New South Wales Archive


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.


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 »


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.


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.


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.


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


NSW redistribution – updated figures

Last year, I wrote up an analysis of the prospects for the current redistribution of federal electorates in NSW.

In late April, the final population data, provided to well below the suburb level, was released. In addition to updated population figures as of the end of 2014, the data also includes estimates of the population in each area as of August 2019.

When drawing the electoral boundaries, the 2019 projections are actually more critical. The law requires all seats to fall within 10% of the average as of the current day (the 2014 data), but fall within only 3.5% of the average as of the end of the projection period (2019).

Last year, I explained how the region covering the Hunter, the Central Coast and the North Coast was well under-quota, and I expected that the seat of Hunter would be broken up, effectively seeing western NSW lose half a seat and the Hunter lose half a seat.

However the latest data reveals that the proportion of the NSW population living in this northern part of the state is expected to decline even further. The four seats with the biggest drop in their quota between 2014 and 2019 are the four north coast seats of Cowper, Lyne, Page and Richmond. This doesn’t mean that these seats are shrinking – but they are growing well below the statewide average.

When you add up all of the seats in northern NSW, including New England, the Hunter, the Central Coast and the North Coast, this entire region (which currently has 12 seats) only has enough population in 2019 for 11.09 quotas. This means that, after transferring a small part of either Hunter or New England to a seat further west, this entire area would be under quota by a whole seat’s worth of population, which means a seat somewhere in the area. I expect this seat to most likely be Lyne, which is at risk of being pushed so far south by its neighbours to the north that it loses its main centre of Port Macquarie.

At the other end of the spectrum, the inner-city seats of Wentworth and Sydney will continue to outpace the statewide population growth, and by 2019 between them they will be 0.18 quotas over the target. This fast growth should pull Grayndler to the east. The marginal seat of Reid is also almost 0.07 quotas over the target, and will likely be pulled east by the inner-city growth, substantially changing the make-up of the seat in ways I don’t yet understand.

The deadline for submissions is May 22, and I’d expect to see the draft boundaries from the Electoral Commission some time in July.

There are also currently redistributions pending for federal boundaries in the ACT and Western Australia. While ACT should be relatively simple, in WA they are gaining a 16th seat so there will be substantial change there too, but I haven’t been following it as closely. We’re also undergoing a state electorate redistribution in Western Australia, and we’ve already seen draft boundaries released for the new ACT Legislative Assembly electorates. When the drafts are released I will produce maps for each of these redistributions.

One other thing: What happens if a double dissolution is called before the redistribution is concluded? If a state is undergoing a redistribution but is not changing its number of seats, nothing happens. That’s the case in the ACT, and would have been last time in Victoria and South Australia.

But if a state is increasing its number of seats (as in WA) or reducing its number of seats (as in NSW), a ‘mini-redistribution’ is conducted, which will ensure each state has the right number of seats, but will also result in disproportionate seat sizes.

In New South Wales, the two contiguous seats with the lowest enrolment, which I believe are Shortland and Newcastle in the Hunter region, would be merged. Correction: Shane Easson in comments points out that the two smallest seats are actually Farrer and Riverina, which are both Nationals seats.

In Western Australia, the two contiguous seats with the highest enrolment, which I believe are Canning and Pearce on the fringe of Perth, will be split into three seats.

Since Newcastle and Shortland are both safe Labor seats and Canning and Pearce are both safe Liberal seats, this would have a net +2 effect for the Coalition without a vote being cast.


A new seat of Whitlam?

With the recent death of former Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, discussion has already started about the possibility of creating a federal electorate bearing his name. With a federal redistribution due for New South Wales in 2015, there appears to be a real possibility that an electorate bearing the name ‘Whitlam’ could be contested for the first time at the 2016 federal election.

Most Westminster parliamentary systems use geographic descriptors to name their electorates. Australian state electorates in most cases take the name of a key suburb in their electorate, and names tend to change often as suburbs shift between seats. New Zealand electorates follow a similar model. Constituencies in the United Kingdom and Canada also use geographic names, but often pair two or more geographic names together if a seat has more than one major centre (eg. Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission in Canada, or Houghton and Sunderland South in the UK).

Australian federal electorates have followed a different naming convention, often using names that are not tied to a particular geographic area and can maintain their ‘identity’ even while some of the suburbs within the seat may change. A majority of federal electorates are named after prominent Australians. There are a number of electorates that still carry the names of geographic areas, but most of these are holdovers from an earlier era, and in most cases are named after major centres (eg. Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle, Fremantle).

The Australian Electoral Commission issues guidelines for naming divisions, which indicates a preference for naming new divisions after prominent deceased Australians, and in particular suggests naming seats after Prime Ministers. It also looks to protect seats with indigenous names, or with names that date to the first federal Parliament in 1901, and discourages the use of geographic names or duplicating the name of a state electorate.

There is a federal division carrying the surname of every Prime Minister to serve before Gough Whitlam (it’s unclear to me whether the seat of Cook in southern Sydney is solely named for Captain James Cook, or also for former Liberal prime minister Joseph Cook, but there is a seat with the name).

There has been wide variation in how quickly the AEC has acted to create a seat named after a Prime Minister following their death.

