Big states developing electoral hit lists

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.


Origins of an election tragic

Warren Grzic

26 July 2014


How does one become an election tragic?  I suspect that it comes from stumbling upon something relating to an election, such as a report or something in a newspaper, and then looking it over.  And then looking it over once more – at this point, one becomes fascinated and wants to know more.  But no matter how much one reads and researches, the only missing thing is an outlet to spell out the knowledge that one acquires.  This applies to me when it comes to elections, and is how I became an election tragic.

Early in 1998, while browsing newspapers in a library, I stumbled across something in the AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW.  It was an electoral pendulum – a graphic with a tubed shaped down the middle and names down either side.  The names were of seats in the House of Representatives, the Lower House of the Australian Parliament, where governments are formed – on the other hand the Senate, the Upper House of Parliament, just covers each Australian state and territory as a whole.  On this pendulum, Government-held seats were listed to one side of the tube, and Opposition-held seats were listed to the other side.  Next to each seat was a number, showing the margin by which either the Government or the Opposition held it, and therefore the swing needed for the seat to change hands.  Obviously, smaller numbers meant marginal seats, which could therefore change hands more easily.  I just became fascinated in this, so I spent a bit of my spare time researching what parts of Australia each seat covered.  And it basically took off from there!

My interest in politics and elections at this point had been somewhat fleeting.  But I remembered a few elections past.

I remembered Bob Hawke becoming Prime Minister after leading the Australian Labor Party to victory at an election in 1983.  Hawke was considered a immensely popular figure, and would go on to win several elections as Prime Minister.  His last win was in 1990, and later on he lost the Labor leadership to Paul Keating, who’d been Treasurer in the Hawke Government for all but the last few months of it.  Keating was very unpopular as Prime Minister, but he managed to win an election in 1993.  In 1996, Keating lost an election to a teaming of the Liberal Party and the National Party, known as the Coalition, with John Howard leading it.

That 1996 election saw the emergence of a political figure of some notoriety, named Pauline Hanson.  She was a Liberal candidate in a Labor seat that the Liberals weren’t expected to win, when suddenly she made news headlines with criticism of Aboriginal people that was portrayed in the mainstream media as racist.  The Liberals disendorsed her, but incredibly, she won the seat.  She went on to become immensely popular, and formed the One Nation Party.  But she was widely portrayed as racist because of criticisms of Aborigines and Asians.

Two years later, by which time I’d come across that pendulum that kicked off my interest in elections, there came a state election in Queensland, from whence Hanson came.  This election saw the ONP win a large slice of the statewide vote and numerous seats in the Queensland Parliament, which shocked all and sundry.  This was fascinating to me – how could a party perceived as racist win so many votes?  As such, I researched more and more, and just kept researching.

Months after the Queensland election, there came a Federal election, which Howard narrowly won.  The following year saw a state election in New South Wales, and then a state election in Victoria.  By now, I was hooked on elections!

Since then, I’ve researched all sorts of things relating to elections, and watched governments fall and survive countless elections.  And having studied how voters have behaved at election time, the current circus of minor parties in Federal Parliament in particular doesn’t surprise me at all.

Over time, this election tragic will have more stories to share and enlighten you all with.