The ACT is probably getting a third federal seat today

News. 25th March 2015. MHR Gai Brodtmann wearing a Parliament House insipired dress.The Canberra TimesPhoto Jamila Toderas 6 October 2010 FORUM Canberra Times photograph by GRAHAM TIDY Story by Danni Cronnin. Newly elected members of the House of Representatives Gai Brodtmann and Andrew Leigh, in the Reps. chamber at Parliament House Canberra. SPECIAL 111

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Photo by Jodie Richter….041009…Tally RoomMember for Canberra Annette Ellis

The ACT is expected to have three lower house members in federal Parliament from the next election, with a decision about a new electorate due on Thursday.

Following the release of new population data tied to the census in June, the Australian Electoral Commission will announce its final determination of state and territory seat allocations at lunchtime.

Experts believe Canberra’s strong population growth will see a third lower house electorate created, the first time since the Howard era that three members of the House of Representatives will represent ACT voters.

The House of Representatives could grow by one seat to 151, with Victoria expected to gain a new federal electorate and South Australia expected to lose one.

The prospect of a third lower house seat in Canberra has animated Labor and Greens, potentially setting up messy preselection fights and even paving the way for challenges against sitting Labor MPs.

One party source said “significant attention” was being paid to Thursday’s announcement with jostling well under way inside ACT Labor, while the Greens are hungry for a chance to fight Labor in central Canberra.

Population data from December showed the capital grew by 11.2 per cent in five years to 2016, adding an extra 40,000 new residents and bringing the ACT’s population to 406,403 people.

Analysis by Fairfax Media and the Parliamentary Library suggests the growth is enough for representation of between 2.46 and 2.544 federal House of Representatives seats, when the populations of Norfolk Island and Jervis Bay are considered.

Section 46 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act requires Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers to ascertain the populations of each state and territory from the Australian Statistician one day after the first anniversary of the first meeting of a newly elected House of Representatives.

That deadline is Thursday, since the current Parliament sat for the first time on August 30 last year.

Creation of a third seat would see redistributions reduce the size of the existing seats of Fenner and Canberra.

A year-long redistribution process could be a nightmare if Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull goes to an election in September or October 2018, as expected by some political insiders.

The compressed timeline could see the mini-redistribution powers of the Electoral Act used for the first time, required if the full redistribution has not been completed when the election is called.

The scenario would see Canberra and Fenner split into three seats – Canberra, Fenner and Canberra-Fenner – and the parties scrambling to complete preselection of candidates in time for an early poll.

A third ACT seat, the electorate of Namadgi, was created in 1994 and abolished in 1997. Labor’s Annette Ellis held the seat until the 1998 federal election, before moving to the electorate of Canberra.

Labor adopted controversial changes to preselection rules at its recent territory conference, interpreted by some as an attempt by the party’s left faction to ready itself for the likely three-seat reality.

The factions will be quick to lay claim to the lower house seats, with the left expected to push for the right of one of its members to the third seat.

Some believe there could even be moves to replace right-aligned Canberra MP Gai Brodtmann with a man to avoid upsetting affirmative action rules.

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