Part II: The proposed boundaries - Western Victoria
- Western Victoria is a diverse region that can be divided into four main areas with distinctive characteristics and growth patterns: the four large rural districts in the west of the State (Lowan, Polwarth, Ripon and South-West Coast), four districts covering Geelong (Bellarine, Geelong, Lara and South Barwon), two covering Ballarat (Ballarat East and West), and the westernmost fringe of Melbourne (Melton).
- Lowan is geographically the largest district in Victoria, at 34,540 square kilometres. Its enrolment is 7.44 per cent below the average and tending to decline. Decisions made about the north-west of the State had consequences for Lowan. For the Liberals and Nationals and Dr Mulcair, the transfer of large areas in the north of the district to Mildura meant that the district had to expand south to Portland to gain numbers. Their submissions argued that Portland has strong connections to the north, as the outlet for the exports of western Victoria. They also pointed out that Portland was historically in the same district as Hamilton, one of the two main centres of Lowan district18. In opposition to this view, speakers at the public hearing stressed Portland’s east-west links along the coast.
- For the EBC, this argument was in a sense academic. Because the proposed district’s northern boundary was unchanged, there was no need to consider altering the southern boundary. Instead, the EBC proposed to expand Lowan slightly to the east, taking the southern two thirds of Yarriambiack Shire from Swan Hill and the Grampians from Ripon. These changes meant that the proposed district embraced nearly all of the Wimmera, strengthening its community of interest. The district was even larger than at present, at 39,184 square kilometres. Its enrolment was 3.88 per cent above average, and was expected to decline to -2.31 per cent.
- The consequence of transferring Portland to Lowan, as in the Liberal and National submissions, was that South-West Coast had to expand to the east. The EBC could offer no reason to change any of the district’s boundaries. The district has a strong coastal community of interest, and its enrolment, at +5.74 per cent, is comfortably within the 10 per cent tolerance and is projected to remain so.
- Ripon, a district stretching west from Ballarat and the approaches to Bendigo, is currently 8.78 per cent below the average enrolment. Most submissions supported the retention of Ripon, though the ALP proposed to replace it with a Charlton district and the Greens suggested an Ararat district. For the Nationals, the expansion of Swan Hill to the south entailed a southward move by Ripon as well. The Liberal Party’s submission had fewer alterations, while the private citizens’ submissions put forward substantial changes. For the EBC, the essential character of Ripon was that it covered the old gold country of central western Victoria, and any changes to boundaries should not destroy this character. Having lost the Grampians to Lowan in the west and Skipton, Linton and Smythesdale to Polwarth and Buninyong in the south, Ripon needed to gain enough electors to comply with the numbers requirements of the Act. The amalgamation of Swan Hill with Rodney meant that Ripon could take a large part of the current Swan Hill district, including the old gold towns of St Arnaud, Wedderburn and Inglewood, as well as Donald and Charlton at the southern end of Buloke Shire. In the north-east, Ripon took Bridgewater on Loddon from Bendigo East and Tarnagulla and Newbridge from Bendigo West to bring the boundary very close to that of Loddon Shire. In the south-east, Ripon took part of Hepburn Shire centred on Creswick and Smeaton from Ballarat East, and Miners Rest (which is somewhat separate from the Ballarat urban area) from Ballarat West. More than two thirds of the electors of the proposed Ripon district were in the current district, and the new areas had features in common with the current district. Enrolment for the proposed district was 5.54 per cent above average, and it was projected to decline to the average by 2018.
- Several submissions, notably those by the National and Liberal Parties, proposed to transfer the western part of Polwarth to South-West Coast, necessitating an eastward expansion of Polwarth into South Barwon. Polwarth did not face this pressure under the EBC’s model. With the district’s enrolment comfortably within the 10 per cent tolerance, the EBC considered only minor adjustment to its boundaries were required. The EBC proposed that Polwarth should take in the Woorndoo area from Lowan (as Woorndoo is in Moyne Shire and would appear to have closer associations with a coastal district than with Lowan), the southern fringes of Pyrenees Shire from Ripon (to unite the Skipton area), and Lake Modewarre from South Barwon, while losing a slice of Golden Plains Shire to Buninyong. The proposed district’s enrolment was set at +2.91 per cent, and was expected to rise marginally to +3.7 per cent.
- The four Geelong districts resemble the Melbourne metropolitan area in miniature, with a stable central area surrounded by fast growing outer suburbs. Whereas three of the four districts are more than 10 per cent over the average, Geelong district is 3.26 per cent below average. It was possible to exchange areas to bring all the districts within tolerance, while respecting community of interest.
- Lara district currently stretches from the western part of Werribee to the northern suburbs of Geelong. Most of the growth is at the Werribee end of the district. The EBC proposed to relocate the eastern boundary to the Little River, which is the boundary of the City of Greater Geelong. This move both brought Lara within the 10 per cent threshold and changed it from a mixed Geelong and metropolitan district to a purely Geelong district. To gain the necessary numbers, the EBC proposed that Lara absorb some of the northern suburbs of Geelong (North Geelong, Bell Park and Hamlyn Heights). The proposed Church Street boundary between Lara and Geelong districts was clear and coincided with suburb boundaries. The proposed district’s enrolment was currently 1.35 per cent above average, and was projected to decline to -3.68 per cent.
