Part II: The proposed boundaries - Northern Victoria
- The report now explains how the EBC arrived at the proposed boundaries for the individual electorates. This section in effect restates the report of the proposed boundaries that was released on 27 June 2013. The section enables understanding of the suggestions and objections about the proposed boundaries, and the considerations that led the EBC to decide on final electoral boundaries for the State. The electoral districts are covered first. For ease of description, the districts are considered broadly by their current region. The report deals with the response to the proposed boundaries, and how the EBC decided on the final boundaries from paragraph 167.
- The EBC determined it was practicable to start in the north-western corner of Victoria, as decisions made here affect boundaries across half the State. The five districts along the Murray River are all below average in enrolment, and are tending to decline compared to the State average. The EBC needed to ensure that these districts were brought back within the 10 per cent tolerance, and that they stayed within tolerance as far as practicable. There were two ways of achieving this aim: to go east from the north-western corner, or to go south.
- The National Party’s solution was a general southward expansion of these districts. Thus, Mildura gained Hindmarsh Shire and most of West Wimmera Shire from Lowan. Swan Hill picked up Stawell, Halls Gap and Dunolly from Ripon, Tarnagulla and Newbridge from Bendigo West and Bridgewater on Loddon from Bendigo East (as well as Cohuna from Rodney). Rodney took Goornong and Huntly from Bendigo East (as well as Numurkah and Strathmerton from Murray Valley). The Nationals’ proposed districts complied with numbers requirements currently, and were not likely to fall outside the 10 per cent threshold. The Liberal Party’s and Greens’ submissions were fairly similar, though the Liberals’ Swan Hill district is projected to fall to 16.09 per cent below the average.
- The alternative approach, proposed by the ALP, Mr Martin Gordon, Mr Darren McSweeney, Dr Mark Mulcair and Dr Charles Richardson, combined Swan Hill and Rodney in a single district, though the boundaries and proposed name of the district varied. Their arguments for this course were based on enrolment; the ALP, for example, argued that “Poor enrolment growth means it is no longer possible to sustain five seats along the Murray”.
- Given that it was possible to retain Swan Hill and Rodney districts that complied with the numbers requirements, the question of which course to take revolved around community of interest. For the Nationals, the discrete communities along the Murray should continue to have specific representation. “For example, the cities of Swan Hill and Echuca, although both on the River, are very different and could not cohabit in a single division. The Federal Boundary Commissioners discovered this fact when they so recommended in the redistribution of federal boundaries in Victoria in 2010. The community backlash was so strong and sustained that the Commission retreated.” 14
- The objections to the AEC’s proposed boundaries in the 2010 Federal redistribution appear to have been more about the abolition of the Murray division and the splitting of the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District than about the joining of Echuca and Swan Hill in one division15. Nevertheless, Echuca and Swan Hill are separate towns with their own hinterlands, and are 156 kilometres apart. The Nationals’ objection to the proposed Federal boundaries contended that Echuca forms part of the Goulburn Valley community, and relates to the east and south, not to the north and north-west (towards Swan Hill). Nevertheless, Echuca and Swan Hill have much in common. Both are on the Murray River, and are partly reliant on river-based tourism. More importantly, both are in the Murray Valley irrigation area, that stretches almost continuously down the river, from the Goulburn district south of Echuca, past irrigation areas around Torrumbarry and Kerang, to the fruit growing districts around Swan Hill. The two towns are connected by the Murray Valley Highway.
