Musical chairs (part two)

The New South Wales federal electoral redistribution that was unveiled yesterday is of more than usual significance, at least if one school of thought regarding the prime ministerial succession is to be believed. It had been widely surmised that the Prime Minister was awaiting its impact on his precarious electorate of Bennelong, which he carried by an uncomfortable 4.3 per cent in 2004, before deciding whether to lead the party into the next election. Some hypothetical redistribution scenarios had Bennelong either being abolished or shifting westwards into Labor territory as part of a wholesale shake-up of Sydney electorates. The more dramatic of these scenarios were predicated on the assumption that a metropolitan seat would be abolished, but former Nationals leader John Anderson’s electorate of Gwydir has instead been nominated for the chop, cancelling out the good turn done to the Nationals by the Queensland redistribution. This means that adjustments in Sydney have been relatively modest, but they have been sufficient to make life somewhat less comfortable in Bennelong. According to an early estimate by Malcolm Mackerras (cited by Imre Salusinszky in The Australian), the electorate’s absorption of the Ermington area from Labor-held Parramatta will cut Howard’s margin to about 3 per cent.

Another leading Liberal to feel the pinch is Malcolm Turnbull, whose electorate of Wentworth will now extend westwards beyond blue-ribbon beachside suburbs and into the green-and-red inner city, reducing the return on his not inconsiderable investment. Turnbull won the seat with a 5.6 per cent margin in 2004, although the result was distorted by Peter King’s attempt to hold his seat as an independent (King won by 7.9 per cent in 2001). The addition of Woollomooloo and Kings Cross is reckoned by those in the know to have cut his margin to about the same level as Howard’s. It has been a much better redistribution for another Sydney Liberal newcomer, Greenway MP Louise Markus, who trades Labor-leaning outer urban areas for the Shire of Hawkesbury, formerly part of Macquarie. After winning the seat at Labor’s expense in 2004, Markus should now be fairly safe. Jackie Kelly has not done well out of the adjustments to her seat of Lindsay, where a move east into St Marys (formerly in safe Labor Chifley) will bite into her 5.3 per cent margin.

On Labor’s side of the ledger, Parramatta has been substantially redrawn so that the Parramatta town centre is now in neighbouring Reid. Opinion seems divided on who this will benefit, so it seems safe to conclude that Julie Owens’ 0.7 per cent margin will be little changed. Labor should get a boost in its other precarious Sydney seat, the southern suburbs electorate of Banks, which expands northwards to take Bankstown from Blaxland. Their other loseable seat, the inner west electorate of Lowe (3.3 per cent), has undergone a number of adjustments that should largely cancel each other out. Member John Murphy will suffer slightly from the loss of more than 10,000 voters in the Ashfield area to Grayndler to the south-east, and perhaps make a net gain from extensions to the south that add Liberal-voting Strathfield South and Labor-voting Croydon Park.

All of Sydney’s electorates have been altered to some degree, but the decision to abolish Gwydir means that the biggest changes are in country seats that are off Labor’s radar. Most of Gwydir’s geographical area has been absorbed by the already substantial seat of Parkes, which now accounts for about half the state’s territory and has only Dubbo for a large population centre. The most significant knock-on effects are on Calare, which moves inland beyond the Bathurst base of independent member Peter Andren (UPDATE: Andren’s electorate office is in Bathurst, but as Mountainman notes in comments, he is more closely associated with Orange which will remain in the electorate), and Macquarie, which fills Calare’s void by moving west beyond Sydney’s outskirts. Poll Bludger comments regular Geoff Robinson notes on his blog The South Coast that this roughly returns these electorates to the areas they covered before 1977, when Calare was a safe seat for the Nationals and Macquarie mostly held by Labor. Macquarie has since been won by Labor only in 1980, 1983 and 1993 (the current member, Kerry Bartlett, won by 8.9 per cent in 2004), while Calare was held by Labor from 1983 until Andren’s debut in 1996. Robinson notes that Andren must now decide “whether to go for Macquarie and hold it against Labor or to fight the Nationals in the new Calare”. It should not be inferred that Macquarie is out of bounds for the Coalition, but Labor won the corresponding state seat of Bathurst by 6 per cent more than the state average at the 2003 election, and the consensus view is that it’s a Labor-leaning marginal.

