Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

The release of the proposed redistributions of federal electorates in New South Wales has left many scratching their heads.

As we reported on Friday, the AEC has proposed to add the move the heart of the Hunter, Muswellbrook, out of the electorate of Hunter and into New England. Meanwhile, Gunnedah, Narrabri and Moree shires remain part of Parkes, which has been extended to the south and now comprises 50% of the state.

New South Wales is undergoing a redistribution because the number of members of the House of Representatives it is entitled to has decreased from 47 to 46 as a result of a determination made by the Electoral Commissioner on Thursday 27 July 2023. The seat of North Sydney, currently held by Teal Independent Kylea Tink, has been abolished. The quota – or number of voters – required in each of our electorates is now 121,011.

Muswellbrook Shire to consider the matter

Muswellbrook Mayor Steve Reynolds said he had been discussing the matter with the Member for Hunter Dan Repacholi for some time, but it doesn’t make sense and he is concerned about what it means for his community.

“Sounds like it was a unanimous decision by all parties to flick us to the New England.”

“My concern is with the synergies that we’ve got with the New England area – we are a coal mining community.”

Mayor Reynolds felt that if Gunnedah or Singleton had been added to the New England as well that may have been more understandable, but being the only significant coal mining community in an electorate of farmers is likely to be challenging.

“I originally said that the only part we’re going to have any synergy with is Gunnedah. And then I looked at the map and Gunnedah is not there, and I’m going ‘What?’, Mayor Reynolds said.

“You know, the New England is predominantly for farming, agriculture, which is fantastic, but we’re going to be like a pimple on the bum of a hippopotamus.”

He also pointed to the significant population growth around Maitland that is likely to demand another change of boundaries soon, and the long and deep connections between Singleton and Muswellbrook that should stay together.

“So essentially the engine room of the state, being the Hunter… and they’ve drawn a line down the middle.”

“Muswellbrook and Singleton sort of go as a married couple. We’re lobbying for the same things.”

“Now it is going to be politicised by having separate electorates, it’s just going to create a big political divide for no gain at all.”

“We’re just sitting out here going ‘Why? Why? Why’.”

“Barnaby’s going to have his work cut out for him too, because there’s so much happening with our transition.

Mayor Reynolds said the issue would need to be considered by Council at next week’s meeting before they could formalise their position.

Barnaby happy to take Muswellbrook on

Mayor Reynolds says he has already reached out to Member for New England Barnaby Joyce and had a few chats to him, and Mr Joyce said he was up for the challenge of managing the longer electorate.

“It’s like a stock route isn’t it? In the past Henry Kidman would have gone along it with a mob of cattle.”

“We’re now going to be about 550, 600 kilometres long from the two extreme points.”

But Mr Joyce says he wouldn’t be opposing the change, accepting what will come his way.

“I’m really happy that we kept Inverell,” he said.

“I just thin that we’ve got to continue on the game plan.”

Mr Joyce rattled off a lit of priorities around the electorate, from securing UNE and the APVMA’s positions in Armidale, having vision for dams and commercial expansions around the region, and restating his opposition to renewable energy developments.

“These are not renewable. It’s intermittent power. They’re not Australian. They’re overwhelmingly owned by foreign multinationals such as Chinese real estate companies and Dutch companies and Singaporean companies. And they’re not farms. There’s nothing. There’s nothing farming about their their future obsolete junk, which will be which will either rot in the paddock, will be put into landfill in the New England. That, for me, is not a solution. That is the creation of a massive future problem.

“I have to pick a side in this debate, I picked it a long time ago, and I think I picked the right one,” Mr Joyce said.

Muswellbrook, however, has a very different position in the energy transition debate, being the absolute heart of the coal mining and power generation that is being phased out in favour of renewable power. Mr Joyce is encouraged by recent polling that showed Muswellbrook was in favour of hosting a nuclear power plant.

“For places such as Liddell, [nuclear power] gives the opportunity for the boiler makers, fitters and turners, electricians, sheet metal workers, all those people on $120,000 to $130,000 a year plus penalty rates to get their jobs back.”

