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A perspective on the new ACT electorates

By John Hargreaves - 25 May 2015 6

new electorates

The ACT Electoral Commission has just confirmed the new boundaries for the five electorates in the 25-seat Legislative Assembly.

This is the biggest change since the modified D’Hont system was replaced with the Hare-Clark system, which was modified to have Robson rotation.

It fixes a glaring anomaly in the one vote, one value concept by making all candidates achieve the same percentage of preferential votes in each election. Such was not previously the case, with candidates in five-seat electorates needing more than 16 per cent and those in the seven-seat electorate needing only 12 per cent or more.

So anyway, apart from that imbalance being fixed, what else in the changes to the electorates will affect people?

There are three facets to the job of a parliamentarian in the ACT Legislative Assembly.

The first is a constituent representative. The second is a member of parliament, which involves committee work, debates on legislation and issues of concern to the Territory. The third is being part of the Executive, read ministry.

My gripe about the current state of politics in this country is that parliamentarians let politics get in the way of good governance. They let party politics, with its adversity nature and inherent hatreds override their sense of service. They forget that they are the servants and the community is not there to be of service to them. Oh… for a utopian society…

In the instance of constituent representation, the ACT is better served by having five electorates than three. The new boundaries, whilst carving some suburbs out of larger areas to ensure the voter proportions are reasonably consistent with each electorate, generally revolve around communities of interest. We all know about the cross town rivalry between Belconnen and Tuggeranong.

It is true that the communities of Weston, Belconnen, Tuggeranong, North and South Canberra and Gungahlin have clear and distinct community differences, which makes their uniqueness attractive to those who live there. So if a candidate is home grown, he or she will be able to take that unique perspective into the parliamentary arena at the appropriate time.

My experience in a five-member electorate is that the people in the electorate have a better chance to get to know their representative (provided the representative is out there among his or her community) and thus are able to evaluate whether they are doing a good or a bad job. The electorate of Brindabella has dealt savagely with former members who were a little less enthusiastic about doing a good job than others or who were just plain useless.

It was always a bone of contention to have part of the Woden suburbs as an add-on to Tuggeranong to form Brindabella. The folks in Chifley didn’t have much in common with the folks in Gordon. The current distribution takes Kambah out of Brindabella but as the Territory grows it will probably return. The same applies for some Belconnen suburbs.

But essentially the number of voters to MLAs is reduced. This has been an issue for years. The ACT has had the largest by far number of voters to elected representatives in the country. Reducing this number can only mean an increase in service. This is provided that there are no bone idle MLAs, as there have been in the past.

In 2012, there were about 15,000 voters to each MLA and with the increase of eight MLAs; this figure will reduce to about 10,000. But the 2012 figure is an average across the Territory. In the five-seat electorate of Brindabella, the figure was 14,400 to Ginninderra’s 15,200 and Molonglo’s 15,500.

The issue was that, unlike in a single member electorate, the MLA didn’t know which 15,000 were his or hers and so had to provide service to the whole electorate. This hasn’t changed.

In the second instance, the part about being a parliamentarian, having more non-Executive members is good for the health of the committee system. It will mean that there are more pollies to sit on committees. I remember sitting on three standing committees at the one time and being a regular member of the Estimates Select Committee. If a member is doing a good job, this is a fair amount of work. The outcomes will be better with more members and thus a deeper talent pool to draw from.

It is also the case that where a member brings parochialism to the Chamber, the needs and desires and hopes of a community of interest can get expression. This is enhanced now that the boundaries reflect a better community of interest.

In the third, the Executive bit, having more ministers will generally benefit the Territory through a deeper talent pool again. But I remember battles in Caucus and Cabinet, fighting for Brindabella as a part of a five-member Cabinet and it was a tough place to be. I was the only Brindabella member of Cabinet and thus despite some fight from me, the Cinderella tag fit.

Changing the system to five equal sized electorates, based predominantly on communities of interest, can only serve to enhance the governance of the Territory. The system is fixed to a large degree so let’s see if 2016, with its influx of new blood and new talent, will match the expectations of the new system.

What’s Your opinion?


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6 Responses to
A perspective on the new ACT electorates
jcjordan 8:28 pm 26 May 15

bryansworld said :

jcjordan said :

What annoys me is that we still have not seen a real answer to why we have so many MLA’s in the first place let any justification for an increase.

Whether we like it or not we have no justification for anything more than a large city council in terms of representation in a city of less than 350k.

As much as I despair at the quality of some of our MLAs, I think a strong case can be made for more MLAs, given that the ACT exercises the functions of two levels of government. Some of the state/territory government functions, such as education, health, law & order are a lot more complex than the issues with which city councils have to deal.

