Part III: The final boundaries - Benalla/Seymour/Eildon
- There was also a strong public reaction to the proposed boundaries for Benalla and Seymour. Under the existing boundaries, Benalla district covers a large swathe of north-eastern Victoria, and Seymour district extends from Seymour itself south across the Great Divide to Healesville. The EBC proposed a reconfiguration of this area, with Benalla district being abolished, Seymour district moving north to take in Benalla and the southern part of Rodney, and a new Eildon district stretching from the Upper Yarra Valley north to Mansfield. There were 57 written submissions about these changes, and 11 speakers at the public hearings also dealt with them. Thirty submissions opposed the new boundaries, including those by The Nationals, the Benalla, Mansfield, Mitchell and Yarra Ranges Councils, the Hon Patrick McNamara (former Deputy Premier) and Mr David Evans (former member for North Eastern Province). Twenty submissions supported the new boundaries, including those by the Liberal Party, the Hon Fran Bailey (former member for the Federal division of McEwen), Mr Mike Dalmau (a former Liberal candidate for Seymour), the Murrindindi Ratepayers Group and the North East Cattle Breeders Association.
- The Nationals proposed an alternative configuration for these two districts, with the current proposed boundary between them replaced by an east-west boundary. Mansfield Shire and the area north of the Goulburn River between Eildon and Seymour would be transferred from Eildon to Seymour, and the part of Mitchell Shire south of Seymour (including Kilmore and Broadford) would be transferred from Seymour to Eildon. The Nationals proposed that the northern district be named Benalla, and the southern district Marysville. The Nationals’ alternative is confined to two districts, so there are no flow-on effects. The Nationals’ districts comply with the numbers requirements of the Act both now and in the future30. Thus, the choice between the EBC’s proposed boundaries and The Nationals’ alternative is a matter of judging which better fits community of interest and related factors. The map below shows the two models.
- For The Nationals and other opponents of the EBC’s proposed districts, the main score against them is that they do not follow communities of interest, because they lump together peri-urban and truly rural areas. In their view, residents of the southern parts of Seymour and Eildon districts were focussed on Melbourne, where many of them commuted each day. Mr Mark Rheese of Benalla stated that these “Rapidly growing peri urban communities need attention focused on new infrastructure and social networks that are far removed from the needs of established agricultural and tourism based communities elsewhere in the electorate”. Ms Margarett Fleischmann of Kilmore wrote that Kilmore is not the semi-rural society that it used to be, and that people who live in Kilmore have a very different set of needs and wants to the people who live north of the divide. Mr Frank Deane and Mr John Webb of Wahring asserted that “Placing City people vs. Country people in the same Electorate is, in our opinion, equivalent of trying to mix oil with water!”
- Submission writers and speakers at the public hearings thought that Mansfield was rural and belonged in the Nationals’ northern district on community of interest grounds. The Mansfield Shire Council considered that residents have a greater affinity with areas to the north and west - more specifically Benalla, Wangaratta and Shepparton - and Mr John Tanner stated that there were common activities between Benalla and Mansfield in the fields of sport, health resources, emergency services, education, agriculture and trade.
- Geographical features were used to reinforce the arguments of opponents of the EBC’s proposed boundaries. The Nationals stated that the proposed Eildon district was divided by mountain ranges and lacked a natural centre, which would make representation more difficult. The Yarra Ranges Council wrote that the Great Dividing Range created a natural barrier to shared interests between the northern and southern ends of the district. For the Mitchell Shire Council, distance was a barrier. Its submission stated:
We have no relationship or community of interest with the Rural City of Benalla or its residents. It is important to note that the mere connectivity of the Hume Freeway does not, on its own, present justification for assuming a community of interest.
- The Nationals argued that the northern district should retain the name Benalla, out of respect for the history of an electorate that has existed since 188231 (while Seymour came into existence in 1992), and because Benalla was larger than Seymour and was an important regional headquarters for government departments. The fact that Benalla was at one end of the district was, in the party’s view, no reason to change the name, as this had long been the case. Failing Benalla, The Nationals thought the EBC should opt for a completely new and neutral name.
