Electoral redistributions expected during the 46th Parliament

29 July 2019

PDF version [230KB]

Statistics and Mapping Section

Executive summary

  • The periodic redrawing of federal electoral boundaries is required by law to maintain electoral divisions of roughly equal enrolment size within a state or territory. Redrawing of boundaries is known as a redistribution.
  • During the expected life of the 46th Parliament there could be redistributions of Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory brought about by the representation entitlement trigger, which determines the number of members of the House of Representatives a state or territory is entitled to in relation to its population. If this happens, Victoria will gain an electoral division while Western Australia and the Northern Territory will each lose one.
  • If all of those redistributions eventuate, there will be a return to 150 divisions at the next election.
  • No other redistributions are anticipated during the life of this Parliament.

Note: This paper uses projections based on the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Estimated Resident Population. If the actual population growth revealed by the December 2019 figures (to be released in June 2020) differs significantly from these projections, the results may change.

Contents

Executive summary

Introduction

Redistribution provisions

Representation entitlement
Expiration of seven years

Deferral of redistribution

Special cases—Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory

Conclusion

Introduction

Each state and territory is divided into federal electoral divisions (or seats) for the House of Representatives. The number of divisions is determined by population and requirements set out in the Australian Constitution.[1] The boundaries of these divisions have to be redrawn or redistributed from time to time to allow for population movements to ensure equal representation between divisions within each state and territory.

This paper looks at which states or territories may have their electoral boundaries redistributed during the course of this Parliament—the new boundaries and any change in the number of divisions then applying at the next election. The actual redistribution process (or the redrawing of boundaries) is not covered in this paper.[2]

Three redistributions are expected to occur prior to the deemed expiration of this, the 46th, Parliament.[3] This paper outlines the reasons why.

Redistribution provisions

Section 59 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Act) sets out the three provisions that trigger electoral redistributions.[4] Briefly, these are:

  • representation entitlement—a redistribution must be held if the number of members of the House of Representatives to which a state or territory is entitled changes
  • malapportioned divisions—a redistribution must be held if the number of electors in more than one third of the divisions in a state, or a division in a territory, deviates from the average enrolment in that state or territory by over ten per cent for a period of more than two months (this has not been a trigger for a redistribution since the current provisions were introduced in 1984 and is extremely unlikely to be a trigger during this Parliament), and
  • expiration of seven years—if neither of the above provisions triggers a redistribution in a state or territory within seven years of the previous redistribution, then a redistribution must be held in that state or territory.

Representation entitlement

Under section 46 of the Act, the Electoral Commissioner ascertains the populations of the states and territories from the Australian Statistician the day after the anniversary of the first meeting of a newly elected House of Representatives, provided that the ‘House of Representatives has continued for a period of 12 months’. Section 48 of the Act specifies the manner in which representation entitlements are calculated from these population numbers.[5]

The first meeting of the current House of Representatives took place on 2 July 2019, so on 3 July 2020 the Electoral Commissioner will obtain the latest population numbers published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). According to the latest ABS publication of demographic statistics, the population numbers that will be available at 3 July 2020 will relate to the end of December 2019.[6]

In order to estimate what these population numbers might be, the Parliamentary Library has taken the most current population numbers (December 2018) and projected these to December 2019, assuming that the population growth over the previous 12 months (December 2017 to December 2018) continues. The population projections and estimated representation entitlements of the states and territories are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: estimated representation entitlements

  Population Calculated Entitlement Change
projections number of (b)
Dec 2019  members (a)  
New South Wales 8 171 818 47.238 47
Victoria 6 668 887 38.550 39   +1
Queensland 5 144 361 29.737 30  
South Australia 1 757 452 10.159 10  
Western Australia 2 630 521 15.206 15   -1
Tasmania (c)  538 108 3.111 5  
   Total six states 24 911 147 146  
Northern Territory  244 848 1.415
Cocos (Keeling) Islands   547 0.003
Christmas Island  1 950 0.011
   Total NT (d)  247 345 1.430 1   -1
Australian Capital Territory  431 523 2.494
Jervis Bay   410 0.002
Norfolk Island  1 771 0.010    
   Total ACT (d)  433 704 2.507 3  
Australia 25 592 196 150   -1

Note: For representation entitlement purposes, Jervis Bay and Norfolk Island are included with the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), and the Northern Territory (NT) includes the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island. Norfolk Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands or Christmas Island will not be included if they are determined to be entitled to a member of their own.

(a) Derived by dividing the population of a state or territory by a population quota, that is,  the population of the six states divided by twice the number of senators for the six states (144) because section 24 of the Constitution requires there to be ‘as nearly as practicable’ twice as many members as senators. The population quota calculated here is 172 994.                                            

(b) Change over current entitlement.

(c) Tasmania is one of the original (six) states at the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia. Section 24 of the Constitution entitles each original state to at least five members.

