Blue Sky Democracy, Part 8: More Senators for territories
I’m under no misconceptions that these ideas would ever get implemented or even seriously considered by whoever’s in power.
That’s why I tried to think of more moderate, easier-to-stomach changes that achieve many of the same objectives as the five Big Ideas, but cheaper and with a lot less political pain.
And here’s the first of the five little ideas: rather than throwing a hundred more politicians in Parliament, we can just add five more Senators for the Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory and offshore territories — Norfolk Island, Christmas Island and Cocos Keeling Islands.
Obviously most people would baulk at the idea of a whole lot more politicians. But there’s a smaller tweak that would go some way to achieving the same aims for less pain: increasing the number of Senators each territory elects each election from 2 to 4 (plus an extra one for offshore territories).
The current system we use to elect Senators has two odd quirks.
First, territories, electing the same two Senators each election, consistently elects a 1:1 split between Labor and the Liberals, no matter how much the vote changes. Just two Senators means the quota to get elected in each territory is nearly three times what you need to get elected in a state.
Second, Queensland consistently elects a 4:2 split of Senators in favour of the conservative side of politics, a thorn in the side of any Labor Government that gets elected. This thorn can be especially hard to dislodge, as an incoming Labor Government in May 2022 will feel even if they win a landslide.
Both of these, the effective irrelevance of territory Senators to the calculus of Parliament and the slight conservative bias in Queensland, can be resolved by simply increasing the number of Senators territories are entitled to.
Territory Senators weren’t entitled to Senators under the Constitution (they were granted them in 1974) and their seats aren’t counted for the purpose of nexus calculations, so adding five Senators for territories wouldn’t necessarily mean adding ten more MPs elsewhere in Australia.
Residents of the ACT are already massively underrepresented, with a small Legislative Assembly, no local councils, and only three MPs and two Senators — ten times fewer elected representatives than Tasmania (with 5 MPs, 12 Senators, 35 state MPs, 15 MLCs and roughly 300 local councillors) despite representing nearly the same population.
Northern Territory — and to an even more extreme extent Australia’s offshore territories — have a number of First Nations peoples and marginalised communities that are consistently underrepresented even though they’re way more exposed to the political decisions of the Commonwealth in their day-to-day life.
The offshore territories are also effectively totally disenfranchised, with their five thousand residents largely forgotten by mainland politicians, their votes lumped in with mainland electorates, and their shire councils being tiny, part time and functionally ignored by the mainland.
Most relevant to a new Labor Government however, this would tip the scales in the Senate from conservative overrepresentation to a more balanced, even favourable make-up, as the current stable 2 Labor and 2 Liberal outcome becomes a likely 3 Labor, 2 Liberal, 1 Green and 3 wildcards (most of whom would be Labor-friendly).
In Part 9, our second little idea is about more equitably resourcing MPs by letting Remuneration Tribunals determine staff allocations.