Yes, this redistribution is taking a long time


Speculation about an early federal election never goes away, and I’ve noticed more recently in relation to the possibility of a federal election later this year.

While you can debate the political merits of such a decision, the current redistribution processes make it pretty much impossible to call an election in 2024, without triggering special mini-redistribution procedures which would produce severe inequity in electoral populations between seats.

In this post I will try to understand what is going on. Is this just the normal process, or is this redistribution actually taking a long time? Yes, in short, this year’s procedures have been taking longer. I’m going to look at the time frames for past redistributions and how the timing of redistribution procedures interact withe election time rules imposed by the constitution.

First, let’s try and understand some basic rules of Australian election timing.

The House of Representatives and the Senate technically follow two different schedules. The Senate has a fixed term, with terms ending every three years at the end of June. The current Senate terms expire on 30 June 2025 and 30 June 2028. A half-Senate election can be held at any time in the last year of the Senate’s term, but the new Senate doesn’t take over until the new term.

The House, on the other hand, does not have a fixed term. Theoretically it can be dissolved at any time, but expires three years after the first sitting of the House after the last election.

In practice we always hold these elections at the same time – the last time the elections were held apart was in 1972 – so the range of possible election dates is dictated by the overlap of the two schedules.

A half-Senate election can be held from any time in early August 2024, with the final dates in May 2025. A House election can be held up until 27 September 2025. Because the election is due to be held in the early part of the year, close to the end of the Senate term, there is a wider range of potential dates.

When elections were held in the August-November window from 1998 until 2013, the end of the House term imposed a much tighter window. This schedule was reset by the double dissolution in 2016.

But the other constraint is the process of redrawing electoral boundaries.

One year after the first sitting of the House, the entitlement of seats in the House for each state is determined. Once the determination has been made, it is no longer possible to hold a House election using the previous number of seats.

In the case of a House election called prior to the completion of the redistribution process, a mini-redistribution is required. If a state loses an electorate, the two contiguous electorates with the smallest number of enrolled voters is merged. If a state gains an electorate, the two contiguous electorates with the greatest number of enrolled voters are split into three seats.

Such an outcome would be very much a stop-gap measure and would leave the voters of one or two communities with a far less powerful vote than others.

This is a dramatic process and is far from ideal. I wouldn’t rule out a government calling an election at a time that would cause a mini-redistribution, but it would be quite unusual.

So if we think about what might be different this year, one thing that stands out is the scale of the change.

For this post, I have settled on a new way to divide up redistributions. When a redistribution has been triggered by a change in the state’s seat entitlement, that’s a major redistribution. They tend to be more dramatic, and you can’t proceed with an election until it was resolved. Other redistributions I’m calling minor redistributions. In 2010, a redistribution in Victoria was paused during the holding of a federal election, but it wasn’t a problem because it didn’t involve a change in Victoria’s seat entitlement.

This year’s redistribution is the most dramatic since 1984 (when every state was redrawn at the same time). 100 of the 150 seats to be used at the next election are currently being redrawn in major redistributions (plus 2 NT seats undergoing a minor redistribution).

The number of seats being redrawn has varied significantly over the last quarter century. At the last three elections, about a third of the House was effected by major redistributions. No major redistributions were conducted prior to the 2013 election, while about half of all seats were affected by major redistributions in 2007 and 2010.

So before we consider the issue of timing, we should acknowledge that there are an unusually large number of seats where we still don’t know what the boundaries will be for the next election, despite many preselections having already been concluded.

Next up, I wanted to understand how long redistribution processes have been taking, and how that interacts with the date of the election, and the earliest possible date for a standard election (which is always in early August one year before the Senate term ends). For this chart, I’m only looking at major redistributions.

There is some variation in how long it takes before the redistribution process commences, but it’s usually at least 400 days after the previous election. The only exception was in 1996, when it took 366 days to start the redistribution. It took longer following the 2001 and 2007 elections, which were both held in November. In both years the parliament didn’t sit until the following year, which added time before the start of the process.

