Mini-Redistributions: Representational Russian Roulette

House of Representatives chamber

A recent newspaper article suggests that the Prime Minister might be forced to call an early election in August or September 2018, however the recent release of the population estimates from the Census may complicate this.

Under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (CEA) the Electoral Commissioner is required to determine the number of seats that each state and territory is entitled to a year after Parliament first sits. The determination for the current term is therefore due on 31 August 2017.

If the calculated entitlement is different to the current entitlement, then the state or territory must undergo a redistribution. Calculations by the Parliamentary Library indicate that South Australia (SA) will likely lose one seat and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and Victoria will gain one seat each under the expected entitlement determination.

Section 76 of the CEA says that if a state or territory changes its entitlement and an election is called before the resulting redistribution is complete, the state or territory must undergo a ‘mini-redistribution’. The mini-redistribution is triggered when the writs for the election are issued. If the entitlement has not changed and an election is called the state retains its existing divisions if the redistribution is not complete.

Where a state is to lose a seat, such as is predicted for South Australia, the two adjacent divisions with the combined lowest number of electors are combined into a single electorate. When it is going to gain one, as with Victoria or the ACT, the two adjoining electorates with the combined largest enrolled populations are split into three electorates, each of which has as close to possible the same number of electors. These changes must happen between the issue of the writs and the declaration of nominations (between 10 and 27 days after the issue of the writs).

The number of electors in the electorate for the purpose of the mini-redistribution is the most recent monthly gazetted enrolment figures. However, it is possible to calculate the likely result if a mini-redistribution was performed on the basis of current enrolments (as of 31 May 2017).

In South Australia, the large rural divisions of Barker and Grey would be combined into the one division, which would be named Barker-Grey. Both of these seats are currently held by Liberal members.

In Victoria, the divisions of Gorton and McEwen would be split into three divisions: Gorton, McEwen, and Gorton-McEwen. Gorton is currently a safe Labor seat and McEwen is currently a fairly safe Labor seat.

ALP Two Party Preferred vote in the divisions of Gorton (left) and McEwen (right)

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The two ACT seats of Canberra and Fenner would be split into three divisions: Canberra, Fenner and Canberra-Fenner. Fenner is currently a safe Labor seat and Canberra is a fairly safe Labor seat.

ALP Two Party Preferred vote in the divisions of Fenner (top) and Canberra (bottom)

Open map in new window.

This calculation is only on the basis of the current enrolments, and changes in the relative enrolments in the Victorian and South Australian divisions may mean a different set of electorates is subject to the mini-redistribution (if it is required) by the time the election is called.

The mini-redistribution provisions have never been used, and as such it is impossible to say exactly how the Redistribution Commissioners (the Electoral Commissioner and the Australian Electoral Officer for the state, or the senior Divisional Returning Officer in the case of the ACT) would split up the two divisions into three. However it will likely leave very little time to decide pre-selection for the seats affected by mini-redistribution (both newly created or abolished), and may result in extensive voter confusion.

The most recent redistributions have taken 13 to 14 months to complete. The Electoral Commissioner must direct a redistribution commences ‘forthwith after making the determination’ (CEA s 59(2)(a)), which means the redistributions of the Victoria, SA and the ACT will likely commence in September 2017.

If the recent past redistributions are any indication, an election before October or November 2018 will likely risk triggering a mini-redistribution. 

Note: due to a calculation error, an earlier version of this Flagpost stated that the seats likely to be affected by a mini-redistribution in Victoria on the basis of current enrolments were Ballarat and McEwen, rather than Gorton and McEwen. 


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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