A little mental arithmetic on Saturday night left me wondering why Tasmania has 5 federal seats in the lower house. There are 150 seats in the lower house, as we all now know. The Australian Bureau of Statistics site trumpets Australia’s population as 22.4 million. So there should be about one seat per 150,000 people. Tasmania’s population was 505,000 at the end of 2009. Therefore Tasmania has less than 3.4 quotas, and since quotas are, quite rationally, rounded to the nearest integer, Tasmania should have 3 seats in the lower house.
The reason that Tasmania has 5 seats is because the Australian Constitution guarantees each state at least 5 seats in the House of Representatives. I didn’t know that until I went to the Australian Electoral Commission’s website to find out what is going on. But the implication for this election is obvious. The five seats in Tasmania are all in the Labour-Green column. If the seats were allocated purely on the basis of population then NSW and WA would each have another seat. WA has only 3 Labour seats out of 15.
This constitutional gerrymander may well keep the Conservatives out of power in this pivotal election. This distortion should be brought to the people’s attention and rectified in a referendum. None of the other states are in any danger of falling below the 5 seat floor. South Australia, the next lowest, has 11 seats.
If we did change the constitution on this matter, then we should get rid of the relationship between states and federal electorates. What have the state boundaries to do with Federal lower house seat boundaries? For example, Queanbeyan, a town in NSW, is much closer to the centre of Canberra than many of the ACT’s outer suburbs. Most of the Kimberley in WA is much closer to Darwin than to Perth.
On the matter of close elections, my vote could still decide the outcome of the whole thing. I live in the electorate of Hasluck in WA. Ken Wyatt (Lib) leads Sharyn Jackson (Lab) by only 300 votes and the gap is narrowing. I am proud that the first indigenous member of the lower house may be elected in Hasluck. Not by me though. When I went into the polling booth my green paper showed 7 candidates for the lower house. One was from the Global Warming Skeptics party, so I knew straight away who to put last. Unfortunately, the Liberal Party itself is a party of global warming skeptics so I reluctantly had to put Mr Wyatt near the bottom too.