Last week, writing about the
current federal redistributions, I said: “it will be interesting to see
whether the locals [in New South Wales] are as aggro as they are in
Queensland.” Now we have the answer: they are. Objections to the NSW
proposals were released yesterday, and there are almost two thousand of them – 1,989, to be precise.

To
put this number in context, last time NSW was redistributed, in 1999,
there were 206 objections, and even that was unusually many. A
Queensland redistribution in 2003 only got 35; the last Victorian one,
in 2002, attracted 46. So two thousand is right off the scale.

As
you’d expect, most of them are clearly orchestrated. I haven’t read
them all, but from a random sample it’s clear that a large number are
identical form letters. And they are nearly all objecting to the same
thing: the abolition of the rural seat of Gwydir and consequent
expansion of Parkes to cover most of the state.

I happen to
agree that the commissioners have goofed here: I think it would have
made more sense to abolish a suburban seat, and even without major
changes to what they’ve done I think it’s possible to rearrange the
country seats to preserve Gwydir and cater better for community of
interest (my objection is number 1,921, if you’re having difficulty
finding it).

Nonetheless, it has to be said that the main thrust
of the objections is completely without merit, namely, the idea that
country people are entitled to greater representation in proportion to
their numbers than the rest of the nation. The objectors assert (or
simply assume) that distance is a uniquely important barrier to
effective representation, and that excessive area in seats should
therefore be avoided at all costs – including what we city people
quaintly refer to as democracy.

In reality, distance is only one
barrier that people face in communicating with their MPs. Country
people are disadvantaged in that respect, but they have many offsetting
advantages; in its way, the number of objections actually confirms
this. They are more likely to speak English, have stronger social ties,
more flexible work schedules, and so on. A factory worker in inner
Sydney may only live a half hour’s walk from their member of
parliament, but juggling traffic, child care, interpreters and the rest
may well make that a more difficult exercise than a two hour drive for
someone in Gunnedah.

The real lesson of this redistribution is that you just can’t please the National Party. They have “furiously lobbied” to save Gwydir, but they were just as indignant about the Queensland proposals, which would have them gain a seat.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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