- The Nationals’ proposal cut across communities in some ways. For Mildura, the Nationals’ submission was based on land use, stating that the grain growing country in the northern part of Lowan to be included in Mildura nicely complemented the predominant activity in the dryland farming parts of the current Mildura. While land use is similar, the area to be included in Mildura is cut off from the rest of the proposed district by the wide expanse of the Big Desert, with access from Nhill to Mildura being via a roundabout 312 kilometre route through Hopetoun. For the Mayor of Hindmarsh at the public hearing, distance from Mildura was one of the reasons the Council wanted the Shire to stay in the Lowan district. The Mayor stressed Hindmarsh Shire’s affinity with the Wimmera and Horsham, which were linked through transport, government services and sporting associations. “We do work on a regional basis very, very well and we feel that our affiliation with those shires would be lost if we had to move three and a half hours to the north and be on the southern end.” For Swan Hill, the Nationals’ proposal makes a geographically large district (the second largest in the State) even larger. The inclusion of Stawell and the Grampians in the proposed district appears to take in an area that has nothing to do with Swan Hill and is 234 kilometres from the town. At the public hearing, the Hon. Bill Baxter for the Nationals conceded that there were not a lot of similarities between the city of Swan Hill and Stawell, but said that the agricultural pursuits around Stawell were not dissimilar to the bulk of the pursuits in Swan Hill. Still, the part of Northern Grampians Shire to be included in the Nationals’ proposed district did not include much of the broad acre cropping that characterises much of the current district16. For Rodney, the Nationals’ proposed district included the edge of the Bendigo urban area at Huntly, and so blurred the important distinction between urban and rural areas.
- Neither alternative was perfect on community of interest grounds. At times a district needs to include two separate centres, as Horsham and Hamilton were included in the Lowan district in 2001. The EBC considered that Echuca and Swan Hill had enough in common to be included in the same district. The district would be based on the irrigation area along the Murray, and would have a strong internal transport route. At 11,922 square kilometres, the proposed district would be much more compact than the current district (28,093 square kilometres), taking the Act’s factor of area into account and making it easier for the State Member and constituents to contact each other. The proposed district’s enrolment was 7.69 per cent above the State average, and although it was projected to decline it would remain well within the 10 per cent margin.
- The EBC proposed to call the district Swan Hill. This was an invidious choice, as both Swan Hill and Rodney are historic names, and to choose one necessarily excludes the other. The EBC settled on Swan Hill as it is more geographically descriptive than Rodney, even though Rodney is one of Victoria’s original electoral districts, dating from 1856. The EBC welcomed feedback on the name of the proposed district. One possibility was Gunbower, named after the district that covered part of the area between 1904 and 1945 and after the Gunbower red gum forest. Another possibility was Murray Plains, which is descriptive of the nature of the district.
- Enrolment for the current Mildura district is 7.94 per cent below average. Amalgamation of Swan Hill and Rodney created room for Mildura to expand to the east, and the proposed district took in Buloke Shire as far south as Wycheproof, plus Boundary Bend and Manangatang. Buloke Shire has a strong link along the Calder Highway with Mildura, and Boundary Bend is a short distance along the Murray Valley Highway from Robinvale, an important centre in the current district. Enrolment for the proposed district was very close to the average, and it was projected to decline only slightly.
- Turning to the north-eastern corner of the State, Benambra district, based on Wodonga, is currently 8.32 per cent below the State average, and needed to gain voters. Most submissions, including those by the Liberals, Nationals and Greens, suggested including Rutherglen in Benambra. There was some local opposition17, but it improved community of interest to incorporate the whole of Indigo Shire in one district. By shedding a small part of Alpine Shire around Mudgegonga and Dederang, the proposed Benambra district became composed of the Wodonga, Indigo and Towong municipalities. Enrolment for the proposed district was 2.75 per cent below average, and was projected to trend towards the average by 2018.
- Adjoining Benambra is Murray Valley district. With the loss of Rutherglen, and with enrolment currently 5.73 per cent below average, the district needed to gain electors. There were two basic approaches: to expand to the west and take in the whole of Moira Shire (proposed by the Liberal Party, ALP, Mr Gordon, Dr Mulcair and Dr Richardson), or to lose some ground in the west and expand south-east up the Ovens Valley (proposed by the Nationals and Greens). The EBC considered that the second option was preferable on community of interest grounds. Wangaratta is the centre of the district. There are strong transport, service and community links between Wangaratta and the Ovens and King Valleys. The current district boundary cuts off Wangaratta from much of its hinterland, and the Ovens Valley is part of the Benalla district, though it is somewhat separated from the rest of that district. Inclusion of all of Alpine and Wangaratta municipalities in the proposed district united Wangaratta with its hinterland. The proposed district shed Numurkah and Strathmerton in the west to keep the district within the 10 per cent tolerance, while gaining the northern fringe of Benalla Rural City and the Dookie area of Shepparton to round out the district. The proposed district was currently 6 per cent above the average, but was projected to decline towards the average. In view of the changed nature of the district, the EBC proposed to rename it Ovens Valley district.
