Saturday, March 9, 2013

Pushing the Boundaries

For something that the vast majority of the population is barely aware of, electoral redistributions are incredibly exciting for political nerds.

Not only to political parties get to subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) try to influence an independent process, but the visceral infighting that follows afterwards is enough to convince most observers that politics is best enjoyed as a spectator sport.

NSW is undergoing a redistribution this year, and as is their right the four main parties have put in submissions as to how they think the changes should be made.

First of all, some background. NSW has 93 Lower House Seats. The current enrolment of NSW divided by 93 is, according to Anthony Green, 51 623 people. Naturally the enrolments cannot be exactly correct - but the paramaters that the Electoral Commission has to work within are, to say the least, challenging.

This is what the NSW Constitution Act says:
It also says that such redistributions must be undertaken every 2 elections. Simple enough? Wait, there's more:
Not to mention:
In short, it is a horribly difficult job that I am glad that someone else has to do.

The submissions made to the Commission can be found here, including those from the ALP, the Liberals, the Nationals and the Greens.

Below I have include two quota maps helpfully produced by Anthony Green, as well as two maps from wikipedia that help with the names of the electorates:

Anthony Green's maps, and in particular the NSW-wide one, help illustrate the obvious problem for the commissioners - districts that are under enrolment tend to not have a convenient over-enrolment seat next door. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

The only solution, short of increasing the number of seats (which is not entirely out of the question) is to shift the boundaries of those Western NSW seats progressively eastward.

By the same token, the map Sydney shows the disproportionate growth in the North-West and South-West as well as in and around the CBD.

Ben Raue has written an excellent piece for New Mathilda that, to be honest, I'm tempted to just copy and paste and pretend it is mine. This is the most important part:
The consequence of the low numbers in the west of the state and the high numbers in the Sydney, Inner West and SW Sydney is, Ben suggests, this:
What do the submissions have to say about that?

Goulburn is presently held by Pru Goward, a Liberal who sits on the Coalition's cabinet as the Minister for Community Affairs and Women.

Shockingly, the Liberals have suggested that Goulburn not be dismantled. They say:
Burrinjuck is directly to the West of Goulburn, and is held by the Nationals member Katrina Hodgkinson. The maps provided in the Liberal submission are frustratingly opaque, but the only way such a change could be accomplished would be if most if not all of the NSW electoral seats were to converge on Burrinjuck, each either directly taking a part of moving in that direction to compensate for another division doing that very thing.

The Greens and the Nationals both agree that Goulburn should go. The Labor solution is a little more complicated, and best shown through the map provided as a part of their submission:
Exactly how it is that this proposed map benefits Labor is a little beyond the ambit of a blogpost, but suffice to say that the radical redrawing of the map it requires means it is unlikely to be a particularly influential suggestion.

The disscussion is obviously an incredibly complex one. Even if you exclude the maps, the Liberal's submission runs to 36 pages. The ALP produced over 50 pages including enough tables to make your eyes water.

The parties can now make further submissions until 20 March, and we can expect a decision later this year.


  1. I wonder how much of the Libs saying Burrinjuck can go has to do with Katrina Hodgkinson holding it for the Nationals with approx 60% primary vote?

  2. You miss one of the key points - only the Liberal submission avoids a malapportionment of ANY seat. There is a Constitutional 'trigger' of 5% in 25% of seats which would see a new redistribution have to take place.

    Ironically, for the Party which prides itself on "one vote, one value", Labor has the most number of malapportioned seats - nine in total. The Nats have five, plus several more which are close to the malapportionment trigger. And that is the problem for both Labor and the Nats - you simply CANNOT abolish Goulburn without malapportioning in favour of country voters.

    The key point is not that Goulburn is old - it is that "the numbers" for an equitable distribution simply do not work with the abolition of Goulburn - whereas they work EXACTLY with an abolition of Burrinjuck. NSW Country needs to abolish a seat and "transfer" 18% of a quota to the city. The only place to do this is moving the northern component of Wingicarribee Shire - ironically almost exactly 18% of a quota - into the seat of Wollondilli.

    What does this mean? The Liberal submission is the ONLY one which gives effect to the principle of "one vote, one value". There is no malapportionment trigger. And it maintains solid communities of interest.

  3. To clarify - the average seat in April 2015 should have 52,769 voters. To avoid a Constitutional malapportionment trigger, a seat can't have less than 50,131 or more than 55,408, i.e. plus or minus 5% of the average figure.

  4. Moving to larger multi-member constituencies would remove the need for constant redistributions. It'd make elections a damn sight more interesting too.