Today Elections ACT announced new electoral boundaries that radically change the electoral boundaries used since 1995, and making very difficult or impossible for the Greens to retain all four of their seats at next year’s election.
I’ve posted analysis on the impact and maps of the changed areas below.
The ACT Legislative Assembly has existed in 1989 and since 1995 has been elected by voters in three multi-member electorates. These three electorates have been barely changed since the first drawing of boundaries before 1995. The redistributions before the 1998 and 2004 elections proposed no changes, while changes for 2001 and 2008 were very subtle.
Overall the structure has remained steady: a 7-seat electorate named Molonglo covering central Canberra, including South Canberra, North Canberra, Lake Burley Griffin, and the district of Gungahlin in the north; a 5-seat electorate named Ginninderra covering Belconnen in the north-west of the Territory, and Brindabella, covering Tuggeranong and the far south.
Since 1995, the major population shift in the ACT has been the growth of suburbs in the Gungahlin area at the northern end of Canberra.
The ACT Electoral Commission is currently conducting its redistribution in anticipation of an election in October 2012. The original draft dealt with the growth in the Gungahlin area by shifting more of Gungahlin into Ginninderra while leaving the boundaries mostly untouched.
These changes produced an outcry, with most submissions criticising Gungahlin being divided between the two electorates.
Today Elections ACT announced the report of the Augmented Electoral Commission’s report, which dramatically redrew the boundaries, ignoring both the original draft and 15 years of local electoral history.
Brindabella has been left untouched in the redistribution. In the north, Ginninderra has expanded dramatically, and is now a seven-member electorate, while the remnants of Molonglo will only elect five members. All of Gungahlin has been transferred to Ginninderra, as well as a number of suburbs in the inner north of Canberra, including Turner, Lyneham and O’Connor. Ginninderra now almost reaches Canberra’s city centre.
While the northern district of Gungahlin is now completely united with the neighbouring district of Belconnen, North Canberra has been split down the middle, with Northbourne Avenue now the border.
The new district of Molonglo Valley has been transferred from Ginninderra to Molonglo. While this area has a very low population at the moment, it is expected to take much of Canberra’s new population growth in coming years.
The main effect of the changes is to make it almost impossible for the Greens to maintain all of their four seats in 2012. In 2008, the Greens won a seat in Ginninderra and Brindabella, and won a second seat in Molonglo, increasing their numbers from one to four.
The new boundaries make the Greens seat in Ginninderra safer by adding strong Greens areas in the inner north and lowering the quota, but reduce the Greens vote in Molonglo to less than 1.2 quotas, which is far too low to elect a second Gree.
The Greens vote is lower in Ginninderra than in Molonglo, even after the redistribution, and the Greens would require a large swing to them to have a chance of gaining a second seat in Ginninderra.
On my calculations, these are the quotas in Ginninderra and Molonglo before and after the boundary changes:
While Labor and the Greens would lose a seat each in Molonglo, Labor would gain a third in Ginninderra. The final seat in Ginninderra is unclear, but the favourite would be the Liberals, not the Greens, producing a result of 7 Labor, 7 Liberal, 3 Greens.
2008 was a very good result for the Greens, with a big swing and good luck in the Molonglo count. The best the Greens could have hoped for in 2012 would have been to solidify their hold on the seats they won in 2008. It seems very unlikely they would gain the large swing needed to win a second seat in Ginninderra.
It is hard, however, to know what would happen in the Hare-Clark system, where personal votes for individual MLAs is very important. None of the Green MPs had any experience in the Assembly in 2008, and you’d expect all of them to have developed personal votes, whereas in 2008 all were elected largely on the Greens party vote.
In particular, Caroline Le Couteur, who was elected as the second Green in Molonglo, was almost anonymous prior to the election. The Greens campaign in Molonglo had entirely focused on Shane Rattenbury. If Le Couteur were to run as a second Green in Ginninderra, personal votes for her and sitting MP Meredith Hunter could make things interesting.
The biggest irony with this draft redistribution is that, in the process of unifying the district of Gungahlin into one electorate, the Electoral Commission has broken apart the Inner North.
In recent years there have been discussions about increasing the number of seats in the Assembly, so that all electorates elect the same number of MPs. In particular, a model where all three electorates elected seven MPs has been considered. If such a model were to be implemented, it would be possible to largely keep both Gungahlin and the Inner North unified.
It would also eliminate the inequity where one electorate has a lower quota than the others, allowing more diverse representation. If Elections ACT shifts this privilege from the centre of Canberra to the outer north, it will remain an imbalanced way to elect the Assembly.
Due to the radical changes in the boundaries, Elections ACT has opened up another period for comments and objections, until 5 August. It is yet to be seen if they will return to a more modest change or stick to these boundaries.
Elsewhere: Antony Green.
Below I’ve posted maps showing the gradual change in ACT electoral boundaries since 1995.