The redistribution has inevitably brought changes to the state’s rapidly growing and electorally sensitive north coast, though none are headline-grabbers. The northernmost coastal seat, Richmond, was one of three Labor gains at the 2004 election, when Nationals member Larry Anthony was voted out by the narrowest of margins. The redistribution has reunited the electorate with the northern part of the Shire of Lismore, which it last contained before the 1993 election. At the centre of this area is Nimbin, and it is accordingly noted for its strong counter-cultural element. This area has been added in exchange for Wollongbar and Alstonville in the electorate’s south, which split nearly 60-40 in the Nationals’ favour in 2004. While these areas only account for about 7000 voters each out of a total of 94,333, Labor member Justine Elliot will presumably enjoy a slight boost to her margin. However, this is a case of swings and roundabouts for Labor, since both areas have been exchanged with its very marginal neighbour Page, held for the Nationals by Ian Causley on a margin of 4.2 per cent. Page also gains about 5500 voters around Yamba from its southern neighbour Cowper, which is unlikely to make much difference. Cowper itself is potentially winnable for Labor, currently being held for the Nationals by Luke Hartsuyker with a margin of 6.4 per cent, which will not be much changed by its exchange of Yamba in the north for Kempsey in the south. The Hunter region seat of Paterson, where the Liberal margin inflated from 1.5 per cent to 7.0 per cent in 2004, exchanges a Labor area north of Newcastle for an even more Labor area further along the Hunter Valley, which should cut the margin slightly.

In a potentially bad omen for Labor, the famously marginal seat of Eden-Monaro has extended westwards into Farrer in exchange for the loss of its anomalous territory to the north of the Australian Capital Territory, a knock-on effect of Farrer’s gain of Broken Hill at the expense of Parkes. With the addition of the Shires of Tumut and Tumbarumba, Liberal member Gary Nairn should enjoy some extra padding on his current margin of 2.2 per cent.

UPDATE: Malcolm Mackerras has posted his calculations of post-redistribution margins at Crikey.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

76 comments on “Musical chairs (part two)”

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  1. You would also have to add in a Latham factor to those figures too… They did swing between 2001 and 2004.

  2. The major issue of this redistribution is that the ‘community of interest’ provisions seems to have been selectively ignored when the commissioners were making their deliberation.

    It appears that when they were looking at the boundaries that they started in Sydney and worked out to the edges rather than starting at the edge and moving in.

    Picture the scene: “look chaps we’ve got Albury and Broken Hill left over .. lets bung ’em in the same seat”

    The line the Nats are running at the moment about the loss of a seat is a big furphy but in regional NSW, the commissioners have got it wrong.

    Farrer: the commissioners believe that Broken Hill has a relationship with the town of Wentworth, Wentworth is on the Murray it must have a relationship with Albury … hey presto! There is no community of interest between Albury and Broken Hill .. not by road, social or media links.

    Eden Monaro: Anybody who has ever been to Tumut or Tumbarumba knows that their community of interest is with either Albury or Wagga, there may be mountains, but they do not link the communities.

    Calare: Bathurst and Orange have a strong community of interest cut in 2 by this redistribution.

    There are other linkages that could happen: Queanbayen and Goulburn could go into the same seat, so could Nowra and the Sothern Highlands (as they did).

    Even in Sydney the community of interest is odd.

    Warringah has now been extended across Middle Harbour into parts of Ku Ring Gai when the southern parts of Ku Ring Gai would have more in common with North Sydney, but somehow Cremorne and Mosman could not be in the same seat as ‘lacking in community of interest’. No doubt there are many more!

    The commissioners should outline their understanding of the concept!

  3. Without defending the proposed electorates, it’s a big juggling act to create 49 electorates while satisfying all the competing criteria, the only one for which there is no leeway being the numbers one. Readers should try it someday.

    Eg, say Broken Hill is put into Parkes or Riverina (or even Calare). Then you have to shuffle a couple of tens of thousands of voters around the electorates; each shuffle leading to subsequent shuffles…

    While non-Sydney has lost a seat, it has gained parts of Macquarie, Greenway and Macarthur, so it actually hasn’t lost a seat – it might have lost 1/3-1/2 a seat, which is pretty much what the enrolment numbers suggest should happen.

  4. I agree that the juggling act is not easy and that some seemingly strange outcomes will always result.

    There will always be a very large (and getting larger with each redistribution) seat in western NSW because there aren’t many people and the numbers are declining quickly. That is why the current Nats campaign to retain Gwydir is a bit of a try on.

    The main problem is not that a rural seat is lost but how the jigsaw is put together.

    Possibly the commissioners should have been braver and abolished more than one seat! one rural – one Sydney to try and restore some sort of community of interest balance.