  • John Gorton – died 2002, seat of Burke renamed Gorton for 2004 election. Gorton is in the outer western suburbs of Melbourne, whereas John Gorton represented Higgins in the eastern suburbs.
  • William McMahon – died 1988, seat of Prospect renamed McMahon for 2010 election. McMahon is in the western suburbs of Sydney, whereas William McMahon represented Lowe in the inner west. At the 2009 redistribution, the seat of Lowe was renamed Reid, with the seat of Reid effectively abolished.
  • Frank Forde – died 1983, new seat of Forde created in 1984 when Queensland was given five additional electorates. Forde covers the southern fringe of Brisbane around the Logan area, whereas Frank Forde represented Capricornia in central Queensland.
  • John McEwen – died 1980, new seat of McEwen created in 1984 when Victoria was given five additional electorates. McEwen covers rural areas to the north of Melbourne, while John McEwen represented Murray and Indi, both in northern Victoria.
  • Robert Menzies – died 1978, new seat of Menzies created in 1984. Menzies covers parts of Eastern Melbourne, and is adjacent to Robert Menzies’ former seat of Kooyong.
  • Arthur Fadden – died 1973, new seat of Fadden created in 1977. Fadden was first drawn to cover southern Brisbane, but now covers northern parts of the Gold Coast. Arthur Fadden first represented the Darling Downs in southern rural Queensland, and then McPherson, which at the time covered the southern Gold Coast and large areas further west but has since contracted into the Gold Coast.
  • Harold Holt – presumed dead 1967, new seat of Holt created in 1969. Holt is on the south-eastern fringe of Melbourne, whereas Harold Holt represented Higgins in the inner east of Melbourne.

Looking at the five most recent examples, we see some broad trends. Firstly, most Prime Ministers tend to get seats named after them not long after they died – it was less than five years in five out of seven cases. In the case of Robert Menzies, the seat was created six years after his death. Billy McMahon’s case is the only exception – a seat was not created for 21 years after his death.

In the case of the three Prime Ministers who died in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was relatively easy for the Electoral Commission to name seats after them in the 1984 redistribution, which was triggered by the addition of over twenty new seats to the House of Representatives. A large number of prominent Australians were honoured with electorate names, including three Prime Ministers (the longest-serving PM, and two of the shortest-serving PMs).

In the two most recent cases, seats were renamed, rather than a new seat being created. This is likely to be the same in the case of Whitlam.

There is also a trend in terms of what areas are graced with the name of a former Prime Minister. In all cases, the former Prime Minister’s seat lies in the state they represented in the Parliament, but often does not cover the same area. The seats of Menzies, McEwen and Fadden cover roughly similar areas. McMahon is a little bit further away, while Holt, Forde and Gorton cover wildly different areas. You can also see this with earlier Prime Ministers – Edmund Barton represented the Hunter region, but his seat lies in southern Sydney. Billy Hughes represented central Sydney, northern Sydney and briefly Bendigo, but his seat covers parts of south-western Sydney and the Sutherland Shire.

The AEC has also never paid any consideration to giving Prime Ministers’ names to seats that their party now represents – many seats named after Prime Ministers are very safe seats for the opposing party.

So what are the options for a seat named ‘Whitlam’? I think it’s safe to assume that the seat will lie in New South Wales, where Whitlam lived much of his life and where he served as an MP. Conveniently, New South Wales is due for a redistribution next year, due to the NSW population not keeping up with the rest of the country, which will necessitate a reduction of NSW seats in the Parliament from 48 to 47. Unfortunately there is no prospect of New South Wales gaining additional seats in the near future, so a new seat of Whitlam will have to be a new name for an existing seat.

WSseats-WhitlamI also think the best option for a seat of Whitlam lies in Western Sydney, which he represented in Parliament and is particularly seen as connected to the Whitlam legacy. There are a large number of seats in Western Sydney, many of which have good reasons why the AEC would not want to replace the existing name with ‘Whitlam’:

  • Werriwa – the seat Gough Whitlam represented from 1952 to 1978. The seat has an indigenous name, and is an original Federation electorate, which may see it saved. On the other hand, ‘Werriwa’ is a reference to Lake George in southern NSW, which was contained in the electorate in 1901. It bears little relevance to the south-western Sydney area that the seat now covers, and Whitlam may make more sense as a seat name.
  • Fowler – immediately north of Werriwa, covering much of the areas that lay in Werriwa when Whitlam sat in Parliament. The seat is named after Lilian Fowler, who was the first female Mayor in Australia when she served as Mayor of Newtown, and then went on to sit as a Lang Labor MP in the NSW state Parliament in the late 1940s. There are very few seats named after women, but she is much less prominent a figure than Gough Whitlam.
  • Hughes – also substantially overlaps with the area Gough Whitlam represented, but is already named after a Prime Minister.
  • McMahon – partially overlaps withthe area Gough Whitlam represented, but is already named after a Prime Minister.
  • Blaxland – Whitlam did not represent this area, but was still a significant beneficiary of the Whitlam legacy. The current name can be confusing, considering the name of the town of Blaxland in the Blue Mountains – quite a long way away from the electorate. It is also worth bearing in mind that this seat could eventually be an appropriate seat to be renamed after Paul Keating when that time comes.
  • Parramatta – An original electorate, but as a geographic name that is also used for the City Council and state electorate (both of which have different boundaries) it can be quite confusing. Previous electoral redistributions have also brought Parramatta close to shifting out of the Parramatta CBD, so a more flexible name may make life easier for the boundary commissioners.
  • Chifley – named after a Prime Minister, and not an area that Whitlam represented.
  • Greenway – named after colonial architect Francis Greenway.
  • Lindsay – named after Australian artist Norman Lindsay.

There are clearly a number of options, none of them perfect, and I expect we will see a variety of submissions by political parties and others during the redistribution process.

To my mind, I think the most likely seats to be renamed are Parramatta or Werriwa. They are the only seats in the region not to be named after a prominent Australian, and while they are both Federation names, their geographic descriptions are either constraining (in the case of Parramatta) or irrelevant (in the case of Werriwa).

I also think there is an outside chance that the commissioners could rename Fowler, Lindsay or Greenway, as those seats are not already named after Prime Ministers.

What do you think?