For the 2001-2016 elections, the previous election had been held in the second half of the year, and thus there was a shorter window between the first and last potential dates for a standard election, and thus there was a significant gap (usually around half a year) between the finalisation of the redistribution and the first possible date for an election.

The 2015-16 redistributions took longer, and that year’s election was a double dissolution was called for a date about a month before the earliest date for a standard election.

In 2019 and 2022, thanks to the reset of the 2016 DD, the earliest possible date for a standard election was quite a long time before the three years runs out, and thus the redistributions were only finalised very close to the earliest date for a half-Senate election, around July-August two years after the previous election. But as long as the election was held in May, this wasn’t an issue.

That dynamic should also play out again in 2025, but with the redistribution taking substantially longer, the time between redistribution finishing and the election is quite a lot less. The AEC’s timetables now say that the redistributions will be finalised on October 24, compared to August 2 in 2021. That’s about 10 less weeks between redistribution and election, assuming the election is held again in mid-May.

So the 2024 process is taking longer than most other years, but it is similar to 2016. Now I wanted to understand what is taking so much time. This next chart dates back to 2005, and shows how much of the time was spent in different parts of the process – public submissions, time for deliberation and map-drawing, and administrative procedures at the start and end of the process.

The AEC’s website currently says that the draft boundaries for New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia are due in late May or early June. They always publish on Fridays, so the chart is based on all three being released this Friday, May 24. In reality it’s unlikely they’d all be released on the same day.

UPDATE: The AEC announced today that the WA boundaries will be released on May 31, so that suggests that NSW and Victoria will be in early June.

The length of time for consultation is very consistent, about six weeks for the first two rounds of consultation, and another six weeks after the boundaries are released.

The amount of time spent deciding on the final boundaries after the consultation has also been relatively consistent, although it was longer in 2021 than in the past.

There is always a gap after the announcement of the final boundaries before they are formally implemented, but this gap has been getting smaller. It was over two months in 2006 and 2009 but it was closer to a month in 2021. This period is relevant to the formal implementation of the boundaries and would limit the ability to call an election, but during this time it will be possible for candidates, parties, media and analysts to use the final boundaries in the meantime.

The 2015 processes took a lot longer because the process commenced in December 2014, and the consultation process didn’t commence until March of the following year. That’s not the same as this year. Instead, this year’s redistribution is taking longer because the committee is taking longer to decide on the draft boundaries.

So why might that be? I don’t want to assume this is a failure on the part of the AEC, they may have good reasons.

One likely issue is that the original population projections provided to the AEC by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for Victoria and Western Australia turned out to be wrong, and new data needed to be provided. The AEC would have needed to start over the map-drawing process, and are also less able to rely on submissions that were based on the false information.

It’s also possible that the scale of the task is slowing things down, with two thirds of seats around the country needing to be redrawn. It might be worth asking some questions at the next JSCEM inquiry into why the process takes so long.

Whatever is happening, it does seem to be the reality that this process is taking longer than previous elections. Unless the government is willing to trigger three mini-redistributions, they really don’t have the ability to call an election until late October, which would involve an election at the end of November.

If they were to do that, they would be going to an election with boundaries only just published, with very little time to prepare to campaign. It would also be a big administrative burden to be ready to go on the new boundaries.

So while an election later this year could seem plausible for other reasons, I think the long redistribution process is a very strong reason to rule out an election in 2024.

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  1. Agree.
    It seems this early election speculation happens almost every electoral cycle.
    Most of it nothing more than unfounded rumours
    Albo will see out his full term. I reckon about this time next year.

  2. 10th, 17th or 24th of May seems most likely for the next Federal election. Probably the 17th.