Why do we need to think of what the MLA’s do is more than the work that is similar to what is done by large councils across Australia. We need to be realistic and contract out more of areas such as Health and Education to the larger states who can do the job better and for a whole lot less then is currently being wasted. Look at what has been done with ACT policing.

Matt Watts 1:13 pm 26 May 15

I’m amazed that you reckon the principle of “one vote, one value” was warped by different quota values (16% compared to 12%) when in the same article you state, “there were about 15,000 voters to each MLA”.

The claim, “unlike in a single member electorate, the MLA didn’t know which 15,000 were his or hers and so had to provide service to the whole electorate,” is rubbish. While it remains a secret ballot, you can’t tell me you never looked at the results from each polling place to see where your support was higher. It’s all publicly available information, and there’s no difference in this regard whether it is a single or multi member electorate.

It would be good if the map accompanying the article was the updated one, rather than the 2012 version. One thing that would be obvious is the split of districts will continue; as much as Gungahlin will benefit by not being represented by someone from the southside, Belconnen is now split. I’m not complaining about this outcome, because it is in support of “one vote, one value”, yet to pretend the issue is resolved to a large degree is disingenuous.

bryansworld 12:50 pm 26 May 15

jcjordan said :

What annoys me is that we still have not seen a real answer to why we have so many MLA’s in the first place let any justification for an increase.

Whether we like it or not we have no justification for anything more than a large city council in terms of representation in a city of less than 350k.

As much as I despair at the quality of some of our MLAs, I think a strong case can be made for more MLAs, given that the ACT exercises the functions of two levels of government. Some of the state/territory government functions, such as education, health, law & order are a lot more complex than the issues with which city councils have to deal.

jcjordan 10:08 pm 25 May 15

What annoys me is that we still have not seen a real answer to why we have so many MLA’s in the first place let any justification for an increase.

Whether we like it or not we have no justification for anything more than a large city council in terms of representation in a city of less than 350k.

justin heywood 3:25 pm 25 May 15

Great post John. Exactly the kind of thing that I would hope you would post about; an old time insider’s view of politics in the Territory, which you are uniquely placed to give the rest of us. A couple of points;

the communities of Weston, Belconnen, Tuggeranong, North and South Canberra and Gungahlin have clear and distinct community differences…..So if a candidate is home grown, he or she will be able to take that unique perspective into the parliamentary arena at the appropriate time.

Really? We’re a small city, surely it doesn’t matter which side you live on. Does a Tugggeranongster have a different perspective than a Westonian?

Unless you are simply talking about where infrastructure dollars are being spent, can you give me an example where a member’s passion for his/her part of town overrode political considerations?

The issue was that, unlike in a single member electorate, the MLA didn’t know which 15,000 were his or hers and so had to provide service to the whole electorate. This hasn’t changed.

I’ve never understood this argument, perhaps you can explain why you need to know ‘which 15.000 [you] represent?’ Surely Joe Bloggs of Smith St and Mary Jones of Singh St would simply like their politicians to be fair minded, tolerant and honest.

I for one am not comfortable with the idea that my local politician is in there fighting for ‘his’ 15,000, presumably against the interest of some ‘other’ 15,000. It’s a small city. Surely we’re all in it together.

My gripe about the current state of politics in this country is that parliamentarians let politics get in the way of good governance. They let party politics, with its adversity nature and inherent hatreds override their sense of service. They forget that they are the servants and the community is not there to be of service to them.

Couldn’t agree more. But I’m reminded of the excellent Phillip Adams. I doubt that there is a more fair-minded, thoughtful and intelligent Australian media personality than Adams. His one great fault is that despite his reasonable nature and intelligence, he is unable to recognise his own biases; his apparent belief that those on his side of politics are morally and intellectually superior to the other side is irrational and stupid.

Thus while your own concept of the politician as the fair-minded servant of his constituents is great in theory, I’m not sure that the concept is widely embraced in reality. Under our current political system, most people who become elected representatives are, by necessity, partisan political people. Thus by nature they are inclined to ‘let party politics….override their sense of service’.

And how does your Al Grassby statue fit into the concept of you as a ‘servant’ of the community?

fozzy 12:34 pm 25 May 15

Thanks for the overview John. Two comments:

1. The map at the top seems to be the old boundaries not the new ones so the comments you make about the new boundaries aligning with town centres can’t be easily visualised without going to find the new boundaries elsewhere.

2. The paragraph “The issue was that, unlike in a single member electorate, the MLA didn’t know which 15,000 were his or hers and so had to provide service to the whole electorate. This hasn’t changed.” Since moving to Canberra 10 years ago, this is the bit I’ve never understood – who is my representative? I thought you might cover it in this article, but in the end it just confirmed that it’s not just me that isn’t sure on who represents me.

Otherwise, thanks for your insight and reflections!

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