Further to
last week’s item on the ACT redistribution, a Labor staffer writes: “I
thought I might draw your attention to a gerrymander that has been
happening in Australian politics for a long time.

“Before the
last election the Libs passed legislation to save Dave Tollner’s NT
seat of Solomon as it was going to be abolished at the last Federal
election. However, the same thing would not be done for the ACT to
increase the two seats to three as those seats are likely to go to
Labor. After the ACT redistribution, the seat of Canberra will have
approx. 119,422 constituents – more than double Solomon’s most recent
roll figures of 54,725. The government refuses to act because the ACT
is safe Labor territory.”

She’s quite right – Territory representation is a scandal. On the latest enrolment figures, as at 31 May (here),
the Northern Territory has 111,527 voters for its two Reps seats. The
ACT has more than twice as many – 231,493 – but still only gets two

Part of the reason is that the formula for calculating
entitlement uses population, not voters, and the Northern Territory has
far more non-voters than the ACT. In the case of the states, the
Constitution requires this; that’s why South Australia’s seats are
significantly larger than Western Australia’s. But for the territories,
where the anomaly is much greater, parliament can and should correct it.

Instead, they went the other way: the government, with Labor support, passed the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Representation in the House of Representatives) Act 2004 which
provides for the Northern Territory to retain its second seat even
though, on the 2003 calculation of population, it had fallen slightly
below the relevant quota. And once political interference with the
system has started, it’s hard to stop: now Fischer has co-authored a proposal
to doctor the figures again to give the ACT a third seat; that would
correct one problem, but it would leave both territories
over-represented compared with the states.

For a better solution
we could move to a democratic electoral system, like New Zealand’s,
where size of electorates is relatively unimportant because overall
representation is decided by the totals of votes.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey