Queensland’s (lack of a) redistribution


We’re now one year out from the next Queensland state redistribution. Queensland was the last state to extend its parliamentary terms to four years, and probably doesn’t hold redistributions often enough for the new term lengths.

State redistributions are typically held in Victoria and New South Wales after every second election. Redistributions are held after every election in Western Australia, South Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory. Federal redistributions must be held at least once every seven years, but can theoretically be held after every election if a state’s seat entitlement changes. Tasmania’s lower house boundaries are redrawn on the federal schedule, while Tasmania’s upper house generally undergoes a redistribution roughly once a decade.

Throughout the 21st century, Queensland state redistributions have generally taken place after every three elections. The first redistribution applied in 2001, 2004 and 2006. The next covered 2009, 2012 and 2015. The current boundaries were used for the 2017 and 2020 elections, and will be used again for the upcoming 2024 election.

This is a long gap! So for this post I thought I would look at how enrolment trends in Queensland have deviated since that redistribution.

For this post I’m using enrolment data from the end of September 2023.

I have calculated how much each electorate deviates from the statewide average, but it’s worth noting that there are four large electorates in northern and western Queensland which are allowed to be drawn well below the average. For seats with over 100,000 square kilometres of land mass, 2% of those square kilometres count as “notional electors”. In the case of Gregory, this amounts to over 9,000 imaginary electors, compared to a quota of just over 39,000.

This special allowance collectively adds up to about 70% of a seat’s quota, so the quotas calculated for each region don’t cancel each other out.

Nine seats exceed the quota by more than 10%, while four others are more than 10% under the quota.

The 61 seats in the urban parts of south-east Queensland are collectively 70% over quota, but the large electorate allowance means that the remaining parts of the state are roughly in line with the quota.

When we get to the map, you’ll see a big divide in Brisbane. Seats south of the river tend to be under quota. The 20 seats in southern Brisbane are about a quarter of a seat under quota, while the 17 north of the river are about half of a seat over quota. Ipswich and Sunshine Coast are both about a quarter of a seat over quota. Interestingly the Gold Coast collectively is roughly on track, but there are tremendous variations within the region.

Most Gold Coast seats are under quota, with Gaven and Oodgeroo about 11% under the average, but Coomera is a gob-smacking 35% over quota. No other seat is more than 18% over quota.

Central Queensland is generally above average, but this is mostly due to Gympie and Wide Bay being 11-12% over quota.

All but one seat along the coast from Gladstone to Townsville are under quota. Mundingburra is quite a long way below the quota, while the other two Townsville-area seats are just slightly under.

The Cairns-area seats are all over quota, if not by much, which creates the potential for the large-area Cook electorate to shrink slightly when a redistribution eventually comes along.

Traeger, Gregory in western Queensland are both very reliant on the notional electors but are still well below quota. Roughly a quarter of the “electors” in these two seats are imaginary. Applying the current redistribution rules, the two seats are about 16% under quota, but that would be 60% under quota if you just counted actual electors – or 80% under if you also include Warrego.

Queensland will not be holding a redistribution prior to the 2024 election. Presumably a redistribution will commence in the following term to cover the 2028 election. It would be a good idea if Queensland now moved to holding redistributions after every second election, now that the state has four year terms.

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  1. Excellent work Ben.

    At the last redistribution the ECQ was warned that their population projections were unrealistic in a number of seats (particularly Coomera and Caloundra) and some of their boundary decisions were odd to say the least.

    I’ve argued for a while now that the States would be far better off getting the AEC to handle their electoral role simply because the AEC is far more competent. While I’ve occasionally disagreed with an AEC decision, they’ve always been defensible. That hasn’t been the case with the ECQ and other state bodies.

  2. You’d think Labor wouldn’t be so keen to disenfranchise grown corridors and continue the Bjelke mander of all those cross burner country electorates, especially since this is shaping up to be a tough election. I guess they’re just bored of government.

  3. Ben, I read from legislation and other commenters on this site that the rule for Queensland redistributions is every nine years or three elections, whichever comes first. Due to the ‘early’ election held in 2017 (after two years instead of three, and then three rather than four years to the 2020 fixed term election, the nine years after boundaries were gazetted prior to the 2017 election does not elapse until early 2024, which is too late to hold a redistribution so it will be deferred just after the 2024 election.

    Going forward, the rule should mean redistributions will be triggered every two election cycles in line with NSW and Victoria.

  4. @ Furtive Lawngnome Comparing it to the Bjelkemander is a bit much… Most states have (or recently had? I don’t keep up all too well) an allowance for extremely large regional electorates and it’s nowhere near as widespread or extensive as it was back when he was in power.