  5. I agree with blackburnpseph that some of these boundaries are very poor on the community of interest criteria. The Broken Hill fiasco & the split with Orange and Bathurst are a direct result of the decision to abolish Gwydir. They had to take Broken Hill out of Parkes, as Parkes needed to move over to absorb Gwydir. Likewise Calare moved north-west to take surplus voters from this Parkes/Gwydir merge.

    Given that these are already by far and away the largest seats in the state it seems a bit unfair to target them for abolition instead of Blaxland or Reid as was expected.

    Another shocking decision is the new Hughes which links Liverpool & Sutherland. The existing Hughes was bad enough but this is disgraceful. No solution would be ideal as the sutherland shire equals 1.5 seats so there was always going to be a mixed electorate. The Liberal party submission was to give Hughes part of Banks around East Hills & Labor suggested extending it down to Wollongong. Either of these would have been better than what is proposed – but I think the logical solution would have been to extend it north accross the Georges River to take in the riverside suburbs south of Hurstville.

    Perhaps I should lodge an objection?

  6. If you lodge an objection, it’s probably good to have suggested replacement boundaries to take account of all the flow-on changes.

  7. I agree that Hughes has nothing in common with Liverpool. It probably wouldn’t be any worse to move it west into Campbelltown. Both of these areas don’t really have a great deal to do with the Shire and the most logical thing to do would surely be to move the seat north or south to Wollongon or Hurstville along the railway line.

    I am suprised at some of the comments in relation to abolishing Gwydir. If you look at the AEC figures then Gwydir has the lowest projected enrolment over the period and Parkes which is situated next to it has the second lowest. Given the low enrollment of pretty much all of the seats west of the Great Dividing Range, I can’t really see how they could avoid abolishing at least one of these seats. While there were some seats in Sydney with low projected enrolment like Blaxland and Reid, there were also seats with very high projected enrolment like Macarthur and Greenway that needed to shed a large number of voters.

  8. The only solution would have been to have a complete overhaul of ALL NSW electoral boundaries, including Greater Sydney. Instead, the AEC tinkered with existing boundaries in a ‘minimalist’ approach to redistribution. They did the same thing in Qld. OK, so one whole seat (and a pretty big one, geographically speaking) was abolished in NSW, meaning that the surrounding seats were expanded or moved to fill the vacuum, in turn resulting in some pretty drastic changes to many seats. But the only way to change the electoral boundaries AND maintain a “community of interest” for each and every seat (or as many seats as practicable) is to go back to the drawing board and re-draw EVERY seat with this in mind. This would not sit well with most sitting parliamentarians, who might see their electorate completely re-drawn beyond recognition. Many politicians would scream blue murder. As it stands, only a handful of sitting members have seen their margins cut, and the majority of seats really haven’t changed that much.

    blackburnpseph is correct on this point, that “community of interest” was thrown to the wolves. Putting Queanbeyan and Goulburn in the same seat, and Mosman and Cremorne in the same seat, and Bathurst and Orange in the same seat, etc – these are all laudable ideas. But they would require that current boundaries be rubbed out, and the AEC make a fresh start in drawing all electoral boundaries anew – which would be hugely controversial politically.

    I like the analogy of the ‘jigsaw’. In this case, the AEC just moved the pieces around or made certain pieces bigger or smaller, instead of making a whole new jigsaw. Unfortunately, mathematically, it would be impossible to maintain a community of interest within every seat, especially given the prerequisites that (a) electoral boundaries have to conform to state and territory borders; (b) electorates have to be contiguous; and (c) electorates have to stay within quota.

  9. My understanding is that ‘community of interest’ is aimed at keeping towns and centres in the same electorate rather than in linking them together. Who cares if Broken Hill and Albury are in the same electorate, as long as both towns are included in their entirity.

  10. A couple of points. One is that the existing boundaries is also a criteria for drawing new boundaries, as is community of interest. Thats one of the reasons why the Commissioners tend to minimise the number of people moved between electorates, and also why over time you sometimes get strange electoral boundaries develop. Have a look at Petrie in Brisbane as an example of how existing boundaries survive over time.

    Secondly, community of interest is a nebulous concept, and the submissions of the parties always manage to put their political arguments in the language of community of interest. Having sat through a few hearings, it is quite amusing to watch.

    Third, the Commissioners have to weigh up competing communities of interest. I sat through hearings for a state redistribution years ago where there were arguments about splitting North Sydney Council between seats. The only way you could avoid doing that was to split the Manly Council area. You couldn’t draw boundaries that avoid splitting both. But which was the more important community of interest? There was no objective answer, only subjective ones. Every re-drawing of boundaries comes up against such inconsistencies someweher in the state.

