NSW redistribution – what could happen?


Every three years, approximately one year after the federal election, Australia’s population is assessed, and each state and territory is given a set number of seats to be filled in the next Parliament, based on population. When the number of seats allocated to a state changes, a redistribution is immediately triggered to draw up new electoral boundaries.

This time around, population shifts have guaranteed that New South Wales will lose its 48th seat, and Western Australia will gain a 16th seat. It now appears that the ACT’s population will not be sufficient to give them a third seat, after it first appeared to be possible in late 2013.

These redistributions will by necessity cause significant changes to borders, in order to create a whole new seat in WA and squeeze NSW’s populations into 47 seats.

Electorates will need to be drawn to be within two quotas. A quota is drawn up as the average population per electorate as of the time of the redistribution, and another one which is the average projected population of each new electorate as of 3.5 years after the conclusion of the redistribution. These quotas will be 1/47th of the NSW population, and 1/16th of the WA population.

Below the fold, I’ve posted my analysis of the likely trends in the NSW redistribution, and have produced an interactive map showing the population quotas in each electorate.

In short, I think the seat most likely to be abolished is Hunter, which will have significant knock-on effects in the Hunter region and in western NSW. Seats in inner Sydney will shift east, while seats throughout Western Sydney will expand in size in southwestern direction, shifting Werriwa and Macarthur further into the fringe of Sydney.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a similar analysis of the prospects in Western Australia.

In New South Wales, you’d expect the average electorate to be under quota, as there will be less seats at the next election then there is now.

Yet despite this trend, eleven seats have such a large population that they will exceed the larger quota in the redistribution. Another 8 seats are less than 1% under quota.

The four most populous seats in the state follow a line along the southern shore of Sydney Harbour from Wentworth to Reid, through Sydney and Grayndler. Each seat is slightly less populous than the one before it, but collectively these four seats are 16.8% over quota. The only solution will involve shifting each seat slightly to the east, until Reid can distribute surplus population to neighbouring electorates.

On the north shore, the coastal seats of Warringah and Mackellar are just over quota, with North Sydney and Bennelong just under quota.

There is a large block of seats, including Bradfield, Berowra and all of Western Sydney, where all but one seat sits under quota. Berowra and Werriwa are at approximately 94% of a quota each, and Chifley is just over the quota.

Overall the effect in this area will be to expand the size of most seats and shift them in a south-westerly direction, forcing Werriwa further into Campbelltown and Macarthur out to Picton. It is unlikely that the numbers will require a seat in Western Sydney to be abolished.

The situation is slightly more dire in the north of the state. Adding together the four North Coast seats, the two Central Coast seats and the five seats in the Hunter, this area does not include a single seat that reaches the quota, and overall these eleven seats are 53.7% under quota.

Thus I think it is most likely that the seat to be abolished will be in the Hunter region, and I would nominate the large semi-rural seat of Hunter as the best pick to be abolished. The eastern half of the seat, including parts of Maitland and Cessnock, would be transferred into other Hunter seats to bring other seats up to quota, while the western half would shift to be part of a western NSW seat.

It is not clear to me how western NSW would be divided up, but the addition of half a seat’s population from the upper Hunter will likely require significant redrawing of western seats, which are themselves under quota, so that by the time you reach the south-east of NSW, these areas are only about 30% over quota. This 30% over quota will drag Hume south and west, and make Macarthur more of a semi-rural fringe seat.

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  1. Under the scenario described I’m guessing Paterson may become a Labor seat, or at least return to being a very marginal seat.

    Ben, I just found that on the main page of your archived 2013 federal election guide, the links to the indexes of electorates by alphabetical order and state are redirecting to the 2010 guide, if you weren’t aware of that problem.

  2. Hunter is a likely target, given how far under quota the seats are in that part of the state.

    And yet…

    Most of the enrolment of Hunter, around two thirds, is in the Maitland and Cessnock councils. If Hunter is to be abolished, these voters would ideally be moved into the neighbouring eastern divisions – Charlton, Newcastle & Paterson.

    There are 10 divisions stretching from Robertson to Richmond; meaning that just 10 (out of 47) divisions would be absorbing two thirds of the abolished seat! Precedent suggests there won’t be adjustments elsewhere – the great dividing range and the Hawkesbury river are inviolate.

    If Hunter is to go, then it’s possible that Mailand or Cessnock/Kurri Kurri will have to be placed into a western division. Or perhaps Hunter will be retained and itself become a sprawling western electorate.

