Research Report 4 - Australian Federal Redistributions 1901-2003: The Redistribution process

Updated: 30 May 2013

The Redistribution process

The procedures for conducting electoral redistributions are contained in parts III and IV of the Act and are summarised below.

Structure of the Redistribution Committee

A separate Redistribution Committee is established for each State or Territory in which a redistribution has commenced.

The Act requires that each Committee for a state must consist of the following:

  • the Electoral Commissioner
  • the Australian Electoral Officer (AEO) for the particular State
  • the State Surveyor-General (SG) or the person holding an equivalent office
  • The Auditor-General (AG) for the State or if unavailable a senior Australian public servant.

The members of the Redistribution Committee for the Australian Capital Territory are:

  • the Electoral Commissioner
  • the senior Divisional Returning Officer for the Territory
  • the Surveyor-General of the Territory (or equivalent office holder)
  • the Auditor-General of the Territory (or equivalent office holder).

The members of the Redistribution Committee for the Northern Territory are:

  • the Electoral Commissioner
  • the AEO for the Territory
  • the Surveyor-General
  • the Auditor-General or Territory equivalent.

Each Committee has the task of producing a proposed set of boundaries and names for electoral Divisions for the House of Representatives in that particular State or Territory. The Redistribution Committee for the State or Territory is formally appointed by the Electoral Commission.

The Enrolment Quota

After the formal commencement of the redistribution, section 65 of the Act requires that the enrolment quota for the State is determined. The quota is determined by the Electoral Commissioner by dividing the number of persons enrolled in the State or Territory by the number of Members of the House of Representatives (i.e. the number of electoral divisions) to be chosen in the State or Territory and rounding to the nearest whole number.

The calculation is as follows:

Number of electors enrolled in a State ÷ Number of Members of the House of Representatives to which a State is entitled = Quota

For example in 2003 in Queensland the calculation was:

2 354 176 ÷ 28 = 84 078

There is a permissible margin of allowance, currently 10%, that the Redistribution Committee may use for calculating the number of electors that are to be assigned to each and every electoral division. Section 66 (3) states that:

the Redistribution Committee may adopt a margin of allowance, to be used whenever necessary, but in no case shall the quota be departed from to a greater extent than one-tenth more or one-tenth less

Thus the margin of allowance available to the Redistribution Committee for the 2003 Queensland redistribution was as follows:
Quota for Queensland84 078
Permissible maximum number of electors (+10%) in a Division92 485
Permissible minimum number of electors (-10%) in a Division75 671

Public invited to make Suggestions and Comments

As soon as possible after the commencement of the redistribution, the Electoral Commissioner must publicly invite written suggestions to the redistribution and written comments to those suggestions. This is done by a notice published in the Commonwealth Gazette and in 2 major daily newspapers circulating throughout the State or Territory.

Suggestions must be lodged by 6pm on the fifth Friday after publication of the notice in the Gazette, and comments must be lodged by 6pm on the seventh Friday after publication. The suggestions are made available for public inspection and any comments may be lodged within 14 days.

The Redistribution Committee then considers the public suggestions and comments and develops a set of proposed boundaries. At the commencement of the redistribution, the enrolment in each proposed division may not deviate from the quota by more or less than 10%. The Committee also calculates the projected enrolment quota in three and half years' time. Their proposal must ensure, as a far as practicable that at that date the enrolment of each division does not deviate from this projected enrolment by more than 3.5%.

Development of a redistribution proposal

Section 66 of the Act requires a Redistribution Committee to develop a set of proposals for dividing each State or territory into a number of divisions equal to its entitlement in the House of Representatives. In doing so the Committee must consider certain numerical constraints, namely that at projection time the number of electors of the state in each division would not be less than 96.5 percent or more than 103.5 percent.

Thus in Queensland the enrolment projection figures calculated were:
Number of Electors in Queensland as at 18 January 2002 2 354 176
Quota for Queensland 84 078
Projected number of electors in Queensland as at 31 July 2007 2 621 489
Average enrolment for Queensland projected at 31 July 2007 93 625
103.5% of average enrolment projected at 31 July 2007 96 901
96.5% of average enrolment projected at 31 July 2007 90 349

In addition to this mathematical requirement the Committee shall give due consideration to the following which are subordinate to the core mathematical requirement mentioned above.