(d) For the NT and the ACT, if the remainder of their calculated number of members is 0.5 or less, then section 48 of the Act allows a new calculation to be determined after the addition of a margin of error to their population estimate. If the resultant remainder of the new calculated number of members is greater than 0.5, then an additional member is determined for that territory. In the Table estimates, the margins of error do not change the entitlement for the NT or the ACT, so they have not been shown.

These projections indicate that the current representation entitlements could change in Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, with Victoria gaining an electoral division and Western Australia and the Northern Territory each losing one.

If Western Australia is reduced to 15 seats, it will lose the seat it gained for the 2016 election and return to the number of seats (albeit most likely not on the same boundaries) it has had since the 2001 election.

If the determination results in Victoria being entitled to 39 seats, it will return to the number it held more than 30 years ago for the 1984 and 1987 elections.

If the determination is that the Northern Territory should lose a seat, then the events and discussions of 2003—the last time the Northern Territory was to lose a seat—may be revisited. On 19 February 2003 the Electoral Commissioner determined that the Northern Territory should lose the second seat it gained for the first time in the 9 December 1999 determination. This, however, was overturned by Parliament with the insertion of section 48A into the Act so that the Northern Territory retained its second seat at least until the next determination by the Electoral Commissioner. In 2003 the Northern Territory fell short of retaining its second seat by 295 people; using the estimates from Table 1, the Northern Territory’s population shortfall (with the inclusion of the margin of error) is just over 4700.

Tasmania will retain its five seats, even though it would be entitled to only three under the representation entitlement formula, because section 24 of the Constitution guarantees that each of the original states is entitled to at least five members.

Since no other states or territories are estimated to change their entitlement, the size of the Parliament could return to 150 divisions.[7]

Expiration of seven years

Section 59 of the Act sets out that a redistribution in a state or territory must commence within 30 days of the expiration of seven years after the most recent redistribution in that state or territory (however, a redistribution can be deferred, see the following section of this paper). Table 2 sets out the date of the most recent electoral redistribution held in each state and territory and the date of the next scheduled redistribution under this provision.

No redistributions are scheduled to occur during this Parliament under this provision of the Act.

Table 2: electoral redistribution dates due to expiration of seven years

State/territory Most recent redistribution Next scheduled—expiration of 7 years
New South Wales 25 February 2016 February/March 2023
Victoria 13 July 2018 July/August 2025
Queensland 27 March 2018 March/April 2025
South Australia 20 July 2018 July/August 2025
Western Australia 19 January 2016 January/February 2023
Tasmania 14 November 2017 November/December 2024
Northern Territory 7 February 2017 February/March 2024
Australian Capital Territory 13 July 2018 July/August 2025

Deferral of redistribution

Under subsections 59(5) and (9A) of the Act, any redistribution due to occur during the first 13 months of the new Parliament will be deferred until after the representation entitlements determination is made if the Electoral Commission is of the opinion that the determination will or may alter the number of members.

This will not apply as no redistributions are due within the first 13 months of this Parliament.

Most recently this provision of the Act caused the previously deferred redistribution of the Australian Capital Territory, due to have occurred in November/December 2013 (as triggered by the seven-year rule), to be deferred until after the entitlements determination that was due in November/December 2014.[8] This redistribution commenced on 1 December 2014, with the Australian Capital Territory continuing with two members.

Under subsections 59(4) and (9) of the Act, any redistribution scheduled within 12 months of the expiration of a House of Representatives is deferred and commenced within 30 days after the first meeting of the new House of Representatives.

This will not apply as no redistributions are due within the deemed final 12 months of this Parliament.

Most recently this provision of the Act caused the redistribution of Tasmania, due to have occurred in February/March 2016 (as triggered by the seven-year rule), to be deferred until after the 2016 election. This redistribution commenced on 1 September 2016, two days after the first sitting of the House of Representatives (on 30 August 2016).

Special cases—Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory

The last and only time the Northern Territory was determined by the Electoral Commissioner to lose a seat (and return to a single seat) resulted in that determination being set aside—with an amendment being made to the Act—and the introduction of the margin of error calculation in determining the entitlements of the Northern Territory.[9]

Since the Northern Territory fell 295 people short of retaining its second seat, the margin of error calculation was thought necessary, as was the tightening of the date when the Electoral Commissioner accessed population figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. If the Electoral Commissioner had used the latest published population data (June quarter 2002) rather than data supplied by the ABS (September quarter 2002), the Northern Territory would have retained its second seat.[10]

A private member’s bill was introduced in June 2003 by David Tollner, the Member for Solomon, which sought to guarantee a minimum of two seats each for the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.[11] This was not supported, but resulting legislation passed by the Parliament saw the introduction of the margin of error calculation when determining the population estimates for both the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.

