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NSW redistribution – parsing the major party submissions

July 18, 2020 - 11:00 -- Admin

The NSW redistribution has passed through its first stage, with the publication of suggestions about how the new electoral map should be drawn. Suggestions closed on July 1, but it’s taken me some time to be able to properly process them.

The major parties (Labor, Liberal and Nationals) all submitted full suggestions for the entire state, featuring maps of those proposed electorates. The Greens also made suggestions for the whole state, although their proposals did not involve exact numbers of voters being moved, or maps of proposed boundaries.

There is a hell of a lot of information in these proposals and there’s a lot of stories to tell from how they’ve drawn the boundaries. Each party has made some significant changes, but also a lot of subtle changes. I can’t necessarily tell you how the whole map would perform without making a digital version of each map and calculating the margins myself, but it’s worth examining the boundaries in each area to get a sense of possible alternative maps. Nevertheless we can assume that Labor and Liberal have both drawn maps that would advantage their side, and we can see hints of this trend in some areas.

Overall the Liberal Party has been generally more willing to radically redraw electoral boundaries, while Labor has been more conservative, although Labor has drawn boundaries that might raise eyebrows in a few places where there has been significant population pressures. The Nationals and Greens have both been relatively conservative in leaving seats alone.

I’m going to run through a number of regions to compare the different proposed boundaries.

Let’s start on the far north coast. The Nationals have proposed no changes, while Labor has proposed relatively minor boundary changes. The Liberal Party has, however, completely redrawn two seats in such a way that would likely turn a Labor seat into a Nationals seat.

The Liberal submission would redraw the seat of Ballina, which is held by the Greens by a 5.4% margin, into a new seat named Byron. Byron would lose southern parts of Ballina Shire, which tend to favour the Nationals and Labor, and would replace those areas with the towns in the north of Lismore LGA, including Nimbin. These booths are very strong for the Greens, and also heavily favour Labor over Nationals in a two-party-preferred contest. This would likely make Byron a much stronger Greens seat, both in a contest against the Nationals and Labor.

The loss of Nimbin and surrounds from Lismore would be compensated with Alstonville and Wollongbar, both of which gave a majority of the two-party-preferred vote to the Nationals in 2019. That would weaken the Greens against Labor, and weaken Labor against the Nationals. I suspect that this version of Lismore would be a notional Nationals seat. Thus the Liberal Party would consolidate the Greens vote in one safer seat rather than giving them the chance of winning two adjacent seats, while weakening Labor.

Significant changes are needed in the Macarthur region, with the seat of Camden projected to be 50% over quota in the near future, and neighbouring Macquarie Fields also projected to be one of the most populous seats. The parties have proposed different approaches, and I would argue that Labor’s is more creative.

The Liberal Party has created a new seat out of the northern end of Camden called “Leppington”. This seat also takes in parts of the seats of Liverpool, Holsworthy and Macquarie Fields. These changes result in Campbelltown being squeezed into a narrow seat stretching from Gregory Hills and Raby all the way down to Appin, which look strange to me as someone who grew up in the area.

Labor has instead chosen to push Campbelltown into the high-growth Camden area, arguing that this ensures a balance of high-growth and low-growth suburbs, and instead created a new seat of Minto which wraps around the eastern side of Campbelltown. Minto would include northern Campbelltown suburbs like Ingleburn, but also includes the southern end of the Campbelltown LGA, while missing some of the middle suburbs. It’s an odd shape.

Overall you can see that both parties have drawn the area to favour themselves. The new seat of Leppington would likely be a marginal seat as the Liberal Party drew it, while the new seat of Minto would be safe for Labor, and the redrawn Campbelltown as drawn by Labor would still be more pro-Labor than the Liberal-drawn Leppington.

All parties largely agree that changes to the west of NSW will be relatively mild, although all parties propose fairly radical changes to the seat of Upper Hunter. The Nationals, however, differ from Labor and Liberal by proposing that Barwon, the seat with the largest land mass in the state, should hand back its western end, including Broken Hill, to the seat of Murray which would have its name revert to Murray-Darling. They explicitly argue this change as a way to equalise the land mass of the two seats.

Both major parties propose fairly significant changes on the upper north shore of Sydney. The Liberal Party propose abolishing Davidson, leaving exactly three seats covering the Northern Beaches LGA, while Labor draw Davidson west and rename it as Gordon. The Liberal approach draws Ku-ring-gai, Willoughby and Lane Cove into the empty space and also draws Hornsby east, while the Labor approach pushes Ku-ring-gai and Hornsby further out. The Liberals then compensate with the creation of a new seat at the northern end of the Hills called Galston.

The Liberal Party has also chosen to do some radical redrawing in the inner city which reveals something about their future ambitions in the seat of Sydney. They have pushed Sydney to the east, taking in Surry Hills and Redfern and losing areas around Paddington. This would undoubtedly help Alex Greenwich in any contest against the Liberal Party.

Instead they have chosen to drag Vaucluse closer to the city (renamed Woollahra) and bring Coogee (renamed Waverley) north, likely solidifying the new Waverley as a safe Liberal seat. They then drag the old Heffron to the coast and rename it Coogee. It’s likely a safer seat for Labor than the old Coogee, but much less so than the old Heffron.

They also cause some havoc in the seat of Newtown, swapping Surry Hills and Redfern out for Tempe and Alexandria. This would likely aid Labor against the Greens and make the seat more marginal: perhaps a deliberate choice for the Liberals to sew division in their opponents.

In contrast, Labor has made modest changes in the inner west and eastern suburbs, and have largely left Balmain and Newtown alone.

So what does any of these submissions mean? I personally don’t think they will mean a lot when it comes to the map drawn by the Commission, although they can be useful in identifying what ideas are out there. A handy solution to a tricky problem might find its way into the official map. It’s a strange process as the major parties draw maps that obviously favour their side but try to do so without making any partisan arguments, and also try to exercise restraint in not proposing outrageous gerrymanders.

The deadline for comments on these suggestions has passed, and those comments will be due up on Monday. We should expect a draft map from the Commission in the coming months, and I will be sure to provide detailed analysis of that map, including notional margins for the new seats.