Changes for Queensland voters: New seats, compulsory preferential voting, and fixed terms

Queensland Parliament passed an extraordinary bill last week which increased the number of electoral districts from 89 to 93 and brought back compulsory preferential voting.

So what happens next?

More seats by next election

A redistribution was already due to be carried out this year by a three-person Redistribution Commission, made up of:

  • the electoral commissioner;
  • a judge or former judge (chairperson); and
  • a chief executive of a department (or the equivalent)

The appointment of the Redistribution Commission had been held up because the LNP Opposition originally proposed a revamp.

That is no longer the case, so Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath has formally notified the other parties of the two people the Government intends to appoint.

Ms D'Ath wants work on the new boundaries to begin as soon as possible and to be finished within a year.

According to the Electoral Commission Queensland, outcomes of a state redistribution include:

  • adjustment of voters within electoral districts;
  • extension or reduction of boundary areas to alter the balance of electors;
  • amalgamation of smaller electoral districts into one larger area; and
  • creation of entirely new districts

Now that the task involves setting boundaries for 93 seats instead of 89, the redistribution could mean that the current 89 seats are retained (although with new boundaries) and four new seats added.

Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath said this was the third time the issue had gone to a vote in recent years. Yvette D'Ath wants a Redistribution Commission to report back within a year.

Or some current seats could be abolished, requiring the creation of more than four new seats.

ABC's election analyst Antony Green said increasing the size of Parliament to 93 would give remote electorates a better chance of surviving the shift of population to the south-east.

That would benefit the LNP, he said, because it "would protect conservative seats in the north of the state from abolition, while new seats are likely to be created on the conservative voting Gold and Sunshine coasts".

Shadow attorney-general Ian Walker, who introduced the bill, said in a sense the boundary changes would be a brand new distribution, not just a redistribution of the existing electorates.

The Redistribution Commission would divide the total number of Queensland voters by 93 to get the average number required for each seat, taking into account a 2 per cent weighting for sparsely populated districts.

But it was difficult to predict how either side would be affected politically until the new electoral map was drawn, Mr Walker said.

Compulsory preferential voting

Compulsory preferential voting will be in force in time for the Toowoomba South by-election, which will be held in the next few months on a date to be set after LNP member John McVeigh formally resigns on Friday.

It will be the first time since the early 1990s that voters in a Queensland election will be required to fill in every box on the ballot paper.

It may not be enough to help Labor take Toowoomba South from the LNP, but could have a big impact at the next general election.

Mr Green calculated that the Palaszczuk Government could be enjoying a majority in Parliament now if full preferential voting had been required in last year's election.

Labor could have gained eight seats on preference flows: Albert, Burdekin, Gaven, Glasshouse, Mansfield, Mount Ommaney, Redlands and Whitsunday, he wrote.

Fixed four-year parliamentary terms

The other major electoral reform - already brought in this year - is fixed four-year terms.

That does not apply until after the current term, which means the Premier is not obliged to wait until 2018 to call the next election.

However, QUT academic and former Labor speaker John Mickel said the outcome of last week's extraordinary vote meant Annastacia Palaszczuk was no longer likely to consider going back to the polls much earlier than that.

Mr Mickel said the next election would therefore be contested on the new boundaries.

"No matter how untidy from a policy sense the end of last week was, it was settled in a political sense in that the Government by the end of the week was able to demonstrate that it had won control of the agenda," Mr Mickel said.

"Having asserted herself, the Premier can now feel confident that she can bring down a budget and continue to govern.

"At the same time the impartial redistribution of electoral boundaries - with more seats - will proceed."

With the Katter party now holding what seems to be a balance of power and with both major partys neck and neck in seats held one has to speculate on the thought processes of the Premier.

Both sides of politics will want to take advantage of all of this new political territory and  at this early stage of proceedings is the possibility of an early election with all the changes and to gain those 4 extra seats that are now up for grabs, the signs are certainly there for just that to happen.

Source: ABC News

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