Conclusion

The Parliamentary Library’s population projections suggest that three redistributions—Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory—are expected to be triggered by the representation entitlement determination 12 months after the first sitting of this Parliament. Based upon these projections, the author expects Victoria to gain a division and both Western Australia and the Northern Territory to lose a division.

The House of Representatives could go to the next election with one fewer seats at 150 electoral divisions.

A timetable showing when the next redistribution in each state and territory is expected to occur is shown in Table 3 below.

Table 3: timetable of predicted upcoming electoral redistributions

Next scheduled Parliament State/territory Most recent
July/August 2020 (a) Current (46th) Western Australia 19 January 2016
July/August 2020 (b) Current (46th) Northern Territory 7 February 2017
July/August 2020 (c) Current (46th) Victoria 13 July 2018
February/March 2023 Future (47th) New South Wales 25 February 2016
November/December 2024 Future (48th) (d) Tasmania 14 November 2017
March/April 2025 Future (48th) (d) Queensland 27 March 2018
July/August 2025 Future (48th) Australian Capital Territory 13 July 2018
July/August 2025 Future (48th) South Australia 20 July 2018

(a) If the Electoral Commissioner determines that Western Australia's entitlement does not change, then its next scheduled redistribution is due to commence in January/February 2023 (see Table 2).                                

(b) If the Electoral Commissioner or Parliament determines that the Northern Territory's entitlement does not change, then its next scheduled redistribution is due to commence in February/March 2024 (see Table 2).                                  

(c) If the Electoral Commissioner determines that Victoria's entitlement does not change then its next scheduled redistribution is due to commence in July/August 2025 (see Table 2).                          

(d) Scheduled to commence within 12 months of the deemed expiration of the 47th Parliament, so will be deferred until after the first sitting of the next House of Representatives.


[1].    Australian Constitution, section 24 in particular, accessed 20 June 2019.

[2].   For information on the redistribution process, see: Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), ‘Redistributions’, AEC website; D Muller, The process of federal redistributions: a quick guide, Research paper series, 2017–18, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2017. For the dates of all previous redistributions, see: AEC, ‘Redistribution dates since 1901’, AEC website. All references accessed 20 June 2019.

[3].   Until otherwise determined, the expiration of the 46th Parliament is deemed to be 1 July 2022, the end of three years after the first sitting of the House of Representatives on 2 July 2019.

[4].   Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, accessed 20 June 2019.

[5].   An initial quota is ascertained by dividing the total population of the six states by twice the number of senators from the six states. The calculated number of members for each state and territory is then determined by dividing the population of the state or territory by the initial quota. The calculated number rounded to the nearest whole number determines the entitlement.

[6].   The December 2019 population figures are scheduled to be released on 18 June 2020: Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Australian Demographic Statistics, December Quarter 2018, cat. no. 3101.0, ABS, Canberra, 2019, p. 2, accessed 20 June 2019. There is a lag of six months between the date to which the population estimates pertain and when they are published.

[7].   Prior to the 2019 election, the House of Representatives had had 150 seats since the 2001 election.

[8].   The redistribution of the Australian Capital Territory had already been deferred from starting in 2012 because it would have occurred within 12 months of the expiry of the previous House of Representatives.

[9].   A more comprehensive discussion of the events surrounding these decisions can be found in R Bell and G Newman, Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Representation in the House of Representatives) Bill 2004, Bills digest, 121, 2003–04, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2004, accessed 20 June 2019.

[10].   The Electoral Commissioner was only required to access population data within one month after the 12 month anniversary of the sitting of the House of Representatives. The Electoral Commissioner is now required to access the latest data ‘compiled and published in a regular series under the Census and Statistics Act 1905’ by the Australian Statistician the day after the first anniversary of the sitting of the House: Commonwealth Electoral Act, section 46, accessed 20 June 2019.

[11].   This would have given the territories a level of certainty not dissimilar from the guarantee in the Constitution (section 24) that no original state can have fewer than five members.

 

For copyright reasons some linked items are only available to members of Parliament.


© Commonwealth of Australia

Creative Commons

In essence, you are free to copy and communicate this work in its current form for all non-commercial purposes, as long as you attribute the work to the author and abide by the other licence terms. The work cannot be adapted or modified in any way. Content from this publication should be attributed in the following way: Author(s), Title of publication, Series Name and No, Publisher, Date.

To the extent that copyright subsists in third party quotes it remains with the original owner and permission may be required to reuse the material.

Inquiries regarding the licence and any use of the publication are welcome to webmanager@aph.gov.au.

This work has been prepared to support the work of the Australian Parliament using information available at the time of production. The views expressed do not reflect an official position of the Parliamentary Library, nor do they constitute professional legal opinion.

Any concerns or complaints should be directed to the Parliamentary Librarian. Parliamentary Library staff are available to discuss the contents of publications with Senators and Members and their staff. To access this service, clients may contact the author or the Library‘s Central Enquiry Point for referral.

Top