters to cast their own preferences, either above or below the line, is a good move for putting power back in the hands of voters. Preferences will still matter, but only when they are genuine preferences, and parties will only be able to influence their voters by giving them a piece of material with advice that the voter can choose to follow – no more automatic flows of preferences.

While the number of candidates and parties has reached an excessive level, I tend to think that the abolition of group voting tickets will reduce the draw for small parties to enter the ‘preference lottery’. Still, the restrictions proposed should still allow a large number of minor parties to stay registered.

The next challenge will be getting the legislation through the Parliament. The Coalition, Labor and the Greens all support the proposals, but it seems likely that most of the other crossbenchers in the Senate will be opposed. While their votes won’t be critical, life may be difficult for Tony Abbott if this legislation is being fought over when the new Senate comes in, and he will be looking for support from other senators.

JSCEM seems to have decided to deal with the Senate reform issue before going on to any other issues of electoral law later this year – perhaps they are hoping to pass the necessary legislation before the new Senate takes office on July 1.

Elsewhere: Antony Green deals with the proposed changes and models how previous Senate results would have been affected by the different voting system.


JSCEM – move for Senate voting reform

The federal Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) held hearings yesterday in Canberra, where representatives from five political parties presented evidence on how to reform the Senate voting system, following previous hearings from experts and officials over the last three months.

Yesterday’s appearances, as well as late submission from the Liberal Party and the Australian Labor Party, saw both parties come out in support of the abolition of group voting tickets (GVTs), and the introduction of optional preferential voting (OPV) in the Senate. The Greens have supported the model for a long time, and the model is currently in use for the NSW Legislative Council.

The Nationals only supported abolishing GVTs if compulsory preferential voting was maintained, which would force voters to number a large number of boxes for their vote to count. That seems unlikely to fly.

Other proposals were made, including the Liberal Party coming out for rules requiring voters to show photo identification when voting. However it seems that JSCEM is planning to put off matters unrelated to the Senate voting system until later in the year, and is now focusing on changes that will effect the Senate.

The umbrella of changes affecting the Senate appears to include two broad approaches: changing the voting system, and changing rules around nominations and party registration.

In addition to the Senate counting system, three other major proposals were raised.

Read the rest of this entry »


ACT Assembly going to 25

In the lead-up to the state elections in South Australia and Tasmania, I didn’t have time to cover another electoral story in the Australian Capital Territory. After many years of debate, and competing proposals, the ACT Legislative Assembly appears set to increase in size, from 17 to 25 seats.

The ACT’s legislative body currently has 17 members elected from three multi-member electorates. The electorate of Molonglo, centred on Lake Burley Griffin, elects seven members, while the Belconnen-based Ginninderra and the Tuggeranong-based Brindabella each elect five members.

The Labor Party and the Greens have supported some expansion in size of the ACT for a while, but it has faced opposition from the Liberal Party.

An expert panel (read the report) recommended the creation of five electorates – which would initially elect five members each before eventually electing seven members each for a total Assembly size of 35.

The Liberal Party’s ACT division decided to support the increase to 25 at their meeting on March 5. It’s unclear if either party is pushing for an eventual increase to 35 seats.

The next ACT election is due in just over two and a half years, giving plenty of time for the Assembly to pass the change and for new boundaries to be drawn.

We don’t know exactly how the boundaries will be drawn, but there aren’t that many options when you are drawing electoral boundaries in Canberra.

One possible way to divide ACT's polling places into five electorates. Belconnen in orange, Central in purple, North in blue, Tuggeranong in green, West in yellow.

One possible way to divide ACT’s polling places into five electorates. Belconnen in orange, Central in purple, North in blue, Tuggeranong in green, West in yellow.

In 2010, I conducted some analysis at the likely impact of a 5×5 electoral system that didn’t make it to this blog. This included assigning all polling places to one of five electorates.

The ACT is divided into seven districts. The central suburbs are split into North Canberra and South Canberra by the Lake. These areas are usually referred to as the ‘inner north’ and ‘inner south’.

In the north you find Gungahlin, and Belconnen in the north-west.

In the south you have Tuggeranong, and just north of Tuggeranong to the west of the city is Weston Creek and Woden Valley.

When drawing these boundaries I found that both Tuggeranong and Belconnen were too large to be contained within a single electorate. Both areas formed the basis for an electorate. I then created an electorate called ‘West’ covering Weston Creek and the remainder of Tuggeranong. In the north I created an electorate covering all of Gungahlin and northern parts of Belconnen, as well as the northern fringe of the inner north.

I then created a fifth electorate in the centre, surrounding the Lake and mostly covering the inner south and inner north.

Population will continue to shift, and I didn’t take into account absentee and other special votes which may vary in numbers. It’s quite possible that the Central electorate will lose parts of Woden. Having said that, I think they provide a useful guide as to how a 5×5 system would change the balance in the ACT.

I’ve taken the results by polling place of the 2012 results to produce my estimate of how many quotas each party would have polled in each of these five hypothetical electorates in 2012.

Seat Labor Liberal Greens Others
Belconnen 2.5227 1.8653 0.6105 1.0004
Central 2.4636 2.1197 0.9045 0.5118
North 2.4001 2.1628 0.7039 0.7324
Tuggeranong 2.1273 2.8835 0.3939 0.5950
West 2.4007 2.4501 0.5984 0.5494

The Liberal vote is more concentrated in Tuggeranong so the highest result for a particular party is for the Liberal Party in Tuggeranong. Tuggeranong is the best area for the Liberal Party, and the worst for both the ALP and the Greens. Belconnen is best for the ALP and worst for the Liberal Party. The Greens vote peaks in the central electorate.

On these numbers, I estimate that we would see 11-12 Liberals, 10-12 Labor and 2-4 Greens MLAs. The fifth seat in Belconnen could either go to the ALP or the Greens. The fifth seat in the West could go to Labor, Liberal or Greens. In this scenario, all parties would increase their numbers.

In most circumstances, this result would ensure that both major parties won two seats in each electorate. The Greens vote is quite strong in Central – probably enough to offset the fact that they previously benefited from a lower quota in Molonglo that has been lost. In this scenario, 0.7 quota in the North is probably enough to elect a Green, but may not be enough to guarantee a win if the balance between the major parties shifts.

The Greens polling 0.6 quotas in Belconnen and the West would provide enough of a base to give the party a chance, particularly in a good election. The Greens would have to perform exceptionally to win a seat in Tuggeranong.

Overall, these new electorates would see no change in the balance of power: on 2012 votes, the Greens would have held the balance of power, with the likely result seeing Labor and the Greens sharing government as they have done. The biggest impact would have been a deeper bench: resulting in more talent available to serve as ministers, and a larger backbench.