Power Shift Warning: Bell

Wednesday May 13, 2020

Published by The Border Watch

By Raquel Mustillo

Mount Gambier MP seeks constitution change to safeguard rural representation

MEMBER for Mount Gambier Troy Bell has proposed changing the state’s Constitution to allow a greater allowance of people within electoral boundaries to avoid South Australia turning into a city-state.

The independent MP is expected to introduce a bill to hold a referendum to change constitutional mandated quota permissible tolerance from 10pc to 12pc to safeguard regional representation in parliament.

If the bill is passed by the Parliament, the proposal will be presented to South Australian voters in a referendum.

If the overwhelming majority of voters respond yes, the chance will be made to the Constitution.

Mr Bell warned without significant investment and population growth, future changes to the boundaries would result in larger geographic electorates and fewer regional MPs.

Uniquely, more than 75pc of the state’s population resides in the metropolitan area and has 72pc of seats - 34 of 47 - alongside a lack of comparatively-sized rural population centres.

“The most concerning thing about boundary redraws for country seats is that it is based on numbers and as we know, many regional areas are getting smaller,” he said.

“We are entering a phase in South Australia where we will become a one city-state at a time where we need more country representation in parliament, not less.

“As the regions lose its population base, regional MPs will have to take on a greater distance to be within the 10pc tolerance.

“Eventually, it will lead to more MPs in and on the outskirts of Adelaide.”

Before each election, the independent Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission is required to ensure the electorates contain similar numbers.

MacKillop, Port Lincoln-centred electorate Flinders and the sprawling seat of Stuart, which extends from north of the Barossa Valley to the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales borders are currently under the permissible quota of 25,917 electors by more than 10pc.

As a result, the three electorates require changes to boundaries ahead of the 2022 election to ensure each of the lower house divisions have relatively the same numbers of voters.

Mr Bell said a slight increase of permissible quota would acknowledge the disparity between the city and regions.

“Some of the Adelaide MPs walk five blocks and they have another electorate because the population is densely allocated in the city,” he said.

“If we allow the boundaries commission to go to 12pc, we can keep regional MPs in the regions.”

The Liberal Party’s submission on the electoral boundaries states its suggested changes would have a significant impact on at least four regional seats.

However, South Australian Labor says five regional districts in the north of the state suffer from a combination of extremely low and likely declining elector numbers and a limited capacity to expand.

Labor’s submission said the commissioner needed to consider consolidate Flinders, Giles, Stuart, Frome and Chaffey into four districts and create a new electorate to counter the “significantly above quota metropolitan electorates”.

Australian Labor Party SA branch state secretary Reggie Martin labelled Mr Bell’s motion as “undemocratic” and vehemently rejected the proposal.

“Labor fought for more than 30 years to have the current electoral system which is designed to give every voter an equal say on election day,” he said.

“This is the principle of one-vote, one-value and it requires the number of voters in each electorate to be roughly equal.

“For Mr Bell to be suggesting that South Australia should move further away from equality, rather than closer to equality, is undemocratic and Labor rejects the proposal.”