Drowned out by the news of the Olympic Dam expansion being shelved yesterday was the release of the final report of South Australia’s state electoral redistribution. This is a fairly dry topic at the best of times, this one at first promised to be reasonably interesting, as state redistributions go. South Australia’s redistribution commissioners, who perform their work between every election, have uniquely been given direction to seek “electoral fairness” ever since a provision to that effect was inserted in the legislation after Labor’s lucky escape in 1989, when John Bannon won a third and final election from a base of 48.1% of the two-party vote.
Successive redistributions have sought to achieve this by drawing boundaries that would deliver victory at the subsequent election to the party with the greater share of the two-party vote, assuming a perfectly even swing. This eminently rational approach could not overcome the basic flaw of the endeavour, which is that election results can never be so neatly predicated on the basis of what happened last time. The 2010 election was a remarkable case in point, with 22 of the state’s 47 seats recording double-digit swings against Labor, but the two most marginal Labor seats actually swinging in their favour (the only ones to do so). Labor was thus able to suffer a net loss of just two seats in the face of a plunge in their two-party vote from 56.8% to 48.4%, emerging with a solid majority of 26 out of 47.
That left the redistribution commissioners with a formidable task in drawing boundaries which met the electoral fairness requirement as it had previously been conceived. From a psephological perspective, the contortions required to burden marginal seat Labor MPs with the requisite Liberal-voting areas, assuming there were any nearby, promised to be something to behold. Instead, the draft boundaries published in May showed the commissioners had simply thrown up their hands and dispensed with the Mackerras-pendulum derived notion of “fairness” which had previously been applied. Their rationale for doing so makes for interesting reading, as it essentially argues that the Liberals’ defeat was down to political failings a redistribution can’t be expected to account for:
As many of the seats held by Labor were marginal, little would have been required for an effective campaign to influence the final result … Had the Liberal Party achieved a uniform swing it would have formed government. As quoted (in the findings of the 1991 Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission), “The Commission has no control over, and can accept no responsibility for, the quality of the candidates, policies and campaigns.”
That being so, the commissioners turned in an extremely conservative set of changes, and despite the protestations of the Liberal Party there has been no fundamental change in the final determination. However, the Liberals have been thrown the following bones:
• Bright has been given extra territory from its Liberal northern neighbour Morphett, turning Labor member Chloe Fox’s 0.3% margin in the original redistribution to a deficit of 0.1%. The Liberal margin in Morphett, which also cedes territory to Elder (see below), is accordingly down from 11.1% to 9.9%.
• Elder is redrawn in relation to its Liberal neighbours Morphett and Waite, cutting Pat Conlon’s margin from 3.4% to 1.7%.
• Waite also cedes territory to Ashford, so as to cut Stephanie Key’s margin in the latter electorate from 4.4% to 1.5%. The Liberal margin in Waite is reduced from 13.0% to 11.1%.
• Grace Portolesi’s 1.9% margin in Hartley has been cut to 0.5% by adding extra territory from neighbouring Bragg, where Vickie Chapman’s Liberal margin of 21.0% goes to 20.0%.
The redistribution is otherwise as described by Antony Green when the draft boundaries were published, the most notable changes being a boost in Labor’s margin in Little Para from 6.7% to 10.9% with the addition of territory in Elizabeth, the Liberal margin in Morialta dropping from 4.2% to 2.9%, and Norwood being renamed Dunstan in honour of its esteemed former member.