More than one in 10 federal lower house MPs don’t live in their own electorate, a Crikey investigation has revealed.

An examination of publicly-available electoral roll data and the register of MPs’ interests shows that 17 of the 150 members of the House of Representatives reside at a distance from the people that elected them.

Some, like speaker Harry Jenkins, are a victim of circumstance with recent redistributions shifting their long-term residences outside the boundary by a matter of metres. However. others like Calwell MP Maria Vamvakinou (Northcote, in Batman) and Bennelong’s John Alexander (Lindfield, in Bradfield) continue to live kilometres away from their fiefdom’s beating heart.

Living outside an electorate is not grounds for disendorsement, although the practice can attract negative media attention and detract from an MP’s standing in the eyes of the public — especially when they choose to live in a more affluent postcode.

On last week’s Q&A, Higgins MP Kelly O’Dwyer called Isaacs’ Mark Dreyfus on the issue, referring to him cheekily as “one of my constituents”. However, there is a degree of irony here given that her predecessor and mentor Peter Costello actually lived in Camberwell — well inside Petro Georgiou’s ex-enclave of Kooyong.

(A spokesperson for Dreyfus told Crikey this morning that he had lived at his current North Malvern address for the past 23 years with his wife and three children and had “no intention” of moving).

The affliction seems to be more common among the ALP, with 12 MPs — including Prime Minister Julia Gillard and both Ferguson brothers listing home addresses outside their boundaries.

Gillard’s Altona house fell foul of a 2003 redistribution that landed her in Nicola Roxon’s seat of Gellibrand. Others, including Gorton’s Brendan O’Connor, La Trobe’s Laura Smyth and Chifley’s Ed Husic recently suffered a similar fate when new divisions were gazetted over the last few years.

On the opposition side of the House, Bennelong’s Alexander, Menzies’ Kevin Andrews, Macquarie’s Louise Markus, Canning’s Don Randall and Hasluck’s Ken Wyatt all reside outside their adopted territory.

MP Party Electorate Lives in
Alexander, John Liberal Bennelong No Lindfield (Bradfield)
Andrews, Kevin Liberal Menzies No Eaglemont (Jagajaga)
Crean, Simon ALP Hotham No Middle Park (Melbourne Ports)
Dreyfus, Mark ALP Isaacs No North Malvern (Kooyong)
Ferguson, Laurie ALP Werriwa No South Granville (Blaxland)
Ferguson, Martin ALP Batman No Ivanhoe East (Jagajaga)
Gillard, Julia ALP Lalor No Altona (Gellibrand)
Gray, Gary ALP Brand No Alfred Cove (Tangney)
Husic, Ed ALP Chifley No Blacktown (Greenway)
Jenkins, Harry ALP Scullin No Bundoora (Batman)
Markus, Louise Liberal Macquarie No Greenway
Melham, Daryl ALP Banks No Panania (Hughes)
O’Connor, Brendan ALP Gorton No Keilor (Calwell)
Randall, Don Liberal Canning No Waterford (Swan)
Smyth, Laura ALP La Trobe No Ferntree Gully (Aston)
Vamvakinou, Maria ALP Calwell No Northcote (Batman)
Wyatt, Ken Liberal Hasluck No South Perth (Swan)

Alexander famously pledged to move to Bennelong after the 2010 election. He told Crikey that he would soon shift from the leafy North Shore enclave of Lindfield and had recently purchased a house in more modest Putney.

“My Lindfield home is on the market for sale. My youngest son is currently completing Year 12 at a school close to our Lindfield home. It is my intention to move into our new Putney home after he has completed his studies and my house is sold,” he said.

Markus, who still hasn’t physically moved after shifting ballot papers from Greenway to Macquarie at the last election, did not respond to a request for clarification before deadline. Randall and Wyatt, who both live in Steve Irons’ inner-urban seat of Swan, also stayed mum.

Melbourne’s gentrified north-eastern electorate of Jagajaga continues to attract a disproportionate share of MPs. In addition to actual member Jenny Macklin, Kevin Andrews and Batman’s Martin Ferguson all live there. But Batman is not bereft of members either with Vamvakinou, who resides in a charming brick residence, and Jenkins living within its new boundaries.

Jenkins, who has resided in the same Bundoora house for 33 years, told Crikey that last December’s gazetting had landed him on the wrong side of the tracks by “200 metres”. First termer Smyth’s Ferntree Gully unit and O’Connor’s riverside Keilor pad have been hurdled in similar fashion (in O’Connor’s case, his Keilor electorate office is also affected).

Crikey asked the unlucky trio whether they would move if they held their seats after the next poll, but all signalled an intention to stay put.

A spokesperson for the Australian Electoral Commission, Phil Diak, confirmed that while the new 2010 boundaries wouldn’t take effect until the next election — and that a by-election would still take place on the old boundaries — the roll had already been updated for new and existing electors.

North of the Murray, Australia’s first Muslim MP and Blacktown resident Ed Husic told Crikey he used to live in his seat of Chifley but was done over by the 2009 redistribution that landed him in Michelle Rowland’s neighbouring Greenway. He said he is currently building a new house in Dean Park, well inside his electorate.

Other NSW anomalies include Labor’s Daryl Melham, whose Panania house shifted to the notionally-Liberal seat of Hughes following the 2009 changes that shifted Banks eastwards. (According to Google Maps, it’s still only a four minute drive to his Revesby electorate office). Werriwa’s Laurie Ferguson explained to Crikey that his Granville residence had been well within his ex-seat of Reid until its merger with Lowe last year.

“The redistribution and manipulation of a few powerbrokers denying me the option of a local selection changed that,” Ferguson railed. “When asked…before the last election if I would be moving rather than evasive talk about considering it after the election, I said I would not. I do not intend moving from my Granville home of 30 years.”

The trend of living abroad is nothing new, with Crikey first examining the issue way back in 2004. At the time, Simon Crean (who still lives in Middle Park, many kilometres from his Hotham electorate), Kim Beazley (whose successor in Brand, Gary Gray, also doesn’t live there), Dave Tollner and Harry Quick were all exposed as outsiders. And during his last term, former finance minister Lindsay Tanner lived in Alphington, about half a kilometre from his electorate of Melbourne.

One interesting trend that emerged out of the study was the number of MPs — 23% — who “suppressed” their home address because of an apparent risk to their personal safety. The AEC’s strict silent elector provision states addresses may only be excised from the roll if the elector can prove that their safety, or their family’s safety, would be threatened by publication.

But the entry in the roll for suppressed MPs still states the electorate in which they reside. And many MPs’ home addresses are accessible in any case though the register of members’ interests logged on the site.

In 2004, Peter Garrett was famously embroiled in a silent voting furore during his campaign for Kingsford Smith when it emerged he wasn’t enrolled after being pestered by cranks during his days in the Nuclear Disarmament Party in the 1980s.

But according to the register, Garrett is no longer a silent elector, having recently purchased a house in Randwick.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey