Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
(Tabled on 26 November 1997)
This document has been scanned from the original government response.
It may contain some error.
Government Response to Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters'
report Electoral Redistributions
The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) tabled its
report "Electoral Redistributions" on 19 December 1995. The Australian
Government's response to the recommendations of the report follows.
That subsection 46(1) of the Electoral Act be amended so that the determination
of State and Territory representation entitlements shall fall due in the
thirteenth month after the first meeting of the House of Representatives.
2. The Government agrees that representation entitlements should be
determined in the thirteenth month after the first meeting of the House
of Representatives. The Australia Electoral Commission (AEC) advises that
if the determination was made in the thirteenth month rather than the
tenth, the population figures provided by the Australian Statistician
would be one calendar quarter closer to those applying for the next election.
The AEC also advises that moving the determination to the thirteenth month
should not unduly affect the Redistribution timetable.
That the determination of State representation entitlements continue to
be based on the latest current estimates of population, rather than statistics
projected to the anticipated date of the next election.
That subsection 66(3)(a) and 73(4)(a) of the Electoral Act be amended,
so as to extend the variation from average divisional enrolment allowed
three and a half years after a redistribution from 2 to 3.5 percent.
5. The Government notes that this was the most contentious issue at
the JSCEM Inquiry -whether in fact the mid-point tolerance of two percent
provides Redistribution Committees with the flexibility to give due consideration
to community of interest and other qualitative criteria.
6. The JSCEM noted the AEC caution that community of interest is an
elusive criterion. However, on the evidence received, the JSCEM decided
that the numerical criteria do not allow due consideration to be given
to the qualitative factors. The JSCEM therefore recommended that the enrolment
requirements be relaxed to the extent necessary to allow a realistic degree
That the Minister for Administrative Services meet with members of the
six largest House of Representatives electorates to discuss means - short
of introducing a weighting in favour of rural electorates of improving
the members' capacity to represent their constituents.
That subsections 66(3)(b) and 73(4)(b) of the Electoral Act be amended
to make "existing boundaries" subordinate to the other qualitative criteria,
namely community of interests, means of communication and travel, and
the physical features and area of the proposed division.
10. The Government agrees that Redistribution Committees and Augmented
Electoral Commissions should continue to have regard to existing boundaries,
but that this requirement should be subordinate to the other qualitative
criteria set out in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.
That subject to consultation with the ABS on relative population trends
in the States and Territories, subsections 66(3)(a) and 73(4)(a) of the
Electoral Act be amended to provide a shorter projection period for approximate
equality of enrolments.
12. Currently three and a half years after a Redistribution is the point
at which approximate equality of enrolments should be reached. This point
was chosen because it is the halfway point of the maximum seven year cycle
allowed for a Redistribution.
13. However, where the cycle is terminated by a change to State and/or
Territory representation entitlements, three and a half years may not
be the most appropriate point at which to aim for equality of enrolments.
14. The AEC will undertake consultations with the ABS to determine whether
relative population trends in the States and Territories can be used to
form a basis for an amendment to the projection period.
That the period of seven years between redistributions of a State provided
for in subsection 59(2) of the Electoral Act remain unchanged.
The AEC and the ABS form a working party to determine the most effective
methodology for enrolment projections.
17. The Government notes that the AEC has consulted with the ABS about
methodologies for enrolment projections and implemented an amended methodology
in relation to the 1997 Redistributions of Queensland and the ACT.
Subject to Recommendation 8, that after the AEC has agreed on its enrolment
projections (including the input from the DRO) the projections be forwarded
to the ABS for an opinion to be published in the volumes of the AEC enrolment
18. Supported subject to not requiring additional ABS resources.
That as early as possible in a redistribution, interested parties be advised
in detail on the process to be used by the AEC for determining electoral
19. Supported. Such advice was given in the 1997 Redistributions of Queensland
and the ACT.
20. See also Recommendation 8.
That when the High Court's decision in McGinty v Western Australia is
known, the AEC will provide the Committee with a detailed report on the
implications for the redistribution provisions of the Electoral Act.
21. The McGinty case sought to strike down the current State Redistribution
in Western Australia on the basis of the implied guarantee of representative
democracy in the Constitution. There was also a possibility that specific
provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 could be found to be
invalid. The decision of the High Court is that the Western Australian
provisions were valid and the Constitution does not require one-vote-one-value
either in the States or the Commonwealth. As there are no major implications
for the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, there is no need for a detailed
That subsection 65(2) of the Electoral Act be amended to provide that
the quota is struck as soon as practicable after a redistribution has
23. Currently, in accordance with section 65 of the Commonwealth Electoral
Act 1918, the quota is determined by the Electoral Commissioner at the
close of the period for public suggestions and comments. While the intention
is to ensure that the Redistribution Committee works on the basis of the
most up-to-date figures, the provision means that those making the suggestions
and comments must work in ignorance of the strict numerical constraint
which will govern the redistribution.