- Shepparton district is currently 6.4 per cent below the State average. To gain numbers, nearly all submissions proposed expanding the district to take up all of the Greater Shepparton local government area. Such a district would neatly fit community of interest, as well as comply with the numbers requirements both now and into the future. However, as a result of decisions made about other districts, the EBC could not support a Shepparton district with the same boundaries as the City. The boundary of the proposed Swan Hill district was the lower Goulburn River, and the western boundary of the proposed Ovens Valley district was shifted to the east. This created an area north of Shepparton (Numurkah, Nathalia and Strathmerton) that needed to be included in the Shepparton district. This area has strong links with Shepparton along the Goulburn Valley Highway and the Barmah-Shepparton Road. As the Nationals’ objection to the draft 2010 Federal boundaries stated:
“These towns are part of the regional community centred on Shepparton. They look to Shepparton for leadership, medical services, education, agricultural markets and supplies and sporting and social events.”
For numbers reasons, the EBC trimmed the eastern, southern and south-western edges of the current district, while keeping the urban area and its rural environs within the district. The boundaries of the proposed district were very similar to those of the Goulburn Valley district that existed from 1904 to 1945. The EBC suggested Goulburn Valley as a possible new name for the district. Enrolment for the proposed district was set at 8.44 per cent above the average, but was projected to decline slightly by 2018.
- The excision of the Ovens Valley raised the issue of how to treat Benalla district. The district is currently 10.39 per cent below average, and substantial changes were required. The solution of the Nationals and the Greens was to move the district to the south. The Nationals proposed that Benalla incorporate Seymour, Yea, Alexandra and Marysville, changing Seymour to a long, narrow Yarra Ranges district that stretched along the Great Divide and Upper Yarra Valley. The Greens’ solution was to push Benalla all the way to the Upper Yarra, getting rid of Seymour district entirely. The Nationals’ proposed Benalla included areas that were in Benalla from 1976 to 1992, and was more compact than the current district. However, the EBC’s decisions on Rodney and Shepparton mean that there were some 7,000 electors from the southern part of the current Rodney and 1,000 electors from Shepparton who needed to be allocated in a neighbouring district. The EBC’s proposal was to include these electors in a district that grouped both Benalla and Seymour. The spine of the proposed district was the Hume Freeway from Wandong to Benalla, with other important corridors along the Goulburn Valley and Northern Highways. The southern tip of the district around Wandong was peri-urban, but the great majority of the district could be regarded as regional. The district incorporated all or nearly all of the Mitchell, Strathbogie and Benalla municipalities, plus parts of other municipalities to the north-west. As Seymour was more central to the district than Benalla, the EBC proposed that the district be named Seymour. Enrolment was 4.87 per cent above average, and was unlikely to change over the forecast period.
- The EBC proposed to create a new Eildon district to the south-east of Seymour. The proposed district was similar to Dr Richardson’s Healesville district and Mr McSweeney’s Alexandra district. The district joined the Upper Yarra Valley and the hill country north-east of Melbourne with Murrindindi and Mansfield Shires. It might be contested that this district straddled the Great Dividing Range, but several major roads – the Maroondah Highway, the Melba Highway, the Whittlesea-Yea Road – linked the north and south of the district. The proposed district’s boundaries were strong, mainly consisting of local government boundaries and clear natural features such as the Yarra River. The district did not include any of the metropolitan growth areas, and as a result the district’s enrolment, starting at 2.94 per cent below the average, was projected to fall to 5.75 per cent below by 2018.
