The Electoral Boundaries Commission of Victoria has just advertised for submissions on the redivision of boundaries for the Legislative Council – details here.

Next year’s Victorian election will be the first for Victoria’s reformed upper house – eight provinces, each electing five members by proportional representation. There will be a lot of new possibilities for current and aspiring Legislative Council members, so it’s not surprising that people have been laying plans for Council preselections. Some of them might be quite surprised to see the advertisement, and to find that the Commission expects the redivision process to take until October. A myth has grown up in all parties that the boundaries are already set, in the Schedule inserted in 2003 into the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act 1982.

But section 18 of the Act clearly states that: “For the purpose of enabling the holding of the first election of the [reformed] Council …, it is also a function of the [Boundaries] Commission during the period starting on 1 January 2005 and ending on 30 November 2005, to divide the State of Victoria into electoral regions for the Legislative Council …”

The Schedule is just a contingency measure for an early election – not a real possibility.

So no boundaries until October, and no preselections until then either? Not necessarily. Those who want to hurry things have a fallback position, which is that “only minor changes” will be made to the interim boundaries in the Schedule.

But this is a misunderstanding of how the process works. The last thing the Commissioners will do is follow the interim boundaries. They will be determined to avoid any suggestion of a return to the bad old days when the government of the day drew the electoral boundaries.

This would be the case even if the interim boundaries were fairly drawn. But in fact they have clearly been drawn with an eye to Labor’s political advantage. Note especially the province straddling the Yarra in central Melbourne, which seems designed to quarantine as many Greens voters as possible in one province. Potential candidates should hope for a fairer set of boundaries later in the year, and cool their heels until then.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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