Part I: Introduction - Principles underlying the redivision
Principles underlying the redivision
- The EBC acted pursuant to factors set out in the Act in determining the proposed boundaries. The factors are:
…the functions of the Commission shall be to divide the State of Victoria … with the object of establishing and maintaining electoral regions of approximately equal enrolment and electoral districts of approximately equal enrolment ...
In making any division of electors and in determining the number of electors to be allocated to a region or district the Commissioners shall give due consideration to-
(a) area and physical features of terrain;
(b) means of travel, traffic arteries, and communications and any special difficulties in connection therewith;
(c) community or diversity of interests; and
(d) the likelihood of changes in the number of electors in the localities.
For the purposes of this Act the Commission may take electoral regions or electoral districts to be of approximately equal enrolment where the enrolment for each region or district does not vary by more than 10 per centum from the average enrolment of regions or districts (as the case requires).
- The ‘numbers’ criterion is the only fixed one in the Act. The number of electors for each proposed electoral district and region must not vary by more than 10 per cent from the State average as at 30 November 2012. All the other factors in the Act are subordinate to this one.
- The EBC must give “due consideration” to the other four factors. Nothing in the Act suggests that the EBC should give greater or less weight to any of the factors.
- It is the view of the EBC, based on its consideration of previous redivisions, that the first three factors are interrelated, and all contribute to community of interest. Thus, physical features such as a mountain range or a river can serve to define a community and to distinguish it from other communities. The Great Dividing Range in eastern Victoria and the Yarra River in metropolitan Melbourne are examples of physical features that have been used in previous redivisions. ‘Area’ can be important in the sense that an excessively large electorate may lack a community of interest, as well as being laborious to represent. Traffic arteries may unite a community around an important transport corridor – or, in contrast, a freeway may separate one community from another. Community of interest can be seen as people’s subjective identification with places or territory, that can be matched to objective geographic areas. These areas can be at a range of levels, from broad land use regions, to local government areas, to individual suburbs or parts of a suburb. A basic distinction is between urban and rural areas, but peri-urban areas are a complicating factor. Communities may have links in different directions. As Dr Charles Richardson’s submission stated: “patterns of communication are complex and ever-changing, making it hard to define where communities of interest lie”. The determination of best fit of community of interest is one of the main tasks of the EBC in a redivision.
- The fourth factor looks forward to likely changes in the distribution of electors. In Federal redistributions, the Australian Electoral Commission has to endeavour to meet a target of divisions varying by no more than 3.5 per cent from the average at a time three and half years after the expected redistribution determination. The Victorian Act is not so prescriptive. To understand how this criterion should be applied, it is necessary to examine the purpose of a redivision under the Act. The Act requires the EBC to establish and maintain electorates of approximately equal enrolment8. The fourth factor helps to achieve this purpose, by ensuring that as far as practicable electorates will continue to be of approximately equal enrolment, according with the democratic principle of ‘one vote, one value’. To create electorates likely to deviate beyond the 10 per cent tolerance in a short time would appear to go against the purpose of the Act.
Several factors are not specifically mentioned in the Act but are relevant in the considerations of the EBC. The first is what weight to place on existing electoral boundaries. The Liberal Party’s submission took the existing boundaries as the starting point and proposed adjustments necessary to meet the factors in the Act, rather than starting from first principles. “This approach recognises that the existing boundaries:
(a) already reflect past decisions concerning community of interest; and
(b) have been in place for over 10 years and many electors in those districts will already identify closely with them.”
The EBC has not disregarded the current boundaries. However, it should be pointed out that those boundaries do not always perfectly accord with communities of interest, because the EBC in the 2001 redivision had to consider all the other factors in the Act. Where the existing boundaries comply with legislation, the EBC has been disposed to start with them, but those boundaries have not had great independent weight in the EBC’s considerations.
- Another factor is the degree to which boundaries should be readily identifiable. Major roads, railways and watercourses make very clear boundaries. Clear boundaries facilitate representation, by making it easier for the public and Members of Parliament to identify the edges of their electorate. Suburb and locality boundaries are often crenellated and difficult to follow, and may be a rather arbitrary line between one area and another. On the other hand, in many places major roads go through the middle of a community. It would be undesirable to use a main road that splits an important shopping centre that is the centre of a community. The EBC has given priority to reflecting community of interest, though it is certainly not averse to using readily identifiable boundaries.
- One factor that the EBC does not consider is the political effects of electoral boundaries. Any change to a boundary will have a political impact, and political parties, Members of Parliament, the media and academics are naturally interested in this aspect of a redivision. In South Australia there is an ‘electoral fairness’ criterion, requiring the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission to “ensure, as far as practicable, that the electoral redistribution is fair to prospective candidates and groups of candidates so that, if candidates of a particular group attract more than 50 per cent of the popular vote (determined by aggregating votes cast throughout the State and allocating preferences to the necessary extent), they will be elected in sufficient numbers to enable a government to be formed”9. There is no such provision in Victoria, and the EBC does not take account of any possible political effects of the boundaries it proposes.
- The factors in the Act which the EBC must consider can work in different directions, so that, for instance, a district that complies well with the numbers requirement may cut across communities of interest. In practice, the EBC has to balance all factors, with approximate equality in numbers being paramount, to arrive at the best possible compromise. The EBC also has to consider the State as a whole. A desirable change to one district will mean a consequential change to a neighbouring district, which may then lead to undesirable changes to other districts. Some submissions proposed excellent electoral districts, which in isolation complied with the numbers requirement and fitted communities of interest well, but which could not be adopted because of the flow-on effects for other districts.
- In some parts of Victoria the population is growing so rapidly that it is virtually impossible to create a district that will contain growth within the 10 per cent tolerance by 2018. In such cases, the choice can be between creating one district whose enrolment will grow enormously, or several districts that are likely to grow beyond the 10 per cent margin to a lesser extent. The EBC’s approach has been to favour the second option, which would reduce the degree of under-representation for the electors in that area.
Electoral Boundaries Commission Act 1982, s. 5(1).×
Report of the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission 2012, p. 9.×