    Fourth, Federal electorate are sometimes so large it is impossible to have a single community of interest. As an example, Broken Hill is very distinct from the rest of NSW, it operates on a different time zone, gets its media from Adelaide, and historically operated with its own industrial awards different from the rest of NSW. It is a mining town in a sparsely populated part of the state. Whether it is put in Parkes or Farrer, I think you can safely say it is a city that has its own community of interest distinct from whichever electorate you put it in.

    And Sacha’s point is quite correct. The abolition of Parkes has made Hunter, Macquarie and Eden Monaro slightly more rural than they were before.

    I also think you will find that much of the National Party’s push to raise community anger at the new boundaries may stem from the fact the Liberal Party may not be willing to lift a finger to help. Bringing back Gwydir puts Broken Hil back into Parkes, moves Farrer back to Tumut, Eden-Monaro into the South Coast, Gilmore into the Illawarra, Hughes further across the Georges River. You get the suspicion the Liberal Party won’t want to put up with that pain just to re-create a seat for the National Party.

  11. The AEC seems to have chosen one part of their brief – minimisation of disruption at the expense of another – community of interest.

    There are precedents for greater change – in 1993, two seats – Dundas and Phillip were abolished – and one created – Paterson.

    It also has to be remembered that prior to this redistribution there were two clusters of low enrolment seats – Parkes, Gwydir, New England being one and Inner South Western Sydney – Reid, Blaxland, Watson being another.

  12. Sure, Pat Farmer undoubtedly had an effect on the Liberal vote in Macarthur, but Latham would have had even more of an impact on the Labor vote in Werriwa, particularly considering the low profile of the new sitting Labor MP.

    As a local involved in the last few campaigns in Campbelltown, I can tell you that Werriwa has never been seriously contested by the Liberals. Considering that the margin would only be about 7% on new boundaries, without Latham, with a lower-profile Labor MP, and a stronger effort by the Liberals, it would be very marginal.

    Maybe the Libs don’t have the energy/money/need to take on another seat, and I don’t want to see the Libs take yet another seat, but comparing Werriwa to seats like Lindsay, Macarthur, Parramatta, the old Greenway, there’s no reason why it should be a safe Labor seat.

  13. Ben Raue makes a good point that a party will make an effort when they hold a seat. This is one reason why Wentworth expanding into Potts Point, Darlinghurst and Elizabeth Bay may not be such a problem for Malcolm Turnbull. These were areas that were lib or close to on a 2pp when they were in Wentworth in 1990 but when I lived in the area for the 1996 and 1998 elections (when they were in Sydney) they made no effort – not a single piece of paper in the letter box. Why spend time or money when you can’t win.

    Malcolm Turnbull is a good fit for these areas and though they may be at the forefront of the political culture wars, these may become less intense once John Winston retires.

    Where Wentworth will become interesting is that it will become the litmus tests of culture and social issues as the primary determinant of voting patterns. It may become in a few elections like Hampstead in the UK or congressional districts in Manhattan or Westside LA which have high incomes but vote solidly for the so called left.

  14. Antony, are you going to do up a report on the impact of the redistribution and new notional margins per seat? (like you did for the NSW state redistribution last year) If so when/where??

  15. I would do normally, but at the moment am too involved in another project. I might do some work before the final boundaries, but at the moment just too busy.

    I’m currently pulling together every NSW state election back to 1856 into a standard format for publication. The 19th century results all have to be found through newspapers and in archive searches.

    Got all the basic records set up. That’s 54 elections, 5 different electoral systems, 5,083 individual electorate contets, 16,046 candidate records. Includes 667 by-election contests. 19th century turnout figures have been located for the first time and the website will be fully annotated with sources and also material on special features of certain contests.

    Will all be published as a website at the end of this year or early next year. Current deadline is to have all party holdings ready for an atlas by the end of August, with all boundaries back to 1856 having been geocoded into a modern mapping system. Atlas will be out at end of year, with an interactive cd-rom of the results and probably a web site.

    This week is proof-reading the 1869-70 election and getting the data from 1894-1907 ready to map. Oh, and getting all my Victorian and Queensland election notes ready to publish for the ABC website.

    So, in about two months time I might have some time.

  16. Strewth. Rapid reply and comprehensive response. Thanks!
    Looking forward to your NSW election project now though. I am particulalrly interested in the results from the first half of the 20th century which I understand were under a multi-member-per-electorate system (did that mean Labor MPs from the North Shore?? If so, how funny is that.)
    And will keep an eye out for the redistribution report when you get round to it.

