Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Impact on New England of the proposed redistribution of Federal seats

In the first decade of the twentieth century when New South Wales had 28 seats in the Federal Parliament, inland New England had two seats. On the latest proposed redistribution of Federal seats, New South Wales will have 47 seats. inland New England will have just one seat. That's a measure of relative decline, but there is more to it than that.


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.

On the North Coast, all the seat boundaries have had to shift south in order to gain numbers. In the Hunter boundaries have gone all over the place, partly as a consequence of the seat lost, partly because of the boundary shifts in the North Coast seats. Inland, the seat of New England has lost Gunnedah to to the seat of Parkes, gained Gwydir Shire from Parkes plus the Upper Hunter. Parkes has become a mega seat in geographic terms, occupying most of Western NSW and growing from 257 to 402 thousand square kilometres. All of New England's Western Plains plus some of the Western Slopes are now submerged in Parkes.

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.

Party Previous New
ALP 5 5
National 4 4
Liberal 1 0
Total 10 9

Not unexpectedly, the sheer increase in the size of the seat of Parkes has drawn opposition. The intent of the one vote one value changes was to get rid of the previous bias towards country seats. The effect of one vote one value has been to reduce the effectiveness of country representation. How one responds to that depends on the weighting placed on the local role of the MP.

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.   

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Armidale's a day on the green

By all accounts, today's  a day on the green held at Petersen's Wines on the outskirts of Armidale was a great success. It's a beautiful venue.

Mind you, it was hot. Armidale may be known as Balmydale for several reasons, but one is definitely the normal summer climate. But this time! Not as hot as its been elsewhere during the current heatwave, mind you, but at 33c still very hot. You would definitely have needed a hat.

Promoted by Roundhouse Entertainment, a day on the green began in Victoria with a first show on Australia Day 2001. Now a day on the green runs in the summer months from October – March with around 30 concerts per season in major wine-growing regions around Australia.

Before going on, local State MP Adam Marshall was clearly enjoying himself!

In addition to the Petersen's Armidale wine gig, there are two other vineyards with New England connections, Bimbadgen Wines at Pokolbin, Sirromet Wines in the Queensland Granite Belt.

It's remarkable how few people realise that Queensland's Granite Belt is actually the most northern part of the New England Tablelands. That border really creates a very peculiar myopia!

Both Bimbadgen Wines and Sirromet Wines host more events than Petersen's for a very simple reason.

Pokolbin is about two hours from Sydney, attracting visitors from there as well as Newcastle and the Lower Hunter. Stanthorpe is about two and a half hours from Brisbane.and attracts visitors from there as well as the Darling Downs. Unlike Pokolbin which competes with Orange and Mudgee as well as Canberra area vineyards, Stanthorpe has the South East Queensland market to itself.

While smaller, the Armidale event is now drawing people from across Northern New South Wales, making for a considerable crowd.  


Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Regional development: Austarm success story

Rather a nice story on Queensland Country Life about New England woolgrower turned Rob Ward.

Mr Ward's Austarm Machinery sources hardy Australian-built tillage, seeding and spray equipment and ground engaging tools for buyers in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

From his base at Armidale, Mr Ward identifies and sources gear across eastern Australia to meet orders from customers as diverse as land barons in Kazakhstan, to mixed croppers in Botswana and agricultural aid initiatives with African villages. Australia's minimum- and zero-till revolution of the past three decades has contributed significantly to his export success.
I will leave you to read the full story. I found it interesting as someone who tried to establish an international business from an Armidale base and knows how hard it is. After initial success, the business finally went down in the recession of the early 1990s. We were one of a number of Armidale start-ups at the time that centred on high technology or professional services and that, for a period, seemed likely to give Armidale a new economic base. In the end, most closed or moved, in part because of the cost effects of very high air fares for businesses that depended on constant domestic travel. In our case, air fares were our second biggest expenditure item after salaries. 
I must try to write up the story of those days for they have lessons for development discussions today. . For the moment, Austarm seems to have a business model that is location independent but firmly based on Australian technical advantage.