That subsection 64(1) of the Electoral Act be amended to provide that
the advertisement calling for suggestions and comments is placed by the
Electoral Commissioner, rather than the Redistribution Committee, so as
to allow interested parties to prepare suggestions while the appointment
of the Redistribution Committee is being arranged.
That section 64 of the Electoral Act be amended to provide that the Gazette
notice calling for the suggestions and comments is published on a Wednesday,
making the closing date for suggestions a Friday. The cut-off time for
receipt of suggestions should be 6.00pm, with the suggestions required
to be available for perusal on the following Monday. A cut-off time of
6.00pm should also apply for the lodging of comments.
That the Electoral Act be amended as necessary to provide that comments
and objections are made available for public scrutiny in a manner similar
to suggestions (including provision for a 14 day period for lodging comments
on initial objections).
That section 72 of the Electoral Act be amended, so as to remove the requirement
that persons or organisations must object to a Redistribution Committee
proposal (or make suggestions or comments) to be able to lodge an objection
to an Augmented Electoral Commission's proposed redistribution.
28. The Government has noted that the right to lodge objections to an
Augmented Electoral Commission proposal is currently restricted to those
who lodged suggestions, comments, or objections to the Redistribution
Committee proposal. This restriction may have an adverse impact on other
people affected by the Augmented Electoral Commission proposal. The Government
believes that the current position encourages the lodging of objections
to a Redistribution Committee proposal in order to retain the option of
a later objection.
That in their reports Augmented Electoral Commissions respond to as many
objections as is practicable, by way of collective response to groupings
of similar objections.
30. There were submissions that the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918
should be amended to require that objections are responded to, even when
the Augmented Electoral Commission does not make changes to the earlier
proposals. The Government acknowledges that, while those making the objections
should be aware of why an Augmented Electoral Commission arrived at its
final determination, for reasons of practicality, timeliness and clarity,
it is not considered necessary to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act
1918 to require more detail to be given on objections not accepted. The
Government supports the process whereby objections can be grouped together
and responded to collectively. It is noted that this process has been
adopted in the past, and that to date Redistribution reports have contained
reasonably comprehensive explanations of chosen boundaries.
That in future, transcripts of the proceedings before Augmented Electoral
Commissions be produced as a matter of course.
32. There will be cost implications. It is estimated that the cost associated
with the provision of a transcript service is approximately $80.00 per
hour. Assuming an average of 40 hours of hearings for each Redistribution,
plus additional administrative costs such as recording costs, providing
hard copies of the transcripts and transferring the transcripts onto microfiche,
costs in the order of $6,000 might be expected for each Redistribution.
These additional costs will be absorbed.
That at the next two redistributions a system be trialed whereby the public
is able, at set times during each of the "public input" stages of the
redistributions, to book time on a stand-alone version of the computing
software used by the redistribution bodies. Reports on the trials should
be prepared and made available in the final reports on the redistributions.
34. Software facilities were made available for the Redistributions
of Western Australia, the ACT and Queensland at a total cost of $15,728.
Very little public interest was shown in them. As requested, software
facilities were provided to the Parliamentary Library, the Liberal Party
of Australia and the Australian Labor Party. A report on the trials will
be in the final reports on the Redistributions of the ACT and Queensland.
That the AEC continue to provide its enrolment projections to interested
parties in hard copy and electronically.
That the composition of a Redistribution Committee and an Augmented Electoral
Commission for a State, and the voting rights of the three members of
the AEC on the Augmented Commission, remain as currently provided for
in the Electoral Act.
That, subject to the agreement of the ACT government, section 61 of the
Electoral Act be amended to bring the membership of a Redistribution Committee
for the ACT (and consequently an augmented Electoral Commission for the
ACT) into line with the equivalent body for a state.
That at future redistributions, the AEC or the Redistribution Committee
publicise the naming conventions when public suggestions and comments
are called for.
38. Supported. However, this publication should be the responsibility
of the Redistribution Committee and the Augmented Electoral Commission
rather than the AEC.
39. Guidelines on the naming of Divisions have been considered by two
Parliamentary committees: the House of Representatives Select Committee
on the Naming of Electoral Divisions (the Fox Committee) in 1969; and
the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform in 1986. The naming of
electoral Divisions was also the subject of some discussion at the latest
40. The Government considers that the use of guidelines, rather than
binding legal provisions, allows enough flexibility for unanticipated
circumstances while providing Redistribution bodies with ample assistance
in performing their task. However, given the apparent lack of awareness
of the naming conventions, more effort will be made to publicise the naming
conventions when suggestions and comments are called for. Guidelines were
published in Queensland and the ACT with respect to the 1997 Redistributions.
That the naming convention which applies when two or more divisions are
combined (that as far as possible the name of the new division should
be that of the old division which has the greatest number of electors
within the new boundaries) be amended to provide that, where the socio-demographic
nature of the division in question has significantly changed, this should
override the numerical formula.
41. Supported. This was included in the published naming guidelines.
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