Banana bending

Such has been the scale of Queensland’s population explosion in recent years that the state’s share of House of Representatives seats is set to increase for the second election in a row. That means Queensland MPs are once again experiencing the excitement of a redistribution, a process which reached a milestone with yesterday’s release of the Australian Electoral Commission’s preliminary boundaries. Should the proposal proceed without substantial revision there will be a new electorate called Wright (named in honour of poet Judith Wright on the recommendation of the Greens), a peculiar looking beast extending from Winton deep in central Queensland all the way eastwards to Gladstone on the coast. However, the AEC report points out that the redrawn electorate of Hinkler could just as easily be said to be the “new” electorate, as Wright will contain fractionally more voters from the old Hinkler than the new. It was determined that the interior electorate should get the new name on the sensible basis that the name of Hinkler is “intrinsically linked to the City of Bundaberg”, which remains part of Hinkler.

For reasons the Poll Bludger can’t understand, the Nationals don’t sound happy. Maranoa MP Bruce Scott told the ABC the Wright proposal was “crazy”, raising commendable objections about roads and communications, communities of interest and local government linkages. He also said he hadn’t “looked at the political impact”; normally such a claim would have me in hysterics, but I really do think he may be telling the truth. Nationals state director Brad Henderson calls Wright “a classic Nats versus Labor seat” due to Labor’s strength in Gladstone and hinterland mining towns, but it looks very much like a Nationals seat to me. By my count, Labor scored only 51.8 per cent on two-party preferred from the 11,606 votes in Gladstone in 2004, and it seems clear the remaining 76,000 would tip the scales in the Nationals’ favour (UPDATE: See below). Furthermore, the removal of Gladstone has weakened Labor’s position in Hinkler, which Paul Neville held for the Nationals by 4.8 per cent in 2004. Hinkler will be compensated for the loss of Gladstone with Hervey Bay and its surrounds, which split 60-40 in the Coalition’s favour. The resulting electorate is smaller, more coastal and at greater threat from the Liberals in the long term, but that shouldn’t become an issue until Neville retires.

Elsewhere, no seat has moved from one party’s column to the other, although there are as always a number that have been made more or less interesting. By far the biggest loser from the redistribution is Liberal member for Blair Cameron Thompson, whose win upon the seat’s creation in 1998 put an end to Pauline Hanson’s parliamentary career. Blair is in an interesting position, having originally covered the conservative hinterland of safe Labor Ipswich. Unfortunately for Thompson, the last two redistributions have drawn the seat into Ipswich itself, from which it will now absorb more than 20,000 new voters. The corresponding loss of territory comes in the Kingaroy-Nanango area – Joh country – which split 67-33 in Thompson’s favour in 2004. By my rough reckoning, that could cut his margin from 11.2 per cent to as little as 4 per cent (UPDATE: See below).

The electorates on the Sunshine Coast have been substantially shuffled around, but the only one of interest to non-psephologists (UPDATE: See below) is Mal Brough’s dicey seat of Longman, where the Liberal margin inflated from 2.5 per cent to 7.7 per cent at the 2004 election. Longman has been sucked into Brisbane’s orbit with the loss of its territory in the Glasshouse Mountains and to the west of Caboolture, which it has traded in for the outer Brisbane centre of Kallangur and its surrounds. This area produced more modest Liberal majorities of around 4 per cent, so their addition should add slightly to Brough’s discomfort. The better part of this area from Brough’s perspective, around North Lakes, comes at the expense of party colleague Teresa Gambaro in suburban Petrie to the south. The 11,500 voters Gambaro is losing here split about 59-41 in the Liberals’ favour in 2004, compared with an overall margin that was up from 3.5 per cent to 7.9 per cent. Petrie was over quota going into the redistribution and will only be compensated for its loss with a few thousand voters in the neighbouring Labor-held seats of Lilley and Brisbane, which will have a small but potentially significant drain on her margin.

The Liberals’ other three naturally marginal seats in Brisbane, Bonner (0.5 per cent), Moreton (4.2 per cent) and Dickson (7.8 per cent), are a mixed bag. Bonner will be wholly unchanged, while Dickson will be made safe by the addition of the safely conservative Shire of Esk, a development which has made the seat largely rural. However, it has not been a good redistribution for Gary Hardgrave in Moreton, who is set to trade more than 12,000 voters in one of his best areas, Algester in the south-west, for 4000 voters in inner-city Annerley to the north and 5000 around Karawatha to the south-east. Given that the respective two-party Liberal vote in the three areas in 2004 was about 57 per cent, 38 per cent and 47 per cent, my rough estimate is that his margin will be cut to 2.5 per cent.

In terms of the Labor-versus-Coalition contest the only electorate of interest in the remainder of Queensland is the Townsville-based seat of Herbert, held for the Liberals by Peter Lindsay on a margin of 6.2 per cent (up from 1.5 per cent in 2001). The electorate has undergone small changes with the addition of just under 3000 voters in Thuringowa and the loss of about 5500 in Townsville, which I do not believe are likely to affect the margin much. Labor’s only seat outside of the Brisbane area, Capricornia, has undergone significant changes, providing Wright with 17,000 of its voters and gaining 14,000 new voters just outside of Mackay. These changes are a mixed bag and are unlikely to account for Labor’s 5.1 per cent margin, in a seat where Rockhampton remains the decisive factor.

