Increase to Queensland malapportionment on the cards?

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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.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. This is a joke fair boundaries have existed since 1990 I think……. Kap may possibly get one…. ALP nil….. Lnp the rest………… disgusting …… what did the late Russ Hinze say…….” I can rig the boundaries so WE will never be defeated……” what do the urban liberals think of this…….
    will it also shift 6 seats from the other areas of Qld? I suspect Labor will again become competitive on the gold and Sunshine coasts if this occurs……… imagine I am a qld liberal and I believe in gerrymanders……

  2. Mick Quinlivan & Ben
    If this proposal even became a reality. When i compare this to the inequity of the Federal Senate “representation” .Or the enshrining of Tasmania’s right to 5 lower house seats , i find it very difficult to get excited.

  3. Would it really be that partisan a change? In seats like Mount Isa or Cook, the LNP relies on “swamping” the mining, industry and indigenous communities with large amounts of rural territory. Reducing the size of these seats would actually help Labor, wouldn’t it?

    You can certainly oppose malapportionment on principle. If they’re going to expand the Parliament anyway, that alone will help keep the rural seats smaller. But I’m not sure malapportionment would favour one side THAT much. Perhaps I’m missing something…

  4. What a disgrace. The LDA as it exists is already unseemly compromise on electoral equality.

    Labor must fight this. Characterise it as a slide back towards the Bjelkemander. Adopt a policy to remove the LDA altogether if they win a majority at the next election.

  5. (Why do I only see my grammatical mistakes after I’ve posted?)

    On the topic, I’m currently reading the following:
    http://www.amazon.com/On-Democracys-Doorstep-Supreme-Brought/dp/0809074249

    It tells the story of the successful challenges to malapportionment in the US. The Warren Court laid down series of rulings striking down malapportionment. The culmination of which was Reynolds v Sims, which ruled that both houses of the state legislatures must respect one vote one value.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reynolds_v._Sims

    Prior to that malapportionment had been rampant. Particularly at the state level and even at the congressional level.

    Well worth a read.

  6. Even if the bill passes the legislative assembly, how could it get royal asset without the premier’s recommendation?

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