Many people have asked me about the recent announcement that there will be changes to the boundaries of federal electorates. So-called re-distributions are always quite dramatic but this one has been even more so because NSW is actually losing a seat in the House of Representatives and that affects every electorate in the State.
Under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Electoral Act), the Electoral Commissioner is required to use the latest official published statistics of the Commonwealth to ascertain the Australian population on the day after the one year anniversary of the first meeting of the House of Representatives.
The Electoral Commissioner then determines how many of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives each state is entitled to. A similar exercise is used to calculate the entitlements of the territories.
Of course the Commissioner’s main aim is to ensure that as near as is possible, each electorate has an equal number of voters; this is important to maintaining the principle of “one vote on value”. In other words, so that every person’s vote carries the same weight.
On this occasion the Commission has determined that NSW will lose a seat and WA will gain one. In NSW, they have put that decision into effect by largely merging the electorates of Hunter and neighbouring Charlton. They’ve also chopped off large parts of Hunter and sent them to New England and Paterson.
When drawing boundaries, the Commission tries to follow rivers, highways, railways and mountains ranges to form boundaries. They also try to keep local government areas within one electorate and take into account the relationships between communities. However, this is not always possible.
The new boundaries are still in draft form and will not be confirmed until late February next year. If confirmed, the new Hunter will stretch from Muswellbrook to Wyee, picking up Singleton, Cessnock, Cardiff, Glendale, West Wallsend and the townships of the western side of Lake Macquarie.
It’s not surprising the name “Hunter” has been retained. Hunter is a Federation seat (it existed at the time of the first parliament) and our first Prime Minister Edmund Barton was its first member. It is unfortunate that the name “Charlton” has been abolished because it was named after Labor Party Leader Matthew Charlton.
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