  3. Per Sky News

    WA will be 31st

    And NSW and Vic will be first two weeks of June

    Agree about their not being an early election. Just look at the fact that Labor is not even preselecting marginal seat candidates yet. If they were planning to go to an early election, they’d have their candidates selected already.

  4. Actually the 2019 data should also include a minor redistribution for Queensland seats (30), so that makes 37 seats affected by a minor redistribution.

  5. Credlin reckons the redistribution will favour Labor in NSW. I disagree. While Labor’s certainly wants to use the redistribution to get rid of dai le I do agree with Labor’s proposal to abolishbor majorly chnage Fowler albeit for different reasons. The main reason is it crosses the river to include 2 LGAs when the redistribution will allow for a new division in sw Sydney meaning the river can be used as a boundary

  6. I don’t expect an early election this year, but when considering the practical constraints, it’s worth looking back to 1984, when all of the states had to be massively redistributed to give effect to the increase in the size of the Parliament. The redistribution process only finished with the NSW determination on 11 October, and the writs for the 1 December election were issued on 26 October. And the administrative challenges faced at the 1984 election were much greater than they would be today: new AEC divisional offices had to be established, with new Divisional Staff put in place, and all of the major reforms which were legislated in 1983 had to be implemented for the first time. The rolls also had to be extensively re-coded to the new boundaries, using a far less powerful IT system than today’s. So all things considered, the AEC ought to be able to cope if necessary.

  7. @John yeah Peta Credlin is wrong. Clearly isn’t looking at the regional redistribution where up to three seats could notionally change from Labor to Liberal (Gilmore (or Eden-Monaro), Macquarie (or, more likely, a new Hawkesbury seat) and Paterson are all at risk). Then in Sydney there’s risk for Labor in Bennelong, Parramatta and Werriwa while in Fowler, Hughes and Hunter the redistribution will be better for Labor. Dobell, Newcastle and Shortland would be unchanged, while Robertson could potentially slightly improve for Labor with the loss of some semi-rural areas.

    If there was a state redistribution in NSW now (which there isn’t and won’t be until after the next state election) then it would also put Labor at risk in Camden, East Hills, Heathcote, Parramatta, Penrith, Riverstone, South Coast and maybe even Bega and The Entrance and it would favour the Liberals in Epping, Miranda, Ryde and Winston Hills while potentially disadvantaging them in Holsworthy (as I’ve said before the only marginal seat that really won’t in play at all in 2027 will be Terrigal which the Liberals should retain easily with a big swing to them).

  8. @nether yea shes looking at in a bubble yes labor have propsed the major shake up of fowler for their own political purposes but i have also done this unfortunately fowler is in the sweet spot of being in the centre of the under quota central sydney and the over quota sw sydney divisions. so central sydney will lose one and sw sydney get one and unfortunately that effects dai le. in my own redistribution ive abolished fowler as it is chopped up and redistributed elsewhere and the voters from this division are spread through 4 divisions in my proposal keeping the name doesnt seem viable. but ive explained that in return for its abolition another division named after a woman and one named after an indigeounous person are created so their is no net loss of seat named after “minorities”

  9. NP – Another outcome of this redistribution is that with Wentworth needing to expand into hostile territory, it is quite possible that the Libs will never be able to win it again.
    I largely agree with your assessment of possible changes above though not sure about Gilmore – can’t see much reason to change – and Eden Monaro – it is possible but it will depend on where the boundaries go. For EM if it goes up into Goulburn, then the ALP will be weakened but if it goes up the coast No.

  10. MM – it is possible that in 1983/ 84 the AEC was comparitively much better resourced than it is now. They would also have had much better experience at shifting paper around, and there were a lot fewer voters than now.