- Loss of some northern suburbs meant that Geelong needed to gain electors from somewhere. There were two possibilities: to expand east into Bellarine, or to expand south into South Barwon. The Nationals and Greens submissions supported making the Barwon River the boundary, with Geelong giving up the part of Highton that is currently in the district. The river is a clear boundary, but to adopt it would have had major consequential effects for Bellarine. The EBC proposed instead to transfer the suburb of Belmont (as well as the western part of Highton) from South Barwon to Geelong. Belmont is close to inner Geelong, and has strong transport links with it. In the east, the EBC proposed to adjust the boundary with Bellarine, taking in Newcomb and losing part of St Albans Park to fit communities of interest better. The result was an inner Geelong district with mostly strong boundaries. Currently its enrolment was 5.47 per cent above the average, and it was projected to fall to +1.79 per cent.
- Bellarine district is currently 10.46 per cent above average, but is predicted to come within the 10 per cent margin by 2018. The Liberal Party and several private citizen submissions suggested adding Barwon Heads and neighbouring areas to Bellarine. It is true that Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads are often seen as closely linked twin towns, so inclusion of Barwon Heads could reflect communities of interest. On the other hand, the Barwon River is a clear boundary, and Barwon Heads has not been included in Bellarine district since 1976. In any case, it was not necessary to make this change. The adjustment of the boundary with Geelong district (similar to the boundaries put forward by the Nationals and Greens) put Bellarine well within tolerance at +4.72 per cent. The proposed district satisfied communities of interest, and was predicted to have very close to average enrolment (+0.83 per cent) by 2018.
- South Barwon is one of the larger districts in the State, with an enrolment 20.88 per cent above the average, and is expanding rapidly. It needed to lose electors to bring it back within tolerance. The Liberals, Nationals and Greens submitted that the district should lose territory in the west to Polwarth, while pushing in the north up to the Barwon River. This was a reasonable solution in the context of a general eastward shift of Polwarth district. In the absence of such a shift (apart from Lake Modewarre), the EBC proposed instead to transfer Belmont and part of Highton to Geelong district. This reduced South Barwon’s enrolment to 7.23 per cent below average. Development was projected to reduce the deviation to -1.5 per cent in the forecast period.
- Ballarat East and Ballarat West cover Victoria’s third largest city. The boundary between them runs along Sturt Street and Drummond Street, splitting central Ballarat. Ballarat West is overwhelmingly urban, while Ballarat East includes a wide swathe of country on the eastern side of Ballarat. Having lost the part north of the Great Divide to Macedon and Ripon, Ballarat East needed to gain voters. The EBC’s proposal was to expand the district to the east (taking in Myrniong and part of Balliang), south (including Lethbridge and Mount Mercer) and south-west (including Smythesdale, Linton and Snake Valley). The proposed district also took Sebastopol from Ballarat West; Sebastopol has an enduring identity, stemming from the former Borough of Sebastopol. The proposed district included the bulk of Moorabool and Golden Plains Shires, which have strong associations with Ballarat.
- Ballarat West is currently 8.62 per cent above average, and is gradually increasing. The EBC proposed that the district shed Sebastopol and Miners Rest, as previously discussed. In central Ballarat, the boundary was realigned to follow the Yarrowee River. The resultant district incorporated the whole of central Ballarat, and the EBC proposed to rename it Ballarat. The Ballarat East district now had more of a rural focus, and the EBC proposed to rename it Buninyong, after the town that is central to the district and after the former Shire of Buninyong.
- With Melton, the redivision reached the rapidly growing western fringes of the metropolitan area. The district’s enrolment is currently 11.37 per cent above average, and is projected to rise to 34.57 per cent above average by 2018. It was a challenge to create a district that would contain the expected growth within the 10 per cent tolerance. The Greens suggested splitting Melton into Melton North and Melton South. This model does split the growth area (even so, the Melton South district was projected to reach +13.21 per cent), but it is undesirable to divide a distinct community. The ALP submission created a Bacchus Marsh district, but the boundaries of this district indicated a difficulty in obtaining sufficient numbers, and it failed to prevent the ALP’s proposed Melton district from blowing out to +21.52 per cent.
- The current Melton district includes widespread rural and semi-rural areas. The EBC proposed to strip Melton as far as possible back to its Melton-Bacchus Marsh core, shedding Diggers Rest to Sunbury, Rockbank to Kororoit, Blackwood and Toolern Vale to Macedon, and Myrniong and most of Balliang to Buninyong. A submission by Ms Gabrielle Fidler requested that Bacchus Marsh no longer be included in the same district as Melton, because Melton is part of Melbourne while Bacchus Marsh has links with Ballarat. However, information arising from the electoral representation review of Moorabool Shire Council in 2011 seemed to indicate the opposite; that Bacchus Marsh is considered as effectively a dormitory suburb for Melbourne, and has little in common with the rest of Moorabool Shire19. The Australian Bureau of Statistics now includes Bacchus Marsh in the Melbourne metropolitan area20. The EBC proposed to retain Bacchus Marsh in Melton district. Enrolment for the proposed district was 3.09 per cent below average, but it was expected to increase to 14.79 per cent above average by 2018. To reduce the expected deviation, the EBC considered transferring the Parwan-Exford-Eynesbury area south of the Werribee River to Buninyong, but this would have created a contorted shape for Buninyong.
Portland and Hamilton were both in Portland district between 1976 and 2002.×
See Victorian Electoral Commission: Electoral Representation Review: Moorabool Shire Council: Final Report, 31 May 2011, pp. 16-18.×
Australian, 30 May 2013, p. 3.×