17 January 2016
Hardly any Australian needs reminding that a Federal election will happen during the course of this year. Based on the results of the last election, in 2013, it looks like the Australian Labor Party needs a swing of about 4.3 per cent to defeat the Liberal-National Coalition Government. But the size of the needed swing could potentially change, depending on how electoral redistributions pan out in a few states.
A redistribution means a redrawing of boundaries of electorates within a given state or territory, to reflect population changes. Naturally, the population grows in some areas and declines in others over time. Therefore, a redistribution is necessary to give each electorate, or parliamentary seat, as near as possible to the same number of voters. These redistributions usually happen every 5-10 years or so, but not necessarily in every state or territory at the same time.
Since the 2013 election, electoral redistributions have occurred in a few states, as well as in the Australian Capital Territory. At the moment, these are yet to be finalised, but it looks as though the number of seats in New South Wales will fall from 48 to 47, and the number in Western Australia will rise from 15 to 16.
The redistribution in NSW looks like including a new seat named after the late Gough Whitlam, who was Prime Minister in the 1970s. Seats are duly created for every former PM after death, when the opportunity arises. This honour has yet to come for Whitlam, who died in late 2014. And it’ll come in due course for another former PM, Malcolm Fraser, who died only a few months after Whitlam died. These honours will be in NSW for Whitlam and Victoria for Fraser, because their seats were in those respective states.
These honours won’t apply to their successors until after they’ve passed away. This is why there aren’t yet seats named after Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, or Tony Abbott. But they’ll come in due course. I note that Hawke and Gillard held seats in Victoria, Rudd held a seat in Queensland, and the rest were in NSW.
However, the hard part for future electoral redistributions might be the question of which seats should be abolished, especially after any former PM passes away. This is certainly the case in NSW, which has seen its number of seats fall from 51 a few decades ago to 48 now, due to population shifts over time. If the voting population in NSW shifts to the point where the number of seats has to fall, there might be arguments over which seats to abolish. Victoria might have a similar problem, as its number of seats has fallen from 39 to 37 over the last few decades.
Most seats in Federal Parliament, specifically in the House of Representatives, are named after significant people or localities. Mind you, I’m not sure how many Australians know what made famous most of the individuals after whom seats are named.
When electoral redistributions happen, efforts are usually made to preserve seats which have existed since 1901, when Parliament first opened. They’re also made to preserve any seat named after a former PM.
NSW has many seats set to be preserved in any future redistribution for the reasons noted above. Existing continuously since 1901 are Cowper, Eden-Monaro, Hume, Hunter, Macquarie, New England, Newcastle, North Sydney, Parramatta, Richmond, Robertson, Wentworth, and Werriwa. The seats of Barton, Chifley, Hughes, McMahon, Page, Reid, and Watson are named after men who served as PM. There are 20 seats in all. I’d add the seats of Riverina and Cook to this tally – Riverina was created in 1901 and abolished in 1984 and restored in some form in 1993, but during its non-existence there was a seat named Riverina-Darling, and indeed MP Noel Hicks held Riverina when it was abolished before holding Riverina-Darling and then Riverina again, while Cook is actually named after a great explorer whose surname is shared with a former PM.
The other seats are named after artists, explorers, pioneers, writers, or other people of note. There are also some seats named after localities. In due course, some of these seats will have to be abolished. But there’ll be some public resistance to their abolition.
I remember a campaign against the abolition of the rural seat of Gwydir ahead of an election in 2007, as Gwydir had existed since 1901, but it had experienced significant population decline. I also remember some resistance to the abolition of the suburban seat of Lowe, named after an individual, ahead of an election in 2010. Both seats were ultimately abolished, but some people remained attached to them.
There might be a chance of the big states developing electoral hit lists, as some seats will be abolished amid population shifts. From time to time, such seats simply have to go.