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Fairer Federal representation for the ACT

By Kim Fischer - 19 July 2016 13

Parliament House

When the original Constitution of Australia was drafted, States were guaranteed an equal number of Senators and a minimum of five members in the House of Representatives. The intent was to ensure that States with bigger populations could not disregard the will of the smaller States.

The ACT does not have any similar guarantees in the Constitution (like all other Territories including the Northern Territory, Christmas Island, and Norfolk Island). For years, Territories have been under-represented despite the implicit constitutional goal of providing all States and Territories with fair rights to representation.

The arrangements for Territories have changed many times over the years, since the rules around Territory representation are set by the Federal Parliament itself. Initially, Territories had to fight just for the right to sit in the Federal Parliament, and even then had no rights to vote. It was only 50 years ago, in 1966, that the ACT’s then sole representative received full voting rights.

At present, the rules use a population quota based on the number of citizens in the States and the number of Senators elected by the States. If this calculation produces a fraction of more than half a quota for a State or Territory, it gets rounded up. Then, the Australian Electoral Commission divides each State or Territory into seats of roughly equal size, based on expected population growth or decline.

The problem is that when this formula is applied to Territories, the population of seats can get very large or small compared to the rest of Australia. In 2003, special legislation was rushed through to prevent the Northern Territory from having just 1 seat with a population of 200,000 while Tasmania still would have received five seats despite each of them only having one-third the population.

seat-avg-sizes

The ACT population is growing relative to Australia but it has not quite reached the magic figure of 2.5 quotas to get a third seat. On current projected figures from the ABS, the ACT will get its third seat back in the next 15 years.

Even if this prediction comes true, I think we can do better. A decade ago, my husband Stephen and I wrote a proposal that was submitted to a 2005 Joint Standing Committee inquiry. Our idea was to modify the rules for Territories to cap average seat sizes at 10% above than the national average. It is inequitable for us to be disadvantaged compared to the constitutional protections granted to the States. A 10% cap also provides a simple formula that avoids the need for reference to things like “twice the standard error of the measure of the Australian Statistician’s estimate of the net undercount”.

proposed-ranges

At the time the idea received a positive reception from noted psephologist Malcolm Mackerras and we met with Senator John Faulkner to explain our ideas – but unfortunately they did not go any further.

Territories are also under-represented when it comes to the Senate. At the last election, an ACT senator required 75,469 votes to be elected, compared to just 24,408 votes for a Tasmanian senator. With the population of the ACT expected to overtake the population of Tasmania in less than 25 years, it is getting harder and harder to justify Tasmania’s 12 senators to the ACT’s two.

A simple option for addressing this issue is to allow Territories to elect 1 Senator per half quota of population. Under this arrangement, NT would get three Senators and the ACT four, and likely five within the next 15 years.

It is not easy to progress these issues at a federal level when the rest of the Australia doesn’t really pay much attention to the ACT. However, with more representatives and especially more Senate seats in play, Federal political parties would have a much bigger interest in campaigning in the ACT during elections. Getting fairer representation for the ACT is important for us – even if it is something that we will only achieve with patience and over time.

Do you agree we need better Federal representation in the ACT?

Kim Fischer is an ACT Labor candidate for the seat of Ginninderra in the 2016 ACT Legislative Assembly election.

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13 Responses to
Fairer Federal representation for the ACT
chewy14 8:13 pm 22 Jul 16

Masquara said :

buzz819 said :

Kim Huynh said :

“At the last election, an ACT senator required 75,469 votes to be elected, compared to just 24,408 votes for a Tasmanian senator.”

And? Firstly, the last election was a bit unusual since it was a double dissolution, requiring only half quotas for states. The usual quota in Tasmania for Senate selection is actually closer to 48,084 (2013). That’s a lot closer to the ACT quota.

But let’s look at other sates, shall we? Senate selection in NSW in 2013 required 625,164 votes compared to our 75,469. Nearly 8.5 times the ACT quota. In Victoria the quota was 482,815. In fact, in every other state the number was at least double the number required in the ACT.

QLD: 374,209.
SA: 148,302.
WA: 187,289.

Suddenly the ACT quota of 75,469 votes doesn’t look so bad, does it? It certainly doesn’t look like we are under represented compared to the rest of the country. In fact, if we halve the Senate quotas in other states (to account for the fact that they elect 6 of their 12 Senators every standard election), we are actually equally represented with SA, and over-represented compared to WA, QLD, VIC, and NSW. The fact that Tasmania gets 12 senators with such a comparatively small population is more of an anomaly than it is the norm. It’s more accurate to say that Tasmania is over-represented, than it is to say the ACT is under-represented.

But all that aside, comparing numbers on how many votes are required for a senator to be elected misses the whole purpose of the Senate having a different voting system to the House. The entire point was that each state of the federation would be considered as equal, regardless of population, as an accountability measure to prevent the larger states forcing their legislative will on the smaller ones. Unless the ACT becomes a state, it’s pointless comparing our Senate representation to that of the states.

Yeah, I agree with this but I still don’t think when they put together the original intent of the Senate they thought that we would have a situation such as today with Tasmania having the same amount of senators as NSW despite only have 7% of the population.

