The Australian Electoral Commission has received more than 400 objections to the redistribution of electoral boundaries in New South Wales, with complaints ranging from country towns separated from regional hubs to those who are just fond of their local MP.
The AEC’s plan to redistribute federal electoral boundaries ahead of the next election, removing one seat from NSW and adding one to Western Australia, has caused waves of panic for politicians of all stripes, many of whom are concerned about losing their seats. But the opposition from residents is more varied.
The Council of Bourke Shire has registered an objection to the change to the boundary of the electorate of Parkes, which already covers a large geographic area. According to the council, under the new distribution the seat of Parkes would cover 50% of NSW, where it had previously covered 30%. “The distances involved in this electorate will make it extremely difficult for the Local Member to regularly cover the entire electorate and to be aware of all the issues,” the council’s general manager writes.
Residents of a pocket of Paddington in Sydney have asked that the area bordered by Moore Park Road, Oxford Street, South Dowling Street and Flinders Street remain part of the seat of Wentworth — and while a petition states the changes are “inconsistent with Section 66 3(b) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918”, one local just wants to remain in the electorate of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull: “We want to have the benefit of a powerful politician, Malcolm Turnbull, representing our constituent.”
There are also many objections to the mooted change of name of the electorate of Throsby to be named after former prime minister Gough Whitlam. Whitlam had no connection to the local area, complainants say, while the current name recognises Charles Throsby, a local pioneer and early settler of the Illawarra region.
“Gough Whitlam was long associated with the west of Sydney, and it is in this area that he made significant differences in the lives of residents,” wrote one objector.
“The name of Whitlam has political overtones, and besides he has been named and celebrated appropriately,” wrote another.
The changing boundaries between the electorates of Lyne and Cowper have also brought a flood of objections, with Port Macquarie set to move to the electorate of Cowper, and surrounding towns Wauchope and Lake Cathie staying in the electorate of Lyne. Lyne MP David Gillespie released a statement canning the redistribution when it was first announced, saying: “Even under this draft, nearly half of my constituents living in the Port Macquarie-Hastings local government area will still be in Lyne, and they rely heavily on the regional services delivered in Port Macquarie. Many locals throughout the Hastings and Camden Haven would obviously feel they should be in the same electorate as the major services centre.”
Gillespie’s objections were echoed by his constituents, who mentioned services like hospitals and the local government area. Some also mentioned that at Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour share a friendly rivalry, the two cities could not be represented by the one MP.
It has been reported that John and Ourania Varvaris, parents of Liberal MP Nickolas Varvaris, lodged identical objections to their son’s seat of Barton being adjusted, becoming a notionally Labor seat. But Varvaris’ parents aren’t the only ones to have lodged the same complaint, a typed letter with a printed name at the bottom. Dozens of objections carry the exact same wording, with the appearance of many members of the local Greek community objecting to the change.
While the redistribution has caused headaches for voters as they consider whether their local members will be easily accessible or if they will be separated electorally from bigger centres, it has panicked Labor and the Nationals.
Anthony Albanese is reportedly considering running in Varvaris’ seat of Barton, which Varvaris won by just 0.3% of the vote in 2013. Albanese is one of a few senior MPs considering their options, with Joel Fitzgibbon’s seat of Hunter ending up on the scrapheap. Most Hunter voters will be moved to the seat of Charlton, currently held by Pat Conroy. Neither Fitzgibbon nor Conroy look set to call it a day, and one source says that pressure is on Jill Hall to retire from the seat of Shortland, although Hall has given no indication yet of whether she will do that to allow Fitzgibbon or Conroy to remain in a seat.
The AEC is currently accepting comments on the objections before deciding on the final boundaries.
Correction: It was originally stated that two seats would be removed from NSW and redistributed to WA, it has been corrected to one.