  11. @redistributed wentworth would be marginal lib robably so theyre better off with spender there in the long run. Gilmore will probably lose eurobodalla to EM which would lose snowy valleys lga to riverina that would make EM better for libs

  12. @Redistributed suburbs like Vaucluse still have over 60% Liberal TPP and over 50% Liberal primary as does the state seat of Vaucluse so I think it would be still more Liberal than Labor. I would argue that the teals won’t ever win a state seat in NSW except maybe Coogee if they really tried but they won’t contest any Labor or Greens seats because they only target Liberal seats that Labor and the Greens can’t win simply to get elected and to help elect a Labor government. At the 2023 state election the Liberals retained Davidson, Lane Cove, Manly, North Shore, Pittwater, Vaucluse and Willoughby, which overlap with the federal seats of Bradfield (Davidson and Willoughby; note that Bradfield isn’t a teal seat but a teal contested and came second in 2022), Mackellar (Pittwater), North Sydney (Lane Cove, North Shore and Willoughby), Warringah (Manly and North Shore) and Wentworth (Vaucluse). The only seat in NSW the Liberals lost north of Sydney Harbour was Wakehurst which was won by Michael Reagan (a non-teal independent).

    (Idk why my other comment was under a different profile, perhaps I entered my email wrong)

  13. at least we have a date for the first redistribution release (WA). i dont know about you but im excited

  14. @redistributed: “MM – it is possible that in 1983/ 84 the AEC was comparitively much better resourced than it is now. They would also have had much better experience at shifting paper around, and there were a lot fewer voters than now.”

    No. I was right in the middle of it all in 1983/84. The AEC is far better resourced now than in its early days. Apart from anything else, they now have powerful IT systems, which simply didn’t exist in 1984, accessible in all their offices. The enrolment system in 1984 wasn’t an online database: it was run using batch processing, with tapes (remember them?) flying all around the place – so much so that the enrolment section in Canberra had a full-time courier whose job was to transport tapes. The current redistributions are mainly going to be moving boundaries (and voters) around, rather than creating a mass of new divisions. The latter is much more resource intensive, since it involved (in those days) setting up and staffing new divisional offices. And in 1984, the AEC had to administer for the first time a vast range of new processes, including public funding and disclosure; mobile polling in remote areas, hospitals, nursing homes and prisons; party registration; new methods of Senate voting and counting, with new formality rules; new House formality rules; division wide ordinary voting … All of these changes required new manuals and training packages for polling day staff. And just for good measure, there were also two referendums held concurrently with the election in 1984, under a new piece of legislation, which required the preparation of Yes/No cases.

  15. Though still most likely for right towards the end of the alloted time period (May 2025), there has always been and there remains a small window of time to hold the election right at the very end of the year, AFTER the redistributions are complete (maybe not NT).

    eg. Michael Maley says above, “The redistribution process only finished with the NSW determination on 11 October, and the writs for the 1 December election were issued on 26 October.”

    Current redistribution determinations expected: 24th September (WA), 10th October (NSW), 17th October (VIC), 4th March 2025 (NT).

    I’m guessing the AEC probably wouldn’t like the rush of an event so soon after new boundaries (they’d have to quickly allocate the entire state of refreshed seats out to the existing network of offices) but also they know it could be a thing, so I imagine likely have ongoing contingencies.

  16. I think Teals don’t do as well in state level probably due to State donation laws (especially Victoria) and Fed Libs are more conservative

  17. The teals failed to win seats in nsw at the state level because of the voting system…OPV . Thus choked off anti liberal preferences. The system for federal seats. Is CPV which allowed the teals to win on Labor and green preferences

  18. G at 12:47 pm

    “… I’m guessing the AEC probably wouldn’t like the rush of an event so soon after new boundaries (they’d have to quickly allocate the entire state of refreshed seats out to the existing network of offices) but also they know it could be a thing, so I imagine likely have ongoing contingencies. …”

    Undoubtedly. It’s well understood within the AEC that one of the reasons for having a permanently staffed electoral commission is to enable the PM to call an election whenever it’s constitutionally possible. And frankly, after what the AEC went through in the runup to the 2022 election because of Covid (discussed in detail here:, any early election from now on would be a doddle in comparison.