Actually they did. The only way all the states would federate was to agree to having a Senate with the same number of senators for each state, regardless of population. At federation, Tasmania’s population was about 12% of what NSW’s was. It has always been much, much smaller than the largest states. Population was never intended to be the metric used to determine Senate representation.

Fair enough. It still seems really silly to allow that much power to be held by so few. Another good reason to abolish the states altogether.

Mordd 6:02 pm 22 Jul 16

I would agree to reducing Tas senators to 4 total instead of increasing ours.

Mysteryman 4:22 pm 22 Jul 16

buzz819 said :

Kim Huynh said :

“At the last election, an ACT senator required 75,469 votes to be elected, compared to just 24,408 votes for a Tasmanian senator.”

And? Firstly, the last election was a bit unusual since it was a double dissolution, requiring only half quotas for states. The usual quota in Tasmania for Senate selection is actually closer to 48,084 (2013). That’s a lot closer to the ACT quota.

But let’s look at other sates, shall we? Senate selection in NSW in 2013 required 625,164 votes compared to our 75,469. Nearly 8.5 times the ACT quota. In Victoria the quota was 482,815. In fact, in every other state the number was at least double the number required in the ACT.

QLD: 374,209.
SA: 148,302.
WA: 187,289.

Suddenly the ACT quota of 75,469 votes doesn’t look so bad, does it? It certainly doesn’t look like we are under represented compared to the rest of the country. In fact, if we halve the Senate quotas in other states (to account for the fact that they elect 6 of their 12 Senators every standard election), we are actually equally represented with SA, and over-represented compared to WA, QLD, VIC, and NSW. The fact that Tasmania gets 12 senators with such a comparatively small population is more of an anomaly than it is the norm. It’s more accurate to say that Tasmania is over-represented, than it is to say the ACT is under-represented.

But all that aside, comparing numbers on how many votes are required for a senator to be elected misses the whole purpose of the Senate having a different voting system to the House. The entire point was that each state of the federation would be considered as equal, regardless of population, as an accountability measure to prevent the larger states forcing their legislative will on the smaller ones. Unless the ACT becomes a state, it’s pointless comparing our Senate representation to that of the states.

Yeah, I agree with this but I still don’t think when they put together the original intent of the Senate they thought that we would have a situation such as today with Tasmania having the same amount of senators as NSW despite only have 7% of the population.

Actually they did. The only way all the states would federate was to agree to having a Senate with the same number of senators for each state, regardless of population. At federation, Tasmania’s population was about 12% of what NSW’s was. It has always been much, much smaller than the largest states. Population was never intended to be the metric used to determine Senate representation.

chewy14 2:26 pm 22 Jul 16

Kim Huynh said :

“At the last election, an ACT senator required 75,469 votes to be elected, compared to just 24,408 votes for a Tasmanian senator.”

And? Firstly, the last election was a bit unusual since it was a double dissolution, requiring only half quotas for states. The usual quota in Tasmania for Senate selection is actually closer to 48,084 (2013). That’s a lot closer to the ACT quota.

But let’s look at other sates, shall we? Senate selection in NSW in 2013 required 625,164 votes compared to our 75,469. Nearly 8.5 times the ACT quota. In Victoria the quota was 482,815. In fact, in every other state the number was at least double the number required in the ACT.

QLD: 374,209.
SA: 148,302.
WA: 187,289.

Suddenly the ACT quota of 75,469 votes doesn’t look so bad, does it? It certainly doesn’t look like we are under represented compared to the rest of the country. In fact, if we halve the Senate quotas in other states (to account for the fact that they elect 6 of their 12 Senators every standard election), we are actually equally represented with SA, and over-represented compared to WA, QLD, VIC, and NSW. The fact that Tasmania gets 12 senators with such a comparatively small population is more of an anomaly than it is the norm. It’s more accurate to say that Tasmania is over-represented, than it is to say the ACT is under-represented.

But all that aside, comparing numbers on how many votes are required for a senator to be elected misses the whole purpose of the Senate having a different voting system to the House. The entire point was that each state of the federation would be considered as equal, regardless of population, as an accountability measure to prevent the larger states forcing their legislative will on the smaller ones. Unless the ACT becomes a state, it’s pointless comparing our Senate representation to that of the states.

Yeah, I agree with this but I still don’t think when they put together the original intent of the Senate they thought that we would have a situation such as today with Tasmania having the same amount of senators as NSW despite only have 7% of the population.

I think a fairer way to do it would have half the Senate seats split as per now, with 6 per state and 1 per territory. The remaining seats should then be allocated by population. The original intent would still be kept but would reduce the anamolous effect of the smaller states being able to dictate to the rest of the country.

Mysteryman 12:31 pm 22 Jul 16

“At the last election, an ACT senator required 75,469 votes to be elected, compared to just 24,408 votes for a Tasmanian senator.”

And? Firstly, the last election was a bit unusual since it was a double dissolution, requiring only half quotas for states. The usual quota in Tasmania for Senate selection is actually closer to 48,084 (2013). That’s a lot closer to the ACT quota.