  • community of interests within the division, including economic, social and regional interests
  • means of communication and travel within a division
  • physical features and area
  • existing boundaries of divisions

Three-and-a-half year Rule

Boundaries are drawn so that, as far as is practicable, three and a half years after the redistribution, the enrolment in each electoral division should not vary from the State average by more than 3.5%. However section 63A (3) of the Act (a new provision inserted in 1998), also allows for the Electoral Commission to reduce the mid point date when considering the projection time. This means that the mid-point may less than three and a half years. This provision is used if there is a change in entitlements. The redistribution conducted in South Australia in 1999 was the first occasion that this new provision was used[11].

The Committees proposed redistribution is published and maps showing the suggested boundaries and names are publicly exhibited. The public has 28 days to lodge objections to the proposals. There is then a period of 14 days in which interested people and organisations may make comment on the objections.

Augmented Electoral Commission

After the receipt of written comments on the objections an augmented Electoral Commission for the State or Territory then considers these objections and any comments on the objections lodged. The augmented Electoral Commission for each State or Territory consists of the members of the Redistribution Committee for that State or Territory, plus the Chairperson (currently J C S Burchett QC) and the non-judicial member of the Electoral Commission (currently the Australian Statistician, Dennis Trewin).

The augmented Electoral Commission has 60 days to consider all objections (including initial and any further objections). It must hold a public inquiry into any objection unless it is of the opinion that the objection deals with matters which were covered in an earlier submission or comment, or is vexatious or frivolous.

After concluding its inquiries into initial objections and comments on the objections, the augmented Electoral Commission makes public its own proposed redistribution for the State or Territory. If its proposal differs significantly from the Redistribution Committee's proposal, it will invite further objections and hold an inquiry into any received.

Final determination

The augmented Electoral Commission makes a final determination of the names and boundaries of the electoral divisions into which the State or Territory is to be distributed by notice published in the Commonwealth Gazette. Such a determination must be made as soon as practicable after all objections have been considered.

Tabling in Parliament

Section 75 of the Act requires the Electoral Commission to forward the responsible Minister (the Special Minister of State) a copy of:

  • the suggestions relating to the redistribution of the State or Territory lodged with the Redistribution Committee for the State or Territory
  • the comments lodged with the Redistribution Committee
  • the proposed redistribution made by the Redistribution Committee and its reasons for the proposed redistribution;
  • if a member of the Redistribution Committee has stated in writing the reasons for his or her disagreement with the proposed redistribution–those reasons
  • the objections and comments lodged with the Electoral Commission
  • the written record (if any) of the proceedings at any inquiry as a result of objections received
  • the determination of the augmented Electoral Commission and its reasons for the determination
  • if a member of the augmented Electoral Commission has stated in writing the reasons for his or her disagreement with the determination made by the augmented Electoral Commission—those reasons.

This copy is tabled in both Houses of Parliament by the Special Minister of State within 5 sitting days of receiving them and neither the Parliament nor the Minister has any power to reject or amend the final determination of an augmented Electoral Commission.

Commencement date of new boundaries

The enrolment of new electors and changes to existing enrolments are implemented immediately following the determination of new boundaries. However, for the purpose of electing Members of Parliament, the new boundaries do not come into effect until the next federal election.

If the writ for an election were issued before the gazettal of the new boundaries, it would be contested on the old boundaries. If a redistribution was occurring due to a change of entitlement, a mini redistribution would be held. Similarly, if a by-election is held prior to the next federal election, the by-election will be conducted on existing boundaries, not the redistributed boundaries.

Guidelines for the naming of electoral divisions

In 1986, the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform issued a new set of guidelines on the naming of electoral divisions. These are set out in Recommendation 14 of the report and are paraphrased below:

In the naming of electoral divisions the following guidelines should be observed:

Naming after persons

  • That, in the main, divisions be named after former citizens who have rendered outstanding service to their country and that every effort be made to retain the names of original Federation divisions. That, when new divisions are created, the names of former Prime Ministers be considered.

Geographical Names

  • That locality or place names should generally be avoided but in certain areas the use of geographical features may be appropriate (e.g. Eden-Monaro or Riverina).

Aboriginal names

  • That Aboriginal names should be used where appropriate and, as far as possible, the names of existing divisions with Aboriginal names should be retained.

Other criteria

  • That the names of Commonwealth divisions should not duplicate existing State divisions and discussions between the Commonwealth and State Electoral Officers should take place on this question.
  • That qualifying names (e.g. North Sydney, Melbourne Ports, Port Adelaide) should be used where appropriate.
  • That names of divisions should not be changed or transferred to new areas without very strong reasons.
  • That, when two or more divisions are partially combined at a redistribution, as far as possible the name of the new division should be that of the old division which has the greatest number of electors within the new boundaries.