The leader of the House Christopher Pyne would be under threat if a redistribution brought Labor voters into his seat of Sturt. Photo: Andrew MearesLooming redistributions of federal seats in Victoria, South Australia and the ACT could cost Malcolm Turnbull three seats before the next election, with cabinet minister Christopher Pyne a possible casualty from the shake-up.
The Australian Electoral Commission will announce on Thursday changes to the allocation of seats in the lower house, based on new population data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The Parliamentary Library predicts redistributions in Victoria, South Australia and the ACT and that the overall number of seats in the lower house will grow by one to 151 in the next parliament.
Victoria’s booming population – the highest of any state or territory at 2.4 per cent annually – will trigger the increase in the lower house from 37 to 38 seats. South Australia is likely to lose out, falling from 11 to 10 seats, while the ACT is likely to grow from two to three seats.
ABC election analyst Antony Green said “the likelihood is two Labor seats will become three in Victoria”, probably in Melbourne’s outer north-west, with some combination of the Labor-held seats of Lalor, Gorton, Calwell and McEwen facing a partial carve-up for the creation of a new seat.
The seats take in some of Australia’s fastest growing suburbs, such as Werribee, Melton and Mernda and, with the exception of McEwen, have been safe Labor territory for many years.
Mr Green said that in South Australia it was possible the Labor seat of Makin, held by Tony Zappia, would be abolished “but then Sturt could become a Labor seat”.
That would trigger trouble for the media-friendly Mr Pyne in his seat of Sturt, if he has to absorb much of the Labor vote from Makin. Labor would require a swing of 5.9 per cent to win Sturt from Mr Pyne at the next election.
Alternatively, the rural Liberal seats of Barker and Grey could be merged.
The ACT is safe Labor territory, and a third seat is likely to be won by the ALP too.
Taken together, this means Mr Turnbull’s hold on 76 seats in the lower house could be reduced to a notional 75 seats at the next election, while the ALP could enter the next election with a notional 71 seats, up from the 69 it currently holds.
The looming redistribution has Liberal MPs pondering how the party can build support among new residents in Melbourne’s growth suburbs, tens of thousands of whom have migrated from Asia.
In the seat of Lalor for example, which Labor holds by a safe margin of 12.2 per cent, the Liberal Party polled more competitively in Point Cook, which is Australia’s fifth-fastest growing suburb.
Kelly O’Dwyer, a senior Victorian Liberal and the MP for Higgins in Melbourne’s inner south-east, argued the Coalition’s policies aligned better with the area’s “aspirational” new residents, who were not rusted on Labor voters.
“There needs to be a strategic investment in these areas, to let people there know how they’ve been let down by Labor and how their values align much more readily with Liberal values, because we are a party of aspiration,” Ms O’Dwyer said.
Lalor resident Lisa Heinrichs, a community activist who successfully campaigned against a state Labor plan to build a youth prison in the seat, also argued loyal Labor voters risked being taken for granted and missing out on crucial infrastructure such as new hospitals and better transport.
She said a good local Coalition or independent candidate would make the seat marginal at the next election.
But Zareh Ghazarian, a lecturer in politics at Monash University, said it was unlikely the Liberals would make short-term inroads into any Labor seat held with a margin of more than five per cent, giving Labor a likely edge after the electoral boundaries are redrawn.
“A new seat would most likely be a safe Labor seat as both north and west electorates are safe Labor constituencies already,” Dr Ghazarian said.
The electoral commission will call for submissions from all interested parties about the looming redistributions and the boundary changes are likely to be finalised by about June 2018.
Both parties will contest the boundary changes.
If the Prime Minister calls a snap election before the end of the redistribution a so-called “mini-redistribution” will occur that would mean the two rural Liberal seats of Grey and Barker would be automatically merged into one seat, while in Melbourne the booming population of the Labor seats of Lalor and Gorton would see the third seat carved out of from them.
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