- Bendigo East and Bendigo West are both very close to the average in enrolment, and are projected to grow slightly faster than the State average. Therefore, consideration of possible changes was concerned mainly with community of interest and with the flow-on effects of decisions about neighbouring districts. In urban Bendigo the boundary between the two districts follows the railway that comes in from the south to the city centre and goes out to the west. The railway is a very clear boundary, and though it splits some suburbs it also separates quite different areas. Some submissions put forward changes in urban Bendigo; for example, the Greens suggested following the Calder Highway and locality boundaries, while Dr Mulcair and Dr Richardson proposed transferring Eaglehawk from Bendigo East to Bendigo West. The EBC was not convinced that such changes would improve community of interest. To the north-west of Bendigo, though, the EBC proposed switching the boundary from the railway to the Loddon Valley Highway, which ensured that Marong and other communities were no longer split.
- In Bendigo’s environs, the combination of Rodney and Swan Hill created a space that had to be filled. The EBC proposed that Bendigo East take in Elmore, which is part of the City of Greater Bendigo. To the north-west, Bendigo East took the nearer parts of Loddon Shire, including Serpentine and Dingee, from Swan Hill.
- In contrast, in the EBC’s proposals, Bendigo West shed territory to neighbouring districts, though remaining centred on the western part of Bendigo and Mount Alexander Shire. Bendigo West lost nearly all of its part of Loddon Shire, including Newbridge, Tarnagulla and Eddington, to Ripon district, and the eastern part of Mount Alexander Shire, including Elphinstone and Sutton Grange, to Macedon. These changes were designed to help all three districts comply with the numbers requirements, while fitting communities of interest as much as possible.
- Enrolments for both districts were very close to the average (+0.14 per cent for Bendigo East and -1.28 per cent for Bendigo West) and were not expected to change dramatically, though Bendigo East was projected to rise to +3.95 per cent.
- Macedon is the only district in the Northern Victoria region that approaches metropolitan Melbourne. It is growing rapidly, and its enrolment is 18.34 per cent above the State average. Submissions varied considerably in how they dealt with the challenge of Macedon’s growth. The Liberal Party and ALP reduced the district to Sunbury and Gisborne, giving the northern part of the district to Seymour. In the Nationals’ submission, Macedon lost Sunbury and moved to the north to include Kyneton, Kilmore, Broadford and Wallan (with the result that the district was projected to blow out to +17.2 per cent by 2018). The Greens abolished Macedon, replacing it with Sunbury and Gisborne districts. The private citizens’ submissions proposed to establish a Sunbury district (or equivalent) while expanding Macedon to the north.
- A submission by Mr Lawrence Seyers urged the creation of a new Sunbury district. Mr Seyers stressed the distinctive features of Sunbury: it is neither a country town nor an outer suburb of Melbourne, but a satellite city. Sunbury is permanently physically separated from the metropolitan area by the Melbourne Airport Environs Overlay and the Green Wedge. Although it is growing rapidly, it retains some of the atmosphere of a country town, and is demographically different from metropolitan Melbourne, with less ethnic diversity and more social homogeneity.
- The EBC considered the creation of a Sunbury district as both a recognition of the town’s community of interest and a way of dealing with Macedon’s growth. The numbers requirement of the Act means that the district had to include more than Sunbury and its immediate environs; the district extended to the south-east to include Melbourne Airport, Tullamarine, Gladstone Park, Gowanbrae and part of Westmeadows. Although these suburbs are part of metropolitan Melbourne, they mostly share a strong connection with Sunbury Road. The proposed new district’s enrolment was very close to the average at -1.42 per cent, and was set to decline very slightly to -2.95 per cent.
- The removal of Sunbury meant that Macedon had to grow to reach the right number of electors. The first step was to transfer Kyneton and Malmsbury from Ballarat East. These towns, on the Calder Highway, have much closer connections with Macedon than with Ballarat, and their inclusion in Macedon meant that the district incorporated the whole of Macedon Ranges Shire. The EBC also took in other areas to the west and north-west, while ensuring that the district retained its central highlands character. The proposed district included Daylesford and the eastern half of Hepburn Shire, the eastern end of Mount Alexander Shire, and the hilly northern fringes of Moorabool and Melton. Enrolment for the district was 5.25 per cent below average, but it is projected to grow towards the average.
Nationals first submission, p. 3.×
See Australian Electoral Commission: 2010 Redistribution of Victoria into Electoral Divisions, p. 12.×
Northern Grampians Shire website, accessed 23 May 2013.×
See Albury Border Mail, 15 March 2013.×