    It will be interesting to see how the numbers fall.

  3. The northern coast and Hunter may be under quota, but have much stronger growth potential than Western NSW. I think the Committee will take that into account and leave these seats alone. Hunter will probably get pushed into the Central West to help make up the numbers, but I personally wouldn’t expect a major change here.

    I think they’ll go with the traditional method of abolishing a seat in Western NSW, probably Hume or Riverina. Doing this, Broken Hill goes back into Parkes (where it belongs) and the Central West bits of Hume can top up Parkes and Calare. Tumut and Tumbarumba go back into Eden-Monaro to top up the South Coast, and Macarthur gets pulled out into the Southern Highlands.

    Hopefully they also take the opportunity to fix up a few things, like Hughes.

  4. The north of NSW is 53% under quota – you can’t ignore that.

    My estimate is that the actual towns of Cessnock, Kurri Kurri and Maitland make up about 60% of the population of Hunter. So you could cut the rest and that region would be 7% over quota – which could be absorbed throughout that region.

    Yes, I think there will be a seat that takes in the upper Hunter and parts of the Central West, and you could argue about which seat is abolished: Parkes, Calare or Hunter. It won’t be Hume. You need the seat of Hume, and that’s not where the major population deficit is.

  5. What’s the colour scheme on the map? I assume it’s green: over quota, light red: less than 5% under quota, dark red: more than 5% under quota. Also, don’t the figures refer to enrolment rather than population?

    Great post overall, and I agree with your reasoning about losing a seat from the Hunter / North Coast region.

  6. I wouldn’t rule out a north coast seat crossing the Great Divide. In the recent NSW state redistribution the Tenterfield Shire was added to Lismore, which was actually a fairly sensible arrangement given the alternatives were quite complex boundaries around Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie. The federal comissioners might well also consider including parts of the tablelands in Page if the alternative is a problematic boundary between Cowper and Lyne. The southern boundary of Cowper will have to push south, and this will mean it will to some extent have to wrap around Port Macquarie to the west, including Wauchope, just as the state seat of Oxley does. Until we have see the detailed figures it’s hard to guess whether or not Cowper will be able to be made up to quota without having to encroach on the urban areas of Port Macquarie or Taree. Of course that wouldn’t be helpful for Labor in Page, but whatever changes are made on the north coast are probably going to make Page safer for the Nats anyway.

  7. I think you might see a more radical re-design which abolishes both Hunter and Riverina and creates a new upper hunter/mid-west seat. There used to be one called Lawson in the district and Paterson was also once a seat with these boundaries.

    The most logical divide for western NSW on declining numbers is north-south. Broken Hill goes into Parkes, Riverina is abolished, Wagga Wagga going into Hume, the western end of Riverina shoring up Farrer, Depending on the numbers, creating a new upper hunter/mid-west seat causes major surgery to Calare, pushing it south to take in the excess created by moving Wagga Wagga into Hume,

    Parkes loses everything east of Dubbo, Moree into New England, Gunnedah and Quirindi into the Hunter replacement seat along with Wellington, Mudgee etc. The main problem with this re-design is whether there are enough numbers.

    Gilmore, Throsby and Cunningham move north, Cunningham taking more of the Sutherland Shire from Hughes, Macarthur and Werriwa moving south after Hume, and Hughes sliding into the area between Werriwa and Fowler, as seats in this area have been doing for several year.

    If the numbers are there for a Hunter replacement seat, that plan would work and be stable for future redistributions. As with a lot of these redistributions, figure out what you’re doing with Broken Hill and Wagga Wagga and see how it goes from there.

  8. Nick, I would otherwise agree with you, but New England is almost exactly on quota, and I suspect it’ll be easier to keep that barrier in place.

    @Antony, I agree. Abolishing Hunter and throwing the Upper Hunter region into the west of NSW will have significant impacts on a bunch of those seats. I haven’t looked into the numbers in enough detail but I wonder if a Scone-Singleton-Muswellbrook-Mudgee-Bathurst-Lithgow seat might be up to quota, and may well be competitive for Labor.

  9. I did a simple regression analysis (for forthcoming book on 2013 election) of Labor 2PP in 2013 by social characteristics of electorate and outside of inner city Melbourne & Sydney Hunter is electorate where there is largest positive gap between Labor’s actual vote and that predicted by model.

  10. Put it this way, the most likely outcome will be the loss of a Seat in the North West or West of NSW. Possibly Parkes, or Farrer. The North Coast has more growth potential and that is why the Seats are more likely to remain intact. Seats such as Hume and Eden-Monaro are more likely to remain intact due to their potential for growth.

