What sort of redistribution objection can actually work?


Objections to the federal redistribution proposals for Western Australia and Victoria were published last week. Objections to the NSW proposal close this Friday.

The Victorian objections were dominated by a large number of simple objections in opposition to the abolition of Higgins. North Sydney MP Kylea Tink has launched a campaign on her website to encourage local residents to make similar objections to her seat’s abolition, which leads me to assume a similar flooding of the process in NSW.

But I think these campaigns are making a fundamental mistake which means they aren’t likely to find a success.

While there is room for public involvement in the redistribution process, it’s not just a matter of asking for something loudly and en masse. You actually need to propose practical solutions to the dilemmas faced by the mapmakers.

In the case of North Sydney, the committee was required to expand all of the seats on the northern side of the Sydney. Most others who made suggestions agreed that it made most sense to have Mackellar to expand south in Warringah, and then have Warringah expand west into North Sydney. The details could vary, but that was the general principle.

Sophie Scamps proposed changing her seat of Mackellar in a way that fit with this shift, but her teal neighbours instead proposed things that would have minimal impact on their own seats: Zali Steggall suggested her seat should expand both ways into Mackellar and North Sydney, and Tink proposed that North Sydney expand into both Bradfield and Warringah.

Both Steggall’s and Tink’s proposals would have required Mackellar to shift west into Bradfield and the upper north shore. That wouldn’t have been a crazy idea, but they didn’t even address what that would look like.

I understand that proposing changes to a colleague’s seat would have created tension, but without acknowledge knock-on effects, your suggestion has less credibility and is less likely to be adopted.

The one bit of real doubt with North Sydney would have been whether the remainder of North Sydney was combined with southern parts of Bradfield, or would have been split between Bradfield and Bennelong. But Tink instead proposed a third approach for her area that would have had major knock-on effects in other areas that made much less sense.

Tink’s proposal for her electorate effectively was an argument that Mackellar would have to shift significantly into Bradfield, but she didn’t make any case for such a change.

What is even more fascinating is that Tink’s campaign page seems to be continuing to pursue the original strategy of keeping North Sydney entirely intact, rather than aiming to move Lane Cove and Hunters Hill into the Bradfield/North Sydney overlap seat. I can’t see such an approach getting anywhere.

I haven’t paid quite so much attention to the campaign to save Higgins, but many of the submissions made on behalf of Higgins don’t give the mapmakers any alternative plans that would allow Higgins to be saved – they just make an argument that Higgins is too important a seat to be abolished. But that isn’t how the decision is made.

I don’t normally make submissions into redistributions, but the committee’s proposals for Kingsford Smith and Hughes have motivated me to put something in, which I did last night.

Kingsford Smith was expanded past Sydney Airport to take in suburbs along the Botany Bay shoreline in the former Rockdale council area, while Hughes was expanded to take in the northern suburbs of Campbelltown.

But a submission just saying “don’t do that” won’t get anywhere – you need to present an alternative plan that can work instead.

So I decided to limit my proposal to a nine-seat area in the southern half of Sydney, with the goal of making Kingsford Smith, Hughes and (to a lesser extent) Cook cover much more appropriate boundaries.

If you want to read my submission, you can download the PDF here. You can also download a spreadsheet listing how I allocated each SA1 in these nine seats.

I don’t know if it will go anywhere, but I think it’s more likely to be successful when you acknowledge the dilemmas faced by the mapmakers and work with them to fix problems, rather than just insisting that things should stay the same.

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  1. @Nether Portal,
    If we were to move to geographic based names, then I wouldn’t be in favour of keeping PM named seats. That would just completely throw everything off. Especially if the seat the PM was from was a completely different area to the seat named after them. I don’t know that I’m in favour of Steve Irwin having a seat named after him. He is known more for celebrity status than anything to do with serving the Australian people. Even if you count his environmentalism and conservationism.

    @Mark Yore, about the numbering, I recently looked at redistricting the entire US using http://districtr.org – which is a non-official online tool. I noticed the existing US districts are numbered just as ridiculously as the gerrymanders in some states. I made a habit of numbering them from the north-west of each state in a logical flow on manner, depending on the shape of the state. We could do it similarly here so the north-west, or south-east or what have you is always district 1.

