House of Representatives Committees

Standing Committee on Electoral Matters

Committee activities (inquiries and reports)

Electoral redistributions

Government response

(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

INTRODUCTION

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.

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

Recommendation 1
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.

Response
1. Supported.

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.

Recommendation 2
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.

Response
3. Supported.

Recommendation 3
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.

Response
4. Supported.

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 of flexibility.

Recommendation 4
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.

Response
7. Supported.

Recommendation 5
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.

Response
9. Supported.

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.

Recommendation 6
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.

Response
11. Supported.

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.

Recommendation 7
That the period of seven years between redistributions of a State provided for in subsection 59(2) of the Electoral Act remain unchanged.

Response
15. Supported.

Recommendation 8
The AEC and the ABS form a working party to determine the most effective methodology for enrolment projections.

Response
16. Supported.

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.

Recommendation 9
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 projections.

Response
18. Supported subject to not requiring additional ABS resources.

Recommendation 10
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 projections.

Response
19. Supported. Such advice was given in the 1997 Redistributions of Queensland and the ACT.

20. See also Recommendation 8.

Recommendation 11
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.

Response
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 report.

Recommendation 12
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 been directed.

Response
22. Supported.

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.

Recommendation 13
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.

Response
24. Supported.

Recommendation 14
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.

Response
25. Supported.

Recommendation 15
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).

Response
26. Supported.

Recommendation 16
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.

Response
27. Supported.

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.

Recommendation 17
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.

Response
29. Supported.

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.

Recommendation 18
That in future, transcripts of the proceedings before Augmented Electoral Commissions be produced as a matter of course.

Response
31. Supported.

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.

Recommendation 19
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.

Response
33. Supported.

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.

Recommendation 20
That the AEC continue to provide its enrolment projections to interested parties in hard copy and electronically.

Response
35. Supported.

Recommendation 21
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.

Response
36. Supported.

Recommendation 22
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.

Response
37. Supported.

Recommendation 23
That at future redistributions, the AEC or the Redistribution Committee publicise the naming conventions when public suggestions and comments are called for.

Response
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 JSCEM Inquiry.

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.

Recommendation 24
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.

Response
41. Supported. This was included in the published naming guidelines.

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