The Australian Constitution (section 24) lays down the basis for the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives. The critical starting point is the number of senators. The number of members in the House of Representatives is to be twice the number of senators. After that, the distribution of seats among the states is based on relative population. The constitution is silent on the seats for territories such as the ACT, but each seat for the territories reduces the number of senators available for the states.
Within the constitution, the process of determining the allocation of seats is set by the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 as amended from time to time. There used to be a provision that allowed for a weighting for country seats, but that was replace by what was called "one vote, one value." This is enshrined in Section 73 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. This provides:
- The allocation of seats between states based on the latest population subject to the absolute number not exceeding that set by the constitution
- the calculation of an average divisional (electorate) enrollment for the state or territory as a whole based on the number set by the number of seats in each state or territory
- the definition of electoral boundaries based on that number taking into account things such as community of interest.
- To provide some flexibility,. the actual numbers in each electorate (division) can be in the range 3.5% higher or lower than the average In special circumstance (this is not defined), this variance can be extended to 10%.
- In no case, can the total number of seats exceed the number of seats allocated by the constitution.
The New South Wales population as a proportion of the Australian population has been declining. Within NSW, the New England proportion of the NSW population has been declining. That long term structural decline is one of the drivers for those of us supporting New England self government. We don't accept that decline as inevitable We want to do something about it. The effect is that NSW loses seats and that, within NSW, New England loses seats.
In November 2014, the Electoral Commissioner issued his determination stating that New South Wales would lose a seat for the next election, reduced from 48 to 47 seats, while Western Australia would gain a seat, increasing from 15 to 16 seats. The draft boundaries subsequently released for NSW proposed the abolition of one seat within the broader New England, the lower Hunter Seat of Charlton. This change was associated with significant boundary shifts summarised in the table below drawn from the ABC.
Responses to the proposed boundaries closed on 13 December with almost 800 responses received. The Commission has to finalise boundaries by February 2013.
|Electorate||Old Margin %||New Margin %||Comments|
|Charlton||ALP 9.2||-||Abolished, see Hunter.|
|Cowper||NAT 11.7||NAT 13.1||Shifts south, losing areas north of Coffs Harbour to Page while gaining Port Macquarie from Lyne.|
|Hunter||ALP 3.7||ALP 6.2||Gains most of the electorate of Charlton, loses Maitland and Kurri Kurri to Paterson, Kandos and Rylstone to Calare and areas around Scone to New England.|
|Lyne||NAT 14.8||NAT 14.2||Loses Port Macquarie to Cowper and gains Forster-Tuncurry and everything north of Port Stephens from Paterson.|
|New England||NAT 20.7||NAT 20.2||Loses Gunnedah to Parkes while gaining areas around Scone from Hunter and Bingara and Warialda from Parkes.|
|Newcastle||ALP 8.8||ALP 9.4||Loses Beresfield and Woodberry to Paterson, gains areas around Wallsend from Charlton.|
|Page||NAT 2.5||NAT 3.1||Loses Ballina to Richmond in exchange for areas around Nimbin, while also gaining areas between the Clarence River and northern Coffs Harbour from Cowper.|
|Paterson||LIB 9.8||ALP 1.3||Transformed into a notional Labor seat after losing Forster-Tuncurry and everything north of Port Stephens to Lyne while gaining Maitland and Kurri Kurri from Hunter and Beresfield and Woodberry from Newcastle.|
|Richmond||ALP 3.0||ALP 1.8||Loses the area around Nimbin to Page in exchange for Ballina.|
|Shortland||ALP 7.2||ALP 7.1||Gains areas around the northern end of Lake Macquarie from Charlton.|
The table below summarises the political impact of the changes based on votes at the last election. Not unexpectedly, the Liberal Party wishes to see changes, To get the results they desire. they propose transferring Glen Innes and Tenterfield into the coastal seat of Page. This then allows restructuring of the proposed boundaries on the Coast and in the Hunter. The effect would be, I think, a reduction of one ALP seat in return for a Liberal seat.
The sheer scale of the changes on the North Coast and in the Hunter has drawn widespread criticism because of the ways in which the boundaries split local government areas and all the ancillary things such as tourism promotion bodies.Instead of working with one MP, people will have to work with two whose territories include competing interests.
Inland, the main objection has come from Gwydir Shire who wish to be in Parkes on the grounds of community of interest especially with Moree.
There are no easy answers. Further, the position is only going to get worse with current population trends. At either the next redistribution or the one after that, I haven't fully crunched the numbers, NSW will lose another seat and again that will come from New England. Getting half way decent local representation is becoming an increasing problem.