Redistribution (Australia)

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In Australia, a redistribution is the process of redrawing the boundaries of electoral divisions of the House of Representatives, a process that in the United States is called redistricting. The Australian Electoral Commission, an independent statutory authority, completely independent of political considerations, oversees the redistribution process, taking into account many factors,[1] including the one vote, one value principle. Members of Parliament and political parties may make submissions to the Commission on proposed new boundaries, but any interference with the Commission's deliberations would be a serious offence.

Section 24 of the Constitution of Australia specifies that the number of members of the House of Representatives in each State is to be calculated by reference to their population, with a minimum of five members guaranteed for each original State. Each Territory is granted two members, irrespective of the total population of the Territory. After the number of members for each State and Territory is determined, the State and Territory is divided into that number of electoral divisions.

The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 requires that all electoral divisions within a state or territory have approximately an equal numbers of enrolled voters. The Commonwealth Electoral Act (No. 2) 1973, passed at the joint sitting of Parliament, reduced the allowable quota variation of the number of electors in each division from 20% to 10%.[2] Demographic changes both between States and within States requires a regular review of division boundaries to ensure that the number of electors in each division within a State or Territory does not deviate by more than 10% (plus or minus) from the state or territory average. A redistribution (sometimes called redrawing or "revision"[3]) of the geographic boundaries of divisions takes place at least once every seven years. When the Commission determines that population shifts within a state have caused some seats to have too many or too few voters, a redistribution is called and new boundaries are drawn up. Redistributions are also held when the Commission determines (following a formula laid down in the Electoral Act) that the distribution of seats among the states and territories must be changed because some states are growing faster than others.

For example, in 2003, a review resulted in South Australia losing one seat, and Queensland gaining a seat. Redistributions were held in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. Victoria kept the same number of seats, but one seat was abolished and one new seat created.

Number of seats by States[edit]

Section 24 of the Constitution of Australia requires that the total number of members of the Australian House of Representatives shall be "as nearly as practicable" twice as many as the number of members of the Australian Senate. There is presently a total of 76 senators: 12 senators from each of the six states and two from each of the two autonomous internal territories (the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory). There are 150 members of the Australian House of Representatives.

Section 24 also requires that electorates be apportioned among the states in proportion to their respective populations; provided that each original state has at least 5 members in the House of Representatives, a provision that gives Tasmania higher representation than its population would justify.

The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 sets out further provisions.[4] There are also two electorates in both the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

The number of divisions for a State is calculated as follows:[5]

  • Population quota = Total population of the six States / (Number of Senators for the States x 2)
  • Number of members in the House of Representatives = Total population of individual State / Population quota

The population in each State is officially communicated to the Australian Electoral Commission by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which estimates the population about a year after each election.[6] The entitlement of each state is rounded to the nearest whole number, and each State is entitled to a minimum of 5 members.

The number of seats by States in the House of Representatives arising from the 2014 determination were as follows:[7]

Seat State
New South Wales 47
Victoria 37
Queensland 30
Western Australia 16
South Australia 11
Tasmania 5
Australian Capital Territory 2
Northern Territory 2
Total 150

This represented a loss of one seat for New South Wales and an increase of one seat for Western Australia.[5] The redistribution in New South Wales was announced on 16 October 2015, with the abolition of the Labor-held Division of Hunter.[8] The next review will take place after completion of processing of the census which took place in August 2016.

When required[edit]

A redistribution of State divisions is required in three circumstances:

  • a change in the number of parliamentary representatives to which a State or Territory is entitled, due to a change in population, subject to the minimum number of divisions in original States.
  • the number of electors in more than one third of the divisions in a State or one of the divisions in the ACT or Northern Territory deviates from the average divisional enrolment by over 10% for a period of more than two months.
  • seven years has elapsed since the previous redistribution.

On 13 November 2014, the Australian Electoral Commission announced that a redistribution of electoral boundaries in the states of New South Wales and Western Australia would be undertaken before the 2016 election.[7] A determination of the states' membership entitlements under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 means that Western Australia's entitlement will increase from 15 to 16 seats, and New South Wales' will decrease from 48 to 47 seats. A redistribution will also occur in the Australian Capital Territory, as seven years have elapsed since the last time the ACT's boundaries were reviewed.[9]

However, a redistribution is postponed if it would begin within one year of the expiration of the House of Representatives to prevent a general election from occurring during a redistribution. The 45th House of Representatives was due to expire on 11 November 2016.


A redistribution is undertaken on a State-by-State basis. A Redistribution Committee consisting of the Electoral Commissioner, the Australian Electoral Officer for the State concerned (in the ACT, the senior Divisional Returning officer), the State Surveyor General and the State Auditor General is formed.

After the redistribution process commences, the Electoral Commissioner invites public suggestions on the redistribution which must be lodged within 30 days. A further period of 14 days is allowed for comments on the suggestions lodged. The Redistribution Committee then divides the State or Territory into divisions and publishes its proposed redistribution. A period of 28 days is allowed after publication of the proposed redistribution for written objections. A further period of 14 days is provided for comments on the objections lodged.

These objections are considered by an augmented Electoral Commission consisting of the four members of the Redistribution Committee and the two part-time members of the Electoral Commission. At the time of the redistribution the number of electors in the divisions may vary up to 10% from the 'quota' or average divisional figure but at a point 3.5 years after the expected completion of the redistribution, the figures should not vary from the average projected quota by more or less than 3.5%. Thus the most rapidly growing divisions are generally started with enrolments below the quota while those that are losing population are started above the quota.

The Parliament has no power to reject or amend the final determination of the augmented Electoral Commission.


Boundaries for the Australian House of Representatives and for the six state and two territorial legislatures are drawn up by independent authorities - at the federal level by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) and in the states and territories by their equivalent bodies. Politicians have no influence over the process, although they, along with any other citizen or organisation, can make submissions to the independent authorities suggesting changes.

There is significantly less political interference in the redistribution process than is common in the United States. In 1978, federal Cabinet minister Reg Withers was forced to resign for suggesting to another minister that the name of a federal electorate be changed to suit a political ally.[10]

There have been examples of malapportionment of federal and state electoral districts in the past, often resulting in rural constituencies containing far fewer voters than urban ones and maintaining in power those parties that have rural support despite polling fewer popular votes. Past apportionments in Queensland, Western Australia and the 'Playmander' in South Australia were notorious examples of the differences between urban and rural constituency sizes than their population would merit. The Playmander distorted electoral boundaries and policies that kept the Liberal and Country League in power for 32 years from 1936 to 1968.[11] In extreme cases, rural areas had four times the voting power of metropolitan areas. Supporters of such arrangements claimed Australia's urban population dominates the countryside and that these practices gave fair representation to country people. (See: Australian electoral system#Gerrymandering and malapportionment.)

Naming of divisions[edit]

The redistribution, creation and abolition of divisions is the responsibility of the Australian Electoral Commission. When new divisions are created, the AEC will select a name. Most divisions are named in honour of prominent historical people, such as former politicians (often Prime Ministers), explorers, artists and engineers, and rarely for geographic places.

Some of the criteria the AEC uses when naming new divisions are:[12]

  • divisions are named after deceased Australians who have rendered outstanding service to their country, with consideration given to former Prime Ministers
  • the original names of Divisions proclaimed at Federation in 1901 are to be retained
  • geographical place names are to be avoided
  • Aboriginal names can be used as appropriate
  • names that duplicate names of state electoral districts are not to be used.


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