  11. You can’t just keep abolishing western seats at every redistribution. Abolishing Hunter will have significant knock-on effects on the Central West, and may well also effectively abolish another seat in the West, as Antony suggested

  12. To understand the reducation from 48 to 47 seats in NSW, one needs to find the starting point. That starting point is to get the latest stats which as of May 31 for NSW are at 4845177 and when divided by 47, which leaves a proposed quota of 103089.


    Starting with Sydney, the majority of the seats will be near this proposed quota of 103089. However, there are some discrepencies that need to be noted. For example, many of the inner suburban seats that are near the coast eg. Wentworth with 111200 and Reid with 105365 are over quota and will most likely need to shed voters. However, the Berowra with an enrolment of 96966, some 6% below quota will need to find additional voters.

    But its outside Sydney and especially to the North along the coast and that includes the Hunter region is where we are likely to see much of the action. Every Seat north of the Hawkesbury River is below quota and some more so the others. Take a seat such as Page, as my example. With a population of 95412, some 7.45% below my proposed quota, its going to have to find additional voters and plently more of them as well. To the north, Richmond which is also bounded by the Queensland Border to the north is already below quota by some 4689 on my proposed quota will also need to find additional voters.

    So could Page seek to gain additional voters from say Tenterfield for example? Tenterfield is in New England which is 964 below quota. Its would have to be most unlikely especially as Parkes to the west, which would also be marginally below quota. So the most definitely outcome would be that all of the seats will have to eventually be forced to move South, which makes on my calculations a seat in the Hunter/Central Coast is the most likely to go. Hunter would have to scaled back into the Maitland/Cessock area and Newcastle will have to expand further into suburban Newcastle. Based on this sconerio, I would think that a seat such as Charlton, Shortland or possibly Patterson are the most likely Seats to go.

    Looking at the South, I am not sure what will happen here, but on my guess work a seat such as Throsby which would be 4363 below quota, which would be absorbed with nearby seats such as Cunningham – above quota and Gilmore, marginally below quota. However the smallest enrolment of 94343 – 8746 below quota would need to find additional voters from somewhere – from Riverina. However, I am not convienced that a new Seat can be created in the South, based on the current enrollments.

  13. This is why I still think it will be Riverina or Hume that they end up abolishing….you can top up all the bits and pieces of the state easily without radical changes.

    The Young/Cowra area can go into Calare (flow on to top up Parkes), the MIA into Farrer (allows Broken Hill to also help top up Parkes), the remaining Southern Highlands into Throsby and Gilmore, Wollondilly tops up the Sydney seats, and Tumut/Tumbaramba tops up the south coast.

    The new excess from Parkes/Calare can then go into Hunter/New England which can flow on to the northern coast.

    It just seems so much cleaner to do it that way than abolish a Hunter seat or radically redraw northern/western NSW.

  14. I don’t believe any coastal seat will be abolished.

    If Paterson goes, Newcastle will be pulled so far north it will cease to be worthy of its name.

    Shortland will surely stay because Robertson & Dobell will undergo only small northward expansions. The new shape of Shortland will be interesting. Parts of the southern end will probably be transferred to Dobell, pushing Shortland either north into Newcastle LGA, or hooking around the north shore of Lake Macquarie.

  15. Hunter, Hume, Riverina and Newcastle are all federation seats and the AEC is supposed not to abolish them, although they’ve done so twice in recent times, with Gwydir and Kalgoorlie – both quite unnecessarily. So no matter how the boundaries change they are supposed to try to preserve those names. Seats in regional NSW which are *not* federation seats and are therefore available for abolition are Calare (1906), Farrer (1949), Parkes and Charlton (1984) and Paterson (1993). But it would be a pity not to have a Parkes, which is why the name was revived in 1984 and then given to Gwydir in 2007.

  16. Ben Raue – your suggestion of A Scone-Cessnock-Bathurst seat intrigues me as these areas do have some commonality. Additionally, a seat comprising Maitland, Cessnock, Kurri Kurri as well as the southern parts of the seat of Paterson would likely be over quota. I wonder if the Scone-Bathurst seat might even intrude into the Blue Mountains, forcing Sydney seats to the east to even out population quotas.

  17. Just wondering if anyone tell us all when the federal redistribution is likely to be formally announced for all NSW (and Australia) seats? Or at least what the expected timing deadline is to have the federal boundaries all sorted for 2016?

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