UPDATE (25/6/06): I may have spoken too soon when I said the Sunshine Coast boundary changes were unlikely to matter: according to the ABC, Fairfax MP Alex Somlyay is suggesting the Liberals might run a candidate against senior Nationals MP Warren Truss in Wide Bay now that it’s moving into Noosa. Also, earlier generalisations about likely margins can now be clarified. Sacha in comments, who has done the numbers properly, says the new Liberal margin in Blair is 6.4 per cent. I have now crunched the numbers in the booths that will make up the new electorate of Wright and concluded that the Nationals margin from 2004 would have been 5.2 per cent, which compares with a statewide result of 7.1 per cent. Labor could therefore be expected to win the seat if the statewide result was 50-50, although as this graph at Mumble makes clear, that doesn’t happen very often. Other things being equal, there would have been 15 wins for the Coalition since 1949, six for Labor and two cliffhangers. I hope you enjoy the following figures, because they did not come easily. Bear in mind that this does not include pre-polls, postals and the like (not that this should make too much difference), and no doubt contains a few errors.

  LNP # LNP % ALP # ALP %
Hinkler 18,297 53.3 16,033 46.7
Maranoa 9,087 64.6 4,974 35.4
Capricornia 7,581 50.1 7,545 49.8
Wide Bay 561 70.6 234 29.4
TOTAL 35,526 55.2 28,786 44.8

UPDATE (26/6/06): Turns out I’m not totally stupid after all. According to Mark Vaile, "early indications suggested (Wright) would, based on the last election, deliver a Nationals candidate about 55 per cent of the two-party preferred vote, compared to 45 per cent for a Labor candidate".

Do the Canberra shuffle

If you’re one of the few thousand Canberra voters who are directly affected, you probably don’t much care about the Electoral Commission’s current proposal to alter the boundary between the safe Labor electorates of Canberra and Fraser. If you’re not, you probably don’t care at all. But the Poll Bludger fancies itself as Australia’s online psephological journal of record, and accordingly feels compelled to make note of the event.

The Electoral Act requires that redistributions within a state and territory take place every seven years, unless one is required at an earlier time due to changes in the spread of population or the number of seats allocated to the state or territory. This one is happening for the former reason, 1997 being the year in which the ACT’s brief hold on a third electorate came to an end. Charles Richardson at Crikey explains the proposed boundary adjustment thus:

The current boundary between them mostly follows the Molonglo River and Lake Burley Griffin, but to even up enrolments between them it deviates south to include the suburbs of Barton, Griffith, Kingston and Narrabundah in the northern seat (Fraser). In recent years, however, population growth has been stronger in the north, so it’s now possible to move the boundary to follow the lake and the river the whole way, and that is what the committee proposes. Simple (although they take 17 pages to explain it).

The affected area is slightly more Liberal-leaning than the Canberra average, such that Annette Ellis might find her current margin of 9.5 per cent slightly garnished while Bob McMullan will get more padding on his existing 13.3 per cent. Lest the significance of this be dismissed too lightly, be it noted that a 16.2 per cent swing saw the Liberals comfortably win Canberra at a by-election on 25 March 1995 following Ros "Whiteboard" Kelly’s self-indulgent mid-term retirement (the victor being current ACT Opposition Leader Brendan Smyth). That complication aside, redistribution fans will find greater excitement in the following revelations of Malcolm Mackerras in the Canberra Times:

Some time in December this year the new Electoral Commissioner, Ian Campbell, will ascertain the populations of the states and territories for the purpose of determining the number of members to which each state and territory will be entitled in the next (42nd) Parliament. It is very probable that NSW will lose a seat while Queensland will gain one. Thus will be set in train next year the second (for NSW) and third (for Queensland) federal redistributions of the current (41st) Parliament. How do I know that?

Do tell, Professor M.

The answer is that I have done calculations estimating the entitlements of the states and territories for the 2007 election for the 42nd Parliament … There is no point in speculating what next year’s maps for those states will do. However, it is worth noting that one seat will be watched very closely – John Howard’s marginal seat of Bennelong in Sydney’s north western suburbs, covering Epping, Eastwood, Gladesville Marsfield, Meadowbank, Putney and Ryde. Bennelong will need to increase the number of its electors from the present 86,000 to about 91,000. The swing required for Bennelong to fall to Labor is presently a mere 4.4 per cent. Of the 12 seats in metropolitan Sydney held by the Liberal Party, Bennelong is the second most marginal, next only to Greenway which was a Labor seat until the 2004 election when it was gained by the Liberal Party.

Mackerras is no doubt right when he says there is "no point speculating" what the redrawn boundaries might look like. But it’s tempting to conclude that Bennelong, if not abolished entirely, would move westwards, since the electorates between it and the Pacific Ocean would need to enlarge also. That would involve an incursion into the newly Labor electorate of Parramatta (albeit into its more Liberal-leaning eastern parts) and a further softening of the Prime Minister’s precarious 4.3 per cent margin. On a less speculative note, if Mackerras is correct a seat will be transferred from the relatively strong Labor state of New South Wales (where it holds 42 per cent of the seats) to the extremely weak one of Queensland (21.4 per cent).