  17. I’ve lived in Elizabeth Bay for 3.75 years and on Cleveland St in Darlington the previous 2.5 years, and was a Brisbaneite before then. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people in Elizabeth Bay, Potts Pt and Darlinghurst are very socially liberal, and that this is a big determinant of how they vote; their income is less important. This is just a feeling – I don’t have any data on this.

    I suspect that a lot of people in these areas don’t vote on the basis of self-identification of class – of course, a lot of people in this area are gay, and I suspect that this is a big factor.

  18. An acquantaince (spelling?) told me that a lot of people in Macarthur voted for Pat Farmer rather than the Liberal Party, and that Pat wasn’t necessary a Liberal, rather that the Liberals were the current government and he wanted to be part of it. I don’t know how true this is.

  19. Antony’s right about the seat of Petrie in Brisbane – it’s a very strange shape – snaking down from Recliffe through Bald Hills and ending up in northern brisbane suburbs. The idea must be that Recliffe is really part of greater brisbane, and they’ve drawn Petrie accordingly rather than put Recliffe in with Pine Rivers Shire or Caboolture Shire.

    For some reason they’ve often kept Pine Rivers in a separate seat to northern brisbane suburbs which seems a bit strange – you could put the strathpine suburban area in with northern brisbane suburbs fairly easily.

  20. Ben, engaged in several experiments with electoral system in the early 20th century. They used second ballots for three elections 1910-17, a second ballot conducted if no candidate had a majority, as used in France. NSW then used Hare-Clark for three elections 1920-25, contingent or single preference voting in 1927 then preferential voting from 1930.

  21. Someone asked whether Sydney was more winnable for the Greens under the proposed boundaries. By my accounting, it looks slightly more winnable, although by not much:

    The 2004 Sydney ordinary (booth) vote for the Greens, Libs and ALP was:
    Greens: 21.65%
    Liberal: 27.7%
    ALP: 45.65%

    and the 2PP vote for booth votes was 67.46% to ALP.

    The total primary vote (including pre-polls etc) was:
    Greens: 21.61%
    Liberal: 28.46%
    ALP: 44.68%

    for a grand 2PP vote of 66.42% to ALP.

    Under the proposed boundaries for Sydney (obtained by just adding the figures together), we have a booth (ordinary) primary vote for the Greens, Liberal and ALP as follows:
    Greens: 21.92%
    Liberal: 26.76%
    ALP: 46.22%

    with a 2PP booth vote of 68.37% to ALP.

  22. Further to the community of interest argument. It can work the other way.
    I was a young journo in Wagga at the time of the 1993 redistribution, and there was a proposal to reunite Wagga and Albury in one electorate.
    But neither of these two large communities were interested in each other. The argument ran that as these two rural cities were in competition with each other (mostly for public servants), then a single person could not represent the one seat properly!
    Of course, the AEC went with the new Riverina (ditching the Darling), moved Hume north and kept Albury and Wagga in different electorates. And it satisfied these two communities who would definitely, by any other definition, be a community of interest.

  23. Interesting times… One observation I have is the vote shift that happens when a suburb or area moves from a safe electorate for one party to a safe electorate for the other. View West Ipswich / East Ipswich which is now a marginal Lib / safe Labor divide, Campbelltown which actually went Liberal except for Airds after it migrated to Macarthur, etc. Also, I doubt Peter Andren will have any problem with the new boundaries for Calare, although it will require a lot of campaigning – the test for an independent in Australia seems to be whether they are capable and active, and others have succeeded in equally odd circumstances (viz. Elizabeth Constable’s WA state seat of Churchlands 1991-2005)

  24. Have you seen Mackerras’ pendulum on his website? He has Macquarie at 0.5% notionally Labor and Parramatta 1.1% notionally Liberal.

  25. Macquarie now includes Blue Mountains (safe Labor-Green) and Lithgow (safe Labor prior to the rise of Peter Andren) with surrounding coalition-friendly rural areas, while the bit that kept it safe Liberal, Richmond-Windsor, has been shuffled into Greenway. Fowler has been mutated beyond all recognition to turn it into what looks like a moderately strong Liberal seat, it now takes in bits of Lindsay and Macarthur like Badgery’s Creek which have never swayed in support for the Coalition despite numerous boundary changes.

  26. Although the new Fowler includes a large area of Liberal-leaning rural territory, the actual number of voters would be very low relative to the Labor voters in Liverpool. The bulk of Fowler is still made up of these working-class areas west of the Liverpool CBD. Mackerras i think gives it 13% ALP (down from 20-odd % in 2004).

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