NT seat changes need broader rethink

A inquiry into the redistribution of federal seats has been urged to consider wider reform.
A inquiry into the redistribution of federal seats has been urged to consider wider reform.

The Northern Territory should be guaranteed two seats in the House of Representatives by jacking up the number of MPs by 50 per cent and increasing the number of senators, an inquiry has been told.

There is bipartisan support for the NT to be guaranteed two seats, as it appears set to lose one of its two in a federal boundary change.

Victoria is set to gain another electorate at the next federal election, rising to 39, while Western Australia will lose one of its 16 seats - taking the lower house numbers back to 150.

The redistributions for these states will take place through much of next year, with the new seat boundaries and names likely to be decided by September 2021, about a year ahead of the federal poll.

Labor has cross-party support for a simple piece of legislation to ensure the NT retains two seats.

But the Australia Institute says reform should go much further.

"We recommend an increase of about 50 per cent - to around 223 members of the House of Representatives - and a commensurate increase in senators to 18 per state," the think-tank told the parliament's electoral matters committee in a submission.

The increase would guarantee the NT two seats and a possible third and the ACT would have four seats, up from three.

And for the first time since federation every state would have the number of MPs its population entitles it to.

Territory senators would be allocated in proportion to Tasmania's population and senators, which could deliver 10 senators to the ACT and six to the NT (if senators per state remain at 12).

Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT told the inquiry at least two seats were needed, given the unique nature of the Top End.

The NT has 12 times the national rate of homelessness and only 14.2 per cent of Aboriginal Territorians had completed year 12, with the Indigenous unemployment rate sitting at 25 per cent, the peak body said.

"The Australian Electoral Commission's determination to decrease the NT's seat to one would not ensure sufficient and equitable representation to Territorians, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people."

As well, the organisation said as many as one-in-three eligible voters in the NT may not be on the electoral roll.

Labor argues the NT would become the most under-represented place in Australia, with just one MP representing 250,000 people and covering 1.4 million square kilometres including the remote Indian Ocean Territories of Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands.

A public hearing into the proposed law change will be held in Canberra next week.

Australian Associated Press