The Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission report was published late this morning, presenting sweeping changes that the frequently-frustrated Liberals hope could finally hand them their long-demanded “electoral fairness”.
After a draft report in August made two Labor seats, Elder and Mawson, nominally Liberal if the 2014 result was replicated in 2018, the final document goes even further, handing the Opposition Colton and Newland – two seats successfully sandbagged by the ALP at successive elections.
The report could lead to a significant shakeup in the machinations of both parties.
InDaily revealed yesterday that champion Paralympian Matt Cowdrey has been strongly lobbied to throw his hat in the ring for preselection in Colton, which would have a comfortable 3.7 per cent margin if the Liberals again snare a two-party preferred vote of more than 53 per cent.
On paper, the Liberals would win 27 seats to Labor’s 20, assuming they could also recapture independent-held Frome and Waite, where InDaily reported this week Martin Hamilton-Smith is busily trying to reposition himself as a genuine independent.
Making the task harder for Labor, Elder – retained for the ALP by first-term MP Annabel Digance at the last election – would become a virtual safe Liberal seat, with a margin of 4.3 per cent.
Digance, who had not yet seen the report when contacted by InDaily, responded: “There’s nothing like a challenge!”
“From my point of view, it’s about the constituents – the people I represent, the community,” she said.
“That’s where I put my focus, whatever else happens from there remains to be seen.”
Tom Kenyon’s Newland would go from being Labor’s most marginal seat on 0.2 per cent in the draft redistribution to the Liberals’ most vulnerable at 0.1 per cent.
Kenyon, who was also yet to view the report, conceded “it would be better to be in positive territory, but my immediate reaction is it doesn’t appear to be substantially different from what it was”.
“There’s a lot of work to be done, but I still think it’s winnable,” he told InDaily.
In a statement, Liberal state president Steve Murray said the final report showed “considerable changes to the electoral boundaries… which now require detailed analysis”.
“On initial review, it appears the commission has produced a fairer outcome for all South Australian voters,” he said, noting that the party would now “review the report and issue further comment in due course”.
“The Liberal Party commends the transparent and professional approach taken by the 2016 commission in conducting its hearings.”
Labor’s state secretary Reggie Martin said in a statement the report was a “complex” one “that will take some time to go through”.
“While obviously disappointed that the EDBC decided to shift a further two Labor-held seats to the Liberal side of the pendulum, the ALP will continue to campaign strongly on the issues that matter to South Australians,” he said.
Significant boundary changes to individual seats remain in place from the draft report, with the previously-safe northern suburbs Labor seat of Napier (now renamed “King”) reduced to Labor’s most marginal notional seat, on 1.4 per cent.
Napier was the subject of pre-election controversy, when ousted (and now re-elected) senator Don Farrell sought to parachute into the ALP stronghold, prompting Premier Jay Weatherill to threaten his resignation if he did. The seat ultimately went to AMWU organiser Jon Gee, but Farrell could now have the last laugh, again ensconced in federal parliament instead of a highly marginal state seat.
The commission rejected Labor’s argument against its draft report that it failed to emphasise the “one vote, one value principle” by significantly varying the population size of some regional seats, albeit within the 10 per cent margin allowed under law.
But the commission, chaired by Justice Ann Vanstone, determined that “equality of numbers within the parameter was not a goal in itself”.
“The commission takes the view that [the Constitution Act] does not require each electoral district to have the same number of electors or require the commission to keep the numbers within each district as close as possible to the quota,” it found.
Among other changes from its draft report, it reversed a move that would have seen the Walkerville district shifted out of Liberal-held Adelaide, after incumbent Rachel Sanderson spearheaded a petition campaign against the proposal.
It also reversed a land swap between Liberal-held Hills seats Heysen and Kavel, after objections “on historical grounds and on grounds of inconvenience to significant changes made to those two districts”.
“The commission considered that the views expressed were valid and restored the earlier position,” it determined.
Among those objectors were veteran Liberal MPs Isobel Redmond and Mark Goldsworthy. But the latter’s victory could be pyrrhic, as it maintains Mount Barker as his seat’s heartland – an area where it’s understood potential challenger Dan Cregan has significant support.
The boundaries commission is nominally charged with ensuring electoral “fairness” under a contentious clause whereby the party that wins 50 per cent “plus one” of the popular vote should win a parliamentary majority – an event that has not occurred in three out of the past four elections.
For the first time, such a scenario would appear to favour the Liberals, with the commission publishing a pendulum representing a 50:50 statewide vote. That result would notionally hand the Liberals a 24-seat-to-23 majority, again allowing for the independent-held seats to fall the Opposition’s way.
However, the other potential election curveball remains the prospect of a concerted campaign by the Nick Xenophon Team, which is likely to target the Hills region where it snared Mayo in the July federal election. If any of those Liberal strongholds falls, it could potentially undo any benefit handed the Opposition by the new electoral map.
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