But let’s look at other sates, shall we? Senate selection in NSW in 2013 required 625,164 votes compared to our 75,469. Nearly 8.5 times the ACT quota. In Victoria the quota was 482,815. In fact, in every other state the number was at least double the number required in the ACT.

QLD: 374,209.
SA: 148,302.
WA: 187,289.

Suddenly the ACT quota of 75,469 votes doesn’t look so bad, does it? It certainly doesn’t look like we are under represented compared to the rest of the country. In fact, if we halve the Senate quotas in other states (to account for the fact that they elect 6 of their 12 Senators every standard election), we are actually equally represented with SA, and over-represented compared to WA, QLD, VIC, and NSW. The fact that Tasmania gets 12 senators with such a comparatively small population is more of an anomaly than it is the norm. It’s more accurate to say that Tasmania is over-represented, than it is to say the ACT is under-represented.

But all that aside, comparing numbers on how many votes are required for a senator to be elected misses the whole purpose of the Senate having a different voting system to the House. The entire point was that each state of the federation would be considered as equal, regardless of population, as an accountability measure to prevent the larger states forcing their legislative will on the smaller ones. Unless the ACT becomes a state, it’s pointless comparing our Senate representation to that of the states.

HenryBG 11:41 pm 21 Jul 16

Garfield said :

If Jacqui Lambie can win a Senate seat with 24k votes whereas Christina Hobbs couldn’t with 36k and from a not dissimilar sized elector base… then something is terribly wrong with the system.

Maybe, but (with apologies to Winston Churchill) it’s a system that works less worse than any other system.
Judging by the rubbish that Canberrans are currently sending to the Senate to represent them, there would seem to be little justification in increasing that number.

As far as Christina Hobbs goes, with her degrees from ANU & LSE and experience working around the world for international organisations, she would be great as, say, a Commissioner for International Engagement.
Remind us what Smyth’s qualifications are for that role, again…?

emu 6:21 pm 21 Jul 16

If Jacqui Lambie can win a Senate seat with 24k votes whereas Christina Hobbs couldn’t with 36k and from a not dissimilar sized elector base… then something is terribly wrong with the system.

Masquara 8:42 pm 19 Jul 16

Let’s address the issue of politicians’ outrageous entitlements before we canvass having more of them!

steveu 8:37 pm 19 Jul 16

Spot on Kim. Well explained, and well presented. Thank you.

The cynic in me says that since public servants are the favourite piñata of politicians on all sides, giving any semblance of meaningful representation in parliament may rob our politicians of their favourite sport, that is-public servant bashing,

Mike_Drop 3:37 pm 19 Jul 16

This has been grinding my gears for some time. Representation in the National Legislature should be commensurate with population, and this measure should be re-assessed and applied consistently across the Commonwealth at each election. It’s particularly a problem in the Senate – where there are too many passengers and lunatics when swathes of the population remain unrepresented.

In terms of the Legislative Assembly I wish the OP well, but won’t hide my contempt for what has to be the most overblown and dysfunctional version of a city council in modern history. The measure of administration (as opposed to representation) per-head of population is equally applicable in this context.

Mordd 11:29 am 19 Jul 16

I agree 100%. The reps situation is bad enough, but Tas 12 senate seats to our 2 is just insulting, this is so far out of whack that it’s beyond a joke at this point.

Charlotte Harper 9:54 am 19 Jul 16

Tenpoints said :

You nailed it Kim Fischer. As u say, what we need both at the Federal level and in the ACT Legislative Assembly is “better representation”. That is totally different to more representation.

Sadly, the state of politics both Federally and in the ACT Legislative Assembly is appalling. The people/voters/Ratepayers are not being listened to nor are the right fiscal decisions being made. “More” representation from the drones that come out of the major party political machine pre selections will not help. This is just another example of politicians and wannabee politicians trying to create more and more politicians for their own party’s power or their own futures. The expansion of the ACT Legislative Assembly is a prime example of that.

We want better representation – not more of the same rhetoric and spin.

Also, is this an “opinion piece”, an advertisement, or just a thought bubble from an ACT Labor wannabee for the upcoming ACT Legislative Assembly election. If the latter, it does not have the disclaimer words at the bottom.

Aargghhh, sorry, that’s my fault for forgetting to put the disclaimer on again. Have just added. Thank you for pointing it out.

rommeldog56 8:05 am 19 Jul 16

You nailed it Kim Fischer. As u say, what we need both at the Federal level and in the ACT Legislative Assembly is “better representation”. That is totally different to more representation.

Sadly, the state of politics both Federally and in the ACT Legislative Assembly is appalling. The people/voters/Ratepayers are not being listened to nor are the right fiscal decisions being made. “More” representation from the drones that come out of the major party political machine pre selections will not help. This is just another example of politicians and wannabee politicians trying to create more and more politicians for their own party’s power or their own futures. The expansion of the ACT Legislative Assembly is a prime example of that.

We want better representation – not more of the same rhetoric and spin.

Also, is this an “opinion piece”, an advertisement, or just a thought bubble from an ACT Labor wannabee for the upcoming ACT Legislative Assembly election. If the latter, it does not have the disclaimer words at the bottom.

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