What’s in a name: the redistributions of the 45th Parliament

Boundaries of the Hume electorate compared to ABS labour market regions, 2016

With the announcement of the final boundaries for electorates in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), the electoral redistributions of the 45th Parliament have now been completed. The addition of a seat each to Victoria and the ACT, and the loss of a seat in South Australia, will see 151 House of Representatives seats up for election at the next federal election—the largest number in the history of the Parliament.

As described in this Parliamentary Library paper, the redistribution process involves a number of stages, and provides a number of opportunities for public comment on the proposals.

The proposed boundaries and names are produced by the Redistribution Committee for the state or territory. The Committee consists of the Commonwealth Electoral Commissioner, the Australian Electoral Officer for the state, the Surveyor-General (or equivalent) for the state and the Auditor-General of the state.

After taking into consideration public comments on the proposal, the final decision is made by the augmented Electoral Commission. This consists of the members of the Redistribution Committee and the two other members of the Australian Electoral Commission (currently the Chair, Hon. Dennis Cowdroy OAM QC and the Australian Statistician, David Kalisch). The decision of the augmented Electoral Commission is final and cannot be appealed in any way.

The current round of redistributions was notable for a number of reasons. As noted above, the loss of a seat in South Australia and the addition of one seat in Victoria and one in the ACT will increase the total number of seats—and hence members of the House of Representatives—to 151 at the next federal election. This is the first change to the number of seats since 2001.

Another subject of considerable discussion was the naming of seats.

The proposed redistribution for Victoria had included changing the name of the western Victorian division of Corangamite to Cox after May Cox. The Victorian redistribution also proposed a new division named Fraser, after former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. It addition, it proposed renaming the division of McMillan to Monash (after Sir John Monash), the division of Melbourne Ports to Macnamara (after Dame Annie Jean Macnamara), and the division of Murray to Nicolls (after Sir Douglas Ralph Nicholls and Lady Gladys Nicholls).

According to the report of the augmented Electoral Commission, more than 120 objections to the renaming of Corangamite to Cox were received. The objections related to the merit of May Cox and her connection to the area. Objections also related to the fact that Cox was an ‘unfortunate double-entendre and will open the electoral division and the local member to ridicule’, and that Corangamite was both an Aboriginal name and a Federation electorate name. The Commission stated it was unconvinced that names that ‘a small section of the community might consider suggestive’ should be rejected, but accepted that there was merit in retaining an Aboriginal name and a Federation name. It overturned the decision and retained the name Corangamite.

The augmented Electoral Commission also noted that the process had received a number of suggestions to abandon the electorate name of Batman, ‘with many questioning whether [John Batman’s] historical legacy rendered him unworthy of having an electoral division named in his honour’. While the Redistribution Committee had not proposed renaming Batman, the Commission renamed Batman to the division of Cooper, after Aboriginal political activist William Cooper.

The redistribution of the ACT also had its share of controversy. The Redistribution Committee, required to divide the ACT into three divisions, proposed retaining Fenner for the northern division, using the existing name of Canberra for the central division, and naming the southern division Bean, after war historian Charles Bean. The Committee noted, however, that the choice of Bean was not unanimous, with two members voting for Bean, one for Cullen, and one for Nott. The last time the ACT had three divisions (between the 1996 and 1998 federal elections), the third was named Namadji, however it does not appear that the Committee considered the name for this redistribution.

The redistribution received more than 55 objections to the name Bean. The Commission noted that the reasons included Charles Bean being inappropriate for having a division named after him due to views he expressed about Sir John Monash, and that the name was ‘most associated with the character Mr Bean and such an association would make the electoral division and the member the subject of jokes’. The Commission noted that it ‘considers Australia a sufficiently mature and open-minded society’ not to reject a name due to sharing a name with a ‘comedic character’. The Commission stated that it considered the totality of Bean’s life and voted 4 to 2 in favour of retaining the proposed name Bean.

The South Australian redistribution provoked somewhat less discussion. The Redistribution Committee proposed abolishing the seat of Port Adelaide and retiring the name, and the division of Wakefield was proposed to be renamed to Spence, after Catherine Helen Spence, an advocate for female suffrage and electoral reform. The augmented Electoral Commission retained these changes.

Less dramatic redistributions were also undertaken in Queensland and Tasmania. The names of Queensland electorates were not changed; but the Tasmanian division of Denison was renamed to Clark after Andrew Inglis Clark. The existing names of the remaining four Tasmanian electorates were retained.

The redistributions (both boundary and name changes) will take effect for any federal election that is called after the changes are gazetted. The South Australian changes will be gazetted on Friday 20 July 2018, the ACT on Friday 13 July 2018, and the Victorian changes also on Friday 13 July 2018. While the new boundaries will also be tabled in Parliament, the timing of the tabling does not affect the commencement.

Table: Summary of division name changes

State Previous division name New division name
Victoria Batman Cooper
  McMillan Monash
  Melbourne Ports Macnamara
  Murray Nicholls
    Fraser (new division)
South Australia Port Adelaide (abolished)  
  Wakefield Spence
Tasmania Denison Clark
ACT    Bean (new division)


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