Think back to a time exactly three years ago. There were redistributions taking place in New South Wales (to reduce that state from 50 seats in the House of Representatives to 49) and in Queensland (to increase from 28 to 29). Now come forward to today. Very soon there will be redistributions in New South Wales (to reduce from 49 to 48) and in Queensland (to increase from 29 to 30).
It sounds like an exact three-year process — except that it is not. The reason is that the date of first meeting of the current Parliament (the 42nd) was 12 February last year. By contrast the date of first meeting of the 41st Parliament was 16 November of 2004. It illustrates the importance of election dates. The 41st Parliament was elected on 9 October 2004 (so first met on 16 November of the same calendar year) whereas the 42nd Parliament was elected on 24 November 2007 (so first met on February 12 of the following year).
On looking at my copy of the report titled 2006 Redistribution of New South Wales into Electoral Divisions I notice that it reads on page 4 as follows: “On 17 November 2005 the Electoral Commissioner made a determination of State and Territory entitlements to representation under section 48 (1) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. By virtue of the determination, New South Wales is entitled to 49 members of the House of Representatives, one less than its previous entitlement.” Then I notice on page 14 that the new boundaries were finally determined on 22 November, 2006. In other words it took a full year from the beginning to the end of the process.
Coming forward to the present day the process of reducing New South Wales by one further seat and increasing Queensland by one further seat began last month. Consequently it is reasonable to assume that it will finish in February 2010. The above information sounds pretty dry but actually it is very relevant to expectations about the timing of the next federal election. I say so because I have noticed that, in conversations with both Labor and Liberal politicians, there is today a widespread expectation that there will be a double dissolution election towards the end of this year. While I have no doubt that Kevin Rudd could get a double dissolution “trigger” in place by, say, October this year I wonder if he realizes the effect of his going to the polls before these redistributions are completed. So let me tell him — and Crikey readers also.
In New South Wales the two adjoining divisions with the lowest current enrolments are the inner-metropolitan seats of Lowe (88,267 electors) and Sydney (87,572). To reduce NSW by one seat there would be a division of Lowe-Sydney with an enrolment of 175,839 electors — by far the biggest in the country. (The current biggest is Canberra with 124,077 electors.) In Queensland the two adjoining divisions with the highest enrolments are Kennedy (92,606) and Leichhardt (95,763 electors). The three resulting divisions (Kennedy, Leichhardt and Kennedy-Leichhardt) would have a quota of 62,790 electors, about on a par with the Northern Territory seats which have the lowest enrolments in the country. (Lingiari currently has 61,593 electors while Solomon has 58,511.) This would have to be done to give Queensland its extra seat. The February 2010 redistributions would then come into effect at the 2012 general election.
Lowe and Sydney are both Labor seats so the amalgamation there would cost Labor a seat. I have no doubt that the new seat of Kennedy-Leichhardt would be won by a candidate from the Nationals. I have no idea whether Kevin Rudd is really contemplating an election this year. If he is he should know that such a decision would immediately cause his party the loss of a seat to the Nationals.