  19. Michael, your comments do make me wonder about the necessary timeframe if they were to expand the Parliament in the next time – I’d think you’d want to make the change before the enumeration date and get the process started earlier.

  20. Your Redistribution and election timing chart seems wrong for 2013, unless minor redistributions take zero time?

  21. @Josh, no it’s correct. The text on the chart says “ Redistributions which didn’t change the number of seats in a state not included.”

    Minor redistributions follow a different timetable. They are triggered by seven years passing, not by the determination of entitlements, so they can happen earlier or later. Also they are not so relevant here because the failure to complete a redistribution does not trigger a mini-redistribution.

    So in the case of 2013, there was a determination in 2011, and since no changes in the seat entitlement took place, the process was complete that very day.

  22. On the point of a future expanded parliament, mathematically it would seem that would make redistributions both more common and more complex.

    If a state is apportioned 10 seats then grows or shrinks by ~5% (relative to other states) would warrant a redistribution. Imagining an expanded parliament where that state is apportioned 15 seats growing or shrinking by ~3.3% would warrant a redistribution.

    And when drawing a redistribution for more seats there’s both more lines to draw and more potential options.

    The dream of course would be to move to multi-member lower house seats which would take almost all the heat out of redistributions. When seats aren’t winner-takes-all exactly where the line is diminishes in importance.

  23. I wonder if it would be better for any redistribution to take place after the next HOR election. By that I mean the current redrawing would be for the 2028 election not the 2025. I know that would mean the boundaries are based on 6+ year old information and major changes may have by then taken place, but unless we move to fixe terms and can have a more formal timeline between elections, it might be the least bad option to avoid the worry that an election would interfere with the process. Just a thought.

  24. @MLV that would leave NSW heavily disproportionate. Every seat between Richmond and Newcastle is heavily over quota.

  25. On the prospect of an early election, I have personally priced in a rate hike on 2 July, probably 6 August, and the possibly even a pre-emptory one on 4 June. If that is the case, I suspect Labor would want those as far in the mirror as possible before an election, unless of course they trigger a recession. If we don’t get those, or only 2 July, I think it is much more likely we get an early election, sometime around late November, before the $300 electricity price rises.

  26. True Nether, but I did suggest that might be the least worst option in the overall context. Maybe minor one’s between elections and major ones for after the next? Not saying I am right, just I thought worth thinking about.

  27. MLV, when the rules of redistribution processes come into play, often the debate revolves around speed of the process. If one side is advantaged by using older boundaries (for example, the side who has less support in faster-growing areas) then they have an advantage in slowing everything down. You see this in the UK where the Tories pushed to shorten the time between censuses and the new maps being implemented because Labour did better in slow-growing areas.

    So if you were to postpone things by a term, you would advantage some over others. I suspect generally this would be bad for Labor, but hard to say.

    Having said that, I’m fairly sure that element is beyond the control of the parliament. Prior to either 1975 or 1977, the parliament had the ability to accept or reject updates in the number of seats each state is entitled to, and the new number didn’t apply until the redistribution was completed and passed through parliament. So on some occasions there was a deliberate choice not to implement a change. It was also standard to determine entitlements at the time of the census, which was every five years so didn’t align with the electoral cycle.

    The High Court ruled in the 1970s that you had to revise the number every parliament, and you couldn’t use the old number once that revision had taken place.

    One thing I wonder about would be whether you could bring the determination forward. Why waste the whole first year of the term? That would also slightly widen the gap between the measurement of the population and the implementation of the boundaries, but by a lot less than postponing the change until the following term.

  28. Agree Ben, if you are going to do determinations after every election it is far better to do them early (maybe not immediately after the election but probably no more than 6 months after Parliament first sits).