- Supporters of the proposed electoral boundaries thought that they corresponded very well with communities of interest. In their view, the proposed Eildon district was united by the common industries of tourism (particularly high country tourism), forestry, viticulture, stud farming and hobby farming, as well as by topography and water resources. Local radio, sporting groups and co-operation among councils were also cited as indicators of community of interest. They argued that Mansfield’s municipal divorce from Benalla demonstrated the two towns’ incompatibility, with Mansfield being a high-country town while Benalla was a highway town on the northern plains. The communities of the district were interconnected by the Melba and Maroondah Highways. The proposed Seymour was also seen as a unit, characterised by a flatter topography, broad-acre farming, beef and dairy cattle raising and the equine industry. They saw the Hume and Goulburn Valley Highways and parallel railways as binding the district together. Seymour was considered an appropriate name for the district, as the communications hub for the whole district. The 4th Light Horse Memorial Association regarded the name Seymour as a fitting commemoration of the district’s military heritage.
- The EBC considers that both groups of submissions have made a strong case. Both sets of boundaries comply with the factors in the Act. The EBC believes that the choice comes down to two key matters – the nature of the population in the southern part of the region, and communication routes across the districts.
- Several writers pointed to the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority’s sub-regions as indicators of communities of interest. The Authority divides the catchment into six Social-Ecological Systems (SESs), focussing on the connections between people and nature and including elements such as land form, vegetation types, land uses, and social structure and dynamics32. From this perspective, the EBC’s proposed Seymour district broadly corresponds with the Productive Plains SES, and the proposed Eildon district corresponds with the Upland Slopes and Southern Forests SESs. However, cutting across these regions is the Commuting Hills SES, which seems to fit the Nationals’ proposed Marysville district.
- Travel patterns can help to show communities of interest. Almost 40 per cent of employed residents of Mitchell Shire travel outside the Shire to work – most of them to Melbourne’s northern suburbs. The Council’s website refers to dormitory suburbs, from which residents commute to Melbourne each working day33. It should be noted, though, that these figure are for the Shire as a whole. The proposed Seymour district excludes the rapidly suburbanising Wallan and Beveridge, and starts north of the Urban Growth Boundary. At the Bendigo public hearing, Mr Don Lawson stated that commuter trains are half empty at Wallan in the evening, and that the commuter element diminishes as you travel north.
- The Mitchell Shire website describes Wandong and Heathcote Junction, immediately north of Wallan, as a mainly rural area, and the Council’s submission described the majority of Mitchell Shire as predominantly rural, and argued that “Interface municipalities such as Mitchell have more in common with regional and rural councils than the metropolitan municipalities do”. The southern part of the region could be described as largely a rural living zone. Residents may commute to Melbourne, or not engage in traditional rural pursuits, but they live in and become part of country communities, and face the same sorts of issues, such as bushfires and water use, as residents of more strictly rural areas. The differences between rural living and rural areas are not so marked as to rule out them being included in the same district.
- The Act provides that the EBC must give due consideration to means of travel, traffic arteries and communications. The EBC regards this factor as an important marker of community of interest, as major roads can help to bind an electorate together. On this ground, the EBC’s proposed districts are considered superior. In both districts, highways link nearly all parts of the district. In contrast, there are few roads connecting the various parts of the Nationals’ proposed Marysville district.
- On balance, the EBC considers that its proposed Seymour and Eildon districts better comply with communities of interest than The Nationals’ alternative, and has therefore decided to retain its proposed districts.
- On the matter of district names, the proposed Seymour district is similar to Swan Hill, in that there are two main centres in the district (Benalla and Seymour) and that naming the district after one town could be seen as unfair to the other. A district name can be evocative of the electorate, rather than being the name of the principal centre. A range of alternative names were put forward, including Central Victoria, Strathbogie, Seven Creeks, Dunlop and Maygar. The EBC has opted for Euroa, as the name of a significant town, a centre of the equine industry, halfway between Seymour and Benalla.
Enrolment for the Marysville district is currently 1.32 per cent above the State average and would increase to +2.42 per cent by 2018. The Benalla district is currently 2.77 per cent above average, and would decline to -1.63 per cent.×
In fact Benalla district was created in 1904, though Benalla and Yarrawonga district existed from 1889 to 1904.×
See Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority: Goulburn Broken Regional Catchment Strategy 2013-2019, especially pp. 13, 30-31.×