Research Report 5 - Analysis of Electoral Divisions Classifications: Improving the classification of electoral divisions

Updated: 30 May 2013

Improving the classification of electoral divisions

The allocation of divisions to categories has not been centrally co-ordinated and this has resulted in ad hoc, and at times inconsistent, classification decisions. Inconsistencies also occur because although there are definitions to assist in categorising divisions, these are not particularly exhaustive nor have they been consistently followed. For example, at the 2004 election the division of Capricornia was classified as provincial as 50.5% of its electors are enrolled in Rockhampton. However, both Fairfax and Leichhardt were classified as rural even though their respective enrolment was 51.1% based in the Sunshine Coast and 73.9% in Cairns. This kind of anomaly is undesirable as areas with the same demographic and geographic characteristics should be similarly classified.

The two current classifications cover geographic and political considerations. They do not address socio-economic status issues. A third socio-economic classification will be added to the existing categories to enable the analysis of election results by socio-economic status as well as geographic area and party preference.

A third category: socio-economic classification

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) publishes Socio-economic Indexes for Areas based on aggregations of Census data. These indexes can be aggregated to electoral division level1 and provide a useful summary of the socio-economic characteristics of the area. The ABS publishes four socio-economic indexes. The "Index of Socio-Economic Advantage/Disadvantage" is a general measure of the social and economic well-being of an area and, of the four, is the most appropriate measure to indicate a division's relative socio-economic status.

The socio-economic classification of electoral divisions will divide divisions into four roughly equal categories – high, upper middle, lower middle and low – based on each division's index of socio-economic advantage score. Attachment 1 provides a socio-economic index score for each electoral division contested at the 2001 federal election.

Reviewing geographic classification

The following table outlines revised definitions of current socio-demographic classifications. Based on the addition of the socio-economic classification to more accurately reflect issues of socio-economic status, this category will now be referred to as geographic classification and focus specifically on the characteristics of a division's geographic area.

Revised definitions of current socio-demographic classifications
Inner Metropolitan Divisions with an area of less than 10 000 sq kms, and
Divisions with a majority of electors within capital city statistical division, and
Divisions comprising well established built up suburbs.
Outer Metropolitan Divisions with an area of less than 10 000 sq kms, and
Divisions with a majority of electors within capital city statistical division, and
Divisions containing areas of more recent urban expansion.
Provincial Divisions with an area of less than 10 000 sq kms, and
Divisions with a majority of electors outside capital city statistical division, and
Divisions with a majority of electors in major provincial centres with a population of 50 000 or more.
Rural Divisions with an area of 10 000 sq kms or more, or
Divisions with an area of less than 10 000 sq kms and not classified as Metropolitan or Provincial.

All divisions of 10 000 square kilometres or more will be classified as rural, regardless of where the majority of their enrolment is located.

The new geographic classification is simply a refinement to the existing classification structure. It is more rigorous and subject to less subjective judgement than the existing classification. Refining the definition will have a minimal impact on current classifications, as less than 15% of divisions will have their classification altered. It will however make classification decisions more accurate and ensure like divisions are categorised consistently. The use of area specific criteria will also assist in making more meaningful the classification of divisions such as the Northern Territory, where there are a number of contradictory indicators.

A list of divisions whose geographic classification is proposed to change is at Attachment 2.

1: The index scores for the Electoral Divisions are calculated by taking the weighted average, using population counts from the 2001 census across all Census Collection Districts for the Division. For more information see Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas Australia 2001 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Information Paper 2039.0, Section 2.2