    @Frank, @Ben Raue, @Yoh An, Ben sent me a copy of his objection a few days before publishing it. I basically copied it – but like Frank said, I wasn’t keen on Ben’s Hughes crossing into Georges Hall. I reworked that so Georges Hall went to Fowler, which is still not great. Hughes then expanded into Liverpool and Lurnea. I then had to rejig the Werriwa – Fowler line though Cecil Hills, Bonnyrigg, Green Valey and Ashcroft. Regardless, it’s another option, and I think both of those are better than crossing the airport.

    @WestSyd, I’ve copied Ben and placed all of Earlwood in Grayndler in my objection.

    @Peter, @Jeremy, you’re right, anyone can do it. It probably would be easier if the numerical criteria were changed. Having to balance the 3.5% projected electors with 10% threshold for actual electors, while trying to find effective CoI and clear borders is probably a bridge too far for all but the most dedicated psephologists. An online tool would help greatly. Having the Victorian redivision be completed online I could get all the boundaries completed and instantly see the numbers update.

  2. Also, I think this needs to be said.
    The AEC are impartial and the Committee would go out of their way to ensure any decision they make is on demographics and not on partisan grounds.

    There were more than a few suggestions and objections that implied, or outright accused, the AEC of partisanship. There have been a few comments here to the same.

    Higgins being abolished has nothing to do with the fact it was a Liberal Stronghold, a current Labor held seat, or a seat with three women pre-selected. North Sydney being abolished has nothing to do with it being a Teal seat.

    I’m a public servant (if you’ve read my page long political disclaimer in my submissions, you’ll know this). We all work hard to make sure we’re never even being seen as partial. Even liking a politician’s social media can be seen as partisan support.

    Tom Rogers, Susan Kenny, David Gruen, Rebecca Main, Narelle Underwood, Margaret Crawford, Bola Oyetunji, Anita Ratcliffe, Dione Bilick, Caroline Spencer, Aneurin Coffey, Craig Sandy, and Andrew Greaves are public servants. So are the staff that work for them. They should be respected for the considerable effort they are undertaking. Not having accusations of partisanship hurled at them.

  3. Back in 2010, I lodged an objection to the proposed boundaries of Deakin and Chisholm. At the time, the proposed boundary was up the middle of Blackburn Road – where it is now and where it is likely to stay. My objection was focussed on splitting a community of interest. The AEC proposal also mentioned that it was a major dual carriageway road – which it is not. I made a submission which made a considered approach to the issues – I also included photographs showing that it is not a dual carriageway. The boundary was changed so it was successful. Probably something that helped is that it was a minor change that did not have knock on effects elsewhere.

  4. @redistributed, the reason with the strange current (and initially proposed in 2010) boundary in Blackburn was since Blackburn Road is on Metro Route 13 which included the back streets of Chapel Street and Railway Road since many North South commuters used the road. While a Blackburn have been split would have broken the community of interest, it created in a weird T shape boundary for Deakin in 2013-2016

  5. @Peter I think the inevitable problem with your proposal is “everyday citizens to make sound suggestions”. Since we’re discussing this on Ben’s page it’s pretty much a self-selecting group, but the average understanding of people about how the electoral system works is depressingly small. If you have a little more faith in the average Australian then I invite you to have a wander through some of the suggestions regarding North Sydney. Another reason why civics classes should be compulsory.

    That’s without even crossing over into some of the more fringe viewpoints. I have the misfortune of knowing some people who fit firmly under the “sovereign citizen” umbrella and discussions with them are both frustrating and pointless. It’s not that hard to come up with a redistribution – it’s a mixture of maths and art but there’s also a requirement to understand the basic rules of redistributions.

    Your suggestion of AEC digital tools is interesting. Have a look at goblin.tools, a set of AI text tools. One of them is Professor, which breaks the text down and then explains it with an example. I’m thinking that the AEC equivalent would be able to take a block of text, check it against the AEC rules for redistributions and then mark anything that doesn’t meet those rules (or asks for further information).

    The principal rule is that the numbers have to work out, then you have other subjective qualities such as transport links, physical boundaries and communities of interest. There’s a good Parliamentary Library guide at https://apo.org.au/sites/default/files/resource-files/2017-11/apo-nid119441.pdf

    One of the problems that has arisen lately is that most people skip the maths part of the submission. In the last Queensland State redistribution there was a huge problem – not just with the bizarre approach taken by the ECQ, but also with the fact that a number of major party submissions left out the maths altogether. The ALP submission skipped the redistribution boundaries as well, going for the “it’s the vibe of the thing” approach.