  29. “Ben Raue May 21, 2024 at 9:10 pm

    Michael, your comments do make me wonder about the necessary timeframe if they were to expand the Parliament in the next time – I’d think you’d want to make the change before the enumeration date and get the process started earlier.”

    That’s what happened in 1984.

  30. The thinking behind having the determination at the 12 month mark rather than earlier was precisely to avoid the risk that it could be challenged in the High Court on the basis that the statistics on which it was based were out of date by election time. In 1977 there would have been legal opinions obtained at the highest level on that point.

  31. Fair point Michael, although if you are going to have a fixed date like 12 months for the population/enrolment determinations then you should also have a fixed term for elections as well (ideally 4-year terms, similar to NSW local council rules that specify redistributions of wards based on enrolment numbers 12 months into a new council term).

  32. the perfect time for an expansion of parliament will be after the 2031 election given all the redistributions are taking place over the next 12 months they should all reach their 7 year date after that election so it would be the perfect oppurtunity to do an expansion as they all would be getting done regardless

  33. @ John
    I agree with you 100% on 2031 being the date for the expansion of parliament. The other factor i would consider is that Australia population is expected to reach ~30 million by 2030 meaning it would have doubled in population since 1984 when parliament expanded. Australia population nearly doubled between 1949 and 1984. Australia population also almost doubled between federation and the first expansion in 1949. I think all parties will support it as it creates safer seats. Higgins will be better for Libs with an expansion of parliament removing Murrumbeena, Carnegie etc, North Sydney will likely be recreated, a super safe Labor seat can be created in South Western Sydney, NW Melbourne, maybe a new seat for the Nats in Regional NSW etc.

  34. I’m wondering if that could coincide with the introduction of multi-member electorates. Perhaps we have 85 three-member seats, or 50 five-member seats, or 35 seven-member seats. Or maybe I’m being too optimistic that there will ever be appetite for such a change.

  35. Why wait? What is there to say that there will not be another redistribution required in one of the states being redistributed now? especially NSW as it is at most risk of losing a seat and Queensland gaining one. One barrier may be that it is superficially hard to see the ALP doing that well out of it – except may be in the Senate. In the Reps, the Libs, Nats and Greens would all seem to be the winners.

  36. Nicholas – you forget about the States and the Constitution – the nexus to be precise. You could never get constituencies with the same number of seats unless the states did not exist or the numbers be so high so that every state worked with multiples of 5 or 7. A sort of MMP might be possible – not sure what good it would do though.

  37. @John,

    Most redistributions for the five big states don’t last the full seven years. Victoria’s electoral boundaries have been redrawn four times over five election cycles. WA’s three over four cycles. There is absolutely no reason to think a majority of these redistributions will last the seven years.

    And the constitution absolutely does allow for multi-member electorates. The only element of a Hare-Clark style system that would be unconstitutional would be filling vacancies would be the countbacks, since the constitution mandates by-elections for House vacancies.

    @redistributed and @nicholas, I have done a few scenarios for how Hare-Clark for the House could work. You’d set a target magnitude with some room for variance. One 2-member district for the NT, one 3-member district for ACT. Set a target of 5 with the possibility of 4- and 6-member districts, and you could stick to that range for the rest of the country. A state with 16 seats would have two 5-member districts and a 6-member district. A state with 38 seats would have six 5-member districts and two 4-member districts, etc.

  38. @raue im aware of that but given nsw will have just completed a major redistribution after 7 years and tas, nt, act, wont be changing memeber numbers anytime soon i reckon it will be close to none needing a redistribution

  39. @ john, you are probably right that at the next determination there would be no need for any state to change the number of seats, but on Current trends the election after next will see WA and Vic possibly in contention to to gain an extra seat each with SA and NSW getting close to losing a seat each

  40. @nsw and sa were at the higher end of there new seat determination i think we ill see qld get another one whereas wa vic are at the lower end of there current entitlement so i dont think there be any change til at at least after the 2028 election ecept in qld


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