    That aside I think they should consider expanding parliament again. It’s only been a few years since they did, and QLD has as roughly many members as Victoria and NSW, but those two states also have an upper house. Might help with representation while deferring any conflict over under-quota regional seats.

  5. Laine, the only other state to use a large district allowance is WA. Other states don’t have that provision, but I agree with you that this is nowhere near as bad as the historical malapportionment under Bjelke Peterson or even Tom Playford in SA.

    Those historical systems had rural seats with enrolments barely half that of urban areas (a 2:1 or worse ratio), compared to an average variance of around 10% for the current system.

  6. Thank you for looking at this in detail Ben! I have been raving about Coomera being +35% over quota for a couple of years now. It seems that the division is starting to stabilise in population as of the last 18 – 24 months (after arguably reaching its capacity). Now a lot of the population growth is shifting out into that growth corridor to the immediate West – Yarrabilba, Jimboomba, Flagstone, Springfield’s periphery and the Ripley Valley.

    Very interesting that despite the one big offender (Coomera), Gold Coast as a cohesive entity stands at roughly where it should for seat allocation. This is going to be a difficult one for ECQ to deal with. I’ll provide some more commentary regarding how I reckon the Gold Coast jigsaw should be reconfigured momentarily.

    I’ll give some more commentary on the middle-ring of Brisbane and the south-western growth corridor later this weekend.

  7. Barney, not exactly. They call them notional electors in QLD and the large district allowance in WA. Basically if a seat is over a particular size land mass you get credit in the form of non-real electors for a proportion of that land mass.

    In QLD a seat qualifies if it’s over 100,000sqkm, and once you reach that level you get notional electors equal to 2% of those sqkm. So a seat with exactly 100,000 sqkm is allowed to have 2000 fewer real electors than another seat.

  8. Ben, is that a carry over from joh’s time? i thought the electoral reforms of goss dealt with that. seems like a kind of throwback to the 20% allowance of the 1950s.

  9. It’s much more subtle than earlier malapportionment and only affects a handful of seats. Maybe there’d be one less seat in the far north/west if it wasn’t part of the process.

  10. I thought it was codified during the Fitzgerald reforms. There used to be five out of 89 districts drawn this way, with two (Cook and the old pre-2008 Mount Isa) favouring Labor. Now four out of 93 distrixts receive the large district allowance, with a net-2 seat advantage to the opposition (Cook for Labor, Tragear for KAP, Gregory and Warrego for the LNP).

  11. I’m not advocating for people to break the law by not voting, but geez, there has to be a way to send a message to the electoral commission and government that the boundaries need to be redrawn because while it’s not too bad living in a seat under-quota, seats like Coomera with massive overrepresentation it isn’t fair for the locals to have an MP who’s workload is much bigger than the average MP.

  12. The electoral boundaries look like very gerrymandered, and it’s not just because of the infrequent redistributions. Add to that, the massive diferences in enrolments per electorate. It’s either infrequent or they have their enrolment projections all wrong or both, like in the case of Coomera.

    There’s Mirani which contains the outskirts of Rockhampton and Mackay, rather than just a regional centre or half of it plus the satellite towns and nearby rural areas. This favours One Nation as they poll strongly in rural towns and inland villages but not coastal or large regional centres like Rockhampton.

    Why is there a Bundaberg enclave? Why can’t the Burnett River just split up the electorate? The current Bundaberg boundaries gives Labor a fighting chance whereas the outskirts are more LNP-friendly.

  13. I think it has less to do with gerrymandering and more with following the electoral act, which I believe requires electorates centered on cities to be drawn first, followed by the hinterland. I could be wrong though.

    If I had the ability to make a submission, I would look at merging Bundaberg and Burnett so that the enclave disappears, and is replaced by a Childers-South of Bundaberg-Bargara district and everything else north of it. I’d also look at pulling the boundary of Mirani north so that all of Isaac LGA is in Gregory or Callide, although this will likely have severe knock-on affects all the way up the coast and outback, also affecting the notional electors. I don’t have access to numbers at the moment so this is likely a terrible idea. 🙂

  14. As I understand it, the notional electors exist because it’s much harder work for a single member to represent a massive geographical area than an urban seat. It’s a five minute drive to my Rep’s office in Bulimba, could be several hours unpleasant or even dangerous driving on under-maintained roads in Traegar or Cook. In other words not all representation is equal, and the intentional mallaportionment is intended to address that somewhat.
    No comment from me on whether it’s the right solution or what a better one might be.


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