Australia’s quirky electoral geography

The Australian House of Representatives consists of 151 Members representing every part of the country. While electoral boundaries are drawn to encompass an approximately equal amount of residents*, the resulting size of the electorates (formally: Commonwealth electoral devisions) vary tremendously.

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Australia’s 151 electorates

Grayndler, in inner Sydney is only 27 square km, where Durack, covering most of Western Australia is over sixty thousand times larger in land mass, coming in at a staggering 1.5 million square km.

Durack, covering the vast majority of WA is particularly interesting, as it is bigger than 145 electorates combined.

What’s fascinating about CED’s in Australia is just how our unique geography causes the six largest electorates to constitute 79% of Australia’s landmass.

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Australia’s 6 largest electorates

While only representing 4% of the seats in the House of Representatives, these seats are serious business for the two major parties. A commitment to the regions where most of our agricultural produce comes from needs to be cemented.

Four of the six largest seats are LNP strongholds. David Littleproud, MP for Maranoa in QLD has been the Minister for Water Resources since 2017. Melissa Price, MP for Durack was appointed Minister for Defence Industry in 2019.

The two seats of the largest six the LNP doesn’t hold are edge cases. Lingiari in the NT (covering the entire territory, less Darwin) is a labour stronghold, currently represented by long time MP Warren Snowden. Kennedy in North QLD is Bob Katter’s seat (it has been held by either Bob Katter Sr. or Bob Katter Jr. for 50 of the past 53 years).

So what happens if you remove these 6 districts from the map of Australia?96% of electorates are still shown in the map below. But the question becomes, ‘is this still Australia?’

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Map of Australia showing 145 of the 151 electorates

When we think about representative democracy in Australia, it is useful to think about the country in terms of geography. While a tremendous amount of our economic activity is generated in the six largest CED’s (e.g. mining and agriculture), the vast majority of our represented officials consider their heartlands to be Greater Capital Cities.

We hear a lot about ‘regional’ issues, and ‘regional attitudes’ however our voting framework is set up to be representative to population locations, not defined regions of economic importance. Whether this is a strength or weakness of our democracy is currently being tested.

*I use approximately equal with a grain of salt. There’s a bunch of other rules as to how the boundaries are drawn, including minimum seats per state and the fact no electorates can cross a state border (even this isn’t quite true due to edge cases like Jervis Bay tacked on to Fenner in the ACT). The history behind the drawing of divisions is a rabbit hole I recommend falling down.

@cfcoverdale

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