“I think with that, we have to structure the policy to go with it. My suggestion to my colleagues is that if you can see it you power is free; if you’re within 50 kilometres of it your power is half price.”

“Give something back to the communities if they are part of the journey of nuclear power.”

Coulton disappointed his home no longer in his electorate

Federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton said the changes to his electorate are not unexpected.

“Overall, the proposed redistribution is not a bad result for the electorate of Parkes – we’re gaining some strong towns in Parkes, Forbes and West Wyalong which I’m sure will only add to this great electorate,” Mr Coulton said.

“I am sorry to see the upper half of the Gwydir Shire, which includes my hometown of Warialda, move to the New England electorate.”

“That means that once I retire at the next election, I will no longer live in the Parkes electorate which is personally disappointing, having represented this electorate for so long and been so invested in it.”

“The biggest challenge for whoever is the next Member for Parkes will be the increase in geographical size of the Parkes electorate.

“Each time there has been a boundary change, the Parkes electorate has grown, and this time is no different.

These changes will see the Parkes electorate grow to approximately 406,755 square kilometres, or half the state.

“Which will make it more difficult to travel throughout the electorate on a regular basis, meaning more nights away from home for the next Member.”

Mr Coulton said the release of the proposed redistribution will enable The Nationals in the Parkes electorate to set a date for preselection.

“The party will now get on with the job of selecting a candidate to contest the Division of Parkes at the next election,” Mr Coulton said.

“I look forward to working with whoever is preselected over the coming months to help them get to know this wonderful electorate.”

AEC says proposals are not a decision

There is still a possibility the proposed redistributions may be rejected, with those concerned having until July 12 to lodge their objections.

The AEC declined to answer specific questions about allowing for increased regional migration, particularly to the New England high country, and whether they took voter psychology factors like regional identity and behaviours in to account in the decision.

The methodology document reveals that the projections from the Australian Bureau of Statistics were based on what happened before COVID changed our world, meaning the projections are all fundamentally flawed. Despite booming population growth and not enough housing, particularly in villages like Bingara, Uralla, and Glen Innes, the AEC projects that population in our region is decreasing. This release happened exactly the same week as another federal government report projected a significant population increase in our region.

“Let me clarify at the outset that today’s proposal was not a decision of the AEC, but rather comes from the NSW Redistribution Committee – a separate body for which the AEC provides administrative support,” the spokesperson for the AEC said.

“When making these decisions the Committee considered a number of submissions provided by members of the public – 13 of which advocated for New England to gain Muswellbrook Shire Council from the Division of Hunter.”

The 13 submissions are not really from members of the public. Most are from electoral nerds who like to tinker with electorates and electoral processes as a hobby, without any appreciation nor care for the people who live there. There’s a little club of them, all without any training or qualifications in voter behaviour such that their creative map playing should be considered with any weight at all, but they delight in making such submissions at every possible opportunity. The other five submissions are from political parties.

There were no suggestions from those who live in the Hunter, New England, or Parkes which supported these changes.

All suggestions relating to Parkes from people who actually live here opposed making the enormous seat bigger. Wayde Walker was among those arguing that the Hunter is a well defined geographic area, and the electorate should stick to that.

“I would implore the Electoral Commission to seriously consider the geographics and localities that are considered to be known as the area of “Hunter”,” Mr Walker wrote.

Have your say

As Tony Windsor was fond of saying, decisions are made by those who turn up.

More details and maps for the redistribution are available on the AEC website.

Written objections must be lodged no later than 6pm AEST on Friday 12 July 2024. The best way to lodge an objection is online. Objections can also be submitted via:

  • Email – FedRedistribution-NSW@aec.gov.au
  • Post – Australian Electoral Commission (Att: NSW Redistribution Secretariat), Locked Bag 4007, Canberra ACT 2601
  • Suite 13.03, 59 Goulburn Street, Haymarket

All objections received by the deadline will be available for public inspection on the redistributions website and at the office of the Australian Electoral Officer for New South Wales in Haymarket (during business hours only) from Monday 15 July 2024. Further comments will then be accepted until 6pm AEST on Friday 26 July 2024.

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