Following the 2019 election, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) recommended the Northern Territory’s (NT) representation be reduced from two seats in the House of Representatives to one due to population decline. Seeking to protect the NT’s lower house representation, Labor NT senator Malarndirri McCarthy introduced a private senator’s bill to amend the Electoral Act to guarantee the NT a minimum of two House of Representatives seats. Her bill, called the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Ensuring Fair Representation of the Northern Territory) Bill 2020, was introduced and sent to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) for scrutiny.
The JSCEM took submissions from the public and electoral experts, including Antony Green. Antony Green is Australia’s most well-known psephologist (election expert) because of his role as the ABC’s election analyst. He recommended a change to the way the AEC calculates the representation entitlement of smaller jurisdictions such as the NT and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). His reform proposal was to use the so-called Dean method to calculate a state or territory’s entitlement to seats.
The Dean method uses a “harmonic mean” to determine the number of seats to which the NT and ACT would be entitled. The system currently used by the AEC tends to round down, whereas the harmonic mean method would tend to round up the number of seats to which a jurisdiction is entitled. It would not guarantee the NT two seats – like Senator McCarthy’s proposal – but it would make it more likely. For a full explanation of Anthony Green’s proposal and the Dean method, see his blog post here. If you prefer a quick summary, scroll to the conclusion of the post.
The JSCEM recommended the Dean method’s harmonic mean be adopted rather than the McCarthy Bill’s two-seat minimum. The Government accepted the recommendation. Government senator, Sam McMahon introduced the Electoral Amendment (Territory Representation) Bill 2020, incorporating Antony Green’s proposal. The government bill passed the parliament on Wednesday 9 December.
Senator Macarthy’s (Labor, NT) private senator’s bill will not proceed; however, it did provide the stimulus for the government and the parliament to adopt Antony Green’s recommendation. Thus, the Labor Party has also influenced lawmaking in parliament.