    So perhaps a guided approach for submissions would be helpful – this is the name of the electorate, this is the current enrolment and this is my calculation of the projected enrolment of the new electorate over the next seven years. Here are the boundaries.

  6. @Darren McSweeney I have never had anything but the highest respect and admiration for the AEC and the people who work there. Unlike the ECQ.

    I’ve suggested on a number of occasions that the ECQ in Queensland should be reduced to an oversight role only and the conduct of elections and redistributions should be undertaken by the AEC.

    Also I’m not that keen on working with numbered electorates, but that’s more due to force of habit than any rational reason. 🙂 The vast majority of Local Government divisions in Queensland are numbered except for Brisbane.

  7. Hi everyone, Banks voter here. Milperra deserves to be redistributed into Banks – it is seen as much more similar to suburbs like Panania, East Hills etc as a socially conservative suburb. I also think that expanding Banks to Blakehurst makes sense, as most of the waterfront suburbs are very culturally similar as “family” suburbs with the odd waterfront mansion or two, for example Peakhurst and Blakehurst.
    The current redistribution makes sense from my point of view. Keen to hear your thoughts!

  8. @Nether Portal: “I’m starting to agree that we need to have mostly geographical names to make sure we aren’t dishonouring people when the seats are abolished”. The problem is that the namesakes of many current and former electorates don’t deserve to be honoured in the first place, including many that weren’t even Australian.

    I checked the list of division names retired since 2007. They are mostly named after colonial British men, including colonial administrators and explorers that perpetrated massacres of indigenous people (such as Batman, McMillian and Stirling), some are geographic (such as Gwydir, Port Adelaide, Murray and Melbourne Ports), and some are Australians that did not deserve a division (like Charlton). I think all these names are the right choice for retirement. Higgins does not fit any of these categories, therefore its abolition is unconvential and understandably controversial.

    The problem with geographic names is that some seats can shrink so dramatically in size and/or shift so dramatically in location that they no longer contain their namesake. You can definitely rename the seat with another geographic name when it no longer contains its namesake, but naming a seat after eminent Australians will not have such issue and saves a lot of time and energy in deciding whether to rename them.

  9. ACT redistributions are easy and the Electoral Commission produces a tool that enables you to do your own redistribution and submit it. It took about half an hour to come up with a submission. It was virtually identical to the final product.

  10. @Joseph

    I am in favour of people’s names that way when a seat moves out of the geographical area it does not need t be changed. I agree with you that some names are outdated and as redistributions occur we will see them removed. I think using names is a good way to celebrate ex PM’s, Nobel Laureates and other noteworthy Australians.

  11. @Doug ACT redistributions are easy because 1) they’re multi-member constituencies so the electorates are much larger; 2) The population of the ACT is relatively smaller so the projections are less subject to wild swings; and 3) District and suburb boundaries are used almost exclusively as electorate boundaries. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I could only find two boundaries that split suburbs. Canberra’s development is also a lot more homogenous, so it would be difficult to really mess it up.

  12. @Mark

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

    I agree that it appears that large numbers of people have a poor understanding of civics. The question is what do we do about that? In discussions on various topics here, there seem to be two alternatives:
    1. Dumb down a system so that people can engage with it with less time and understanding, or
    2. Smarten up the people so that more of them can be better engaged with democratic systems.

    #1 is easier but achieves less. #2 is harder to do but achieves more.

    And yes, I absolutely agree we should probably teach more civics in schools, but in the meantime, I’m interested in what more we can do to better educate the adult citizens we currently have.

    “I think the inevitable problem with your proposal is ‘everyday citizens to make sound suggestions’.”

    To be fair, that’s not a problem with this suggestion for a more accessible redistribution tool, that’s a problem with all civic engagement.

    In this case, a user-friendly redistribution tool could enable a number of people who currently make flawed suggestions to make better quality ones. That written guide looks very informative, but I wouldn’t expect many people would take the time to read it, sorry. Whereas a practical tool could enable a ‘learning by doing’ approach, where people could test out ideas in places that are familiar to them, and receive feedback on the implications of their ideas.

  13. Not sure if you were following the VIC comments thread but I dabbled in creating a tool for exactly this purpose to make the drawing of boundaries more accessible. A few people ended up using it to help formulate their submissions for Victoria.


    I didn’t have the time to expand it to other states but hopefully next time I can set it up earlier in the redistribution process to let people make both state wide submissions as well as individual areas.


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