Warringah would be amalgamated with North Sydney and dissolved as an independent electorate, if the NSW Liberal Party’s proposals for its elimination are accepted by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).
The AEC, an independent statutory body and agency of the Australian Government, is currently examining a realignment of Sydney’s electoral divisions.
To that end, the AEC is at present considering a “redistribution”, which will result in the “abolition” of a Sydney electorate. Launched on 9 August 2023, and based, primarily, on projections of population growth, this remedy will effectively subdivide communities and amalgamate suburbs with others in historically different electoral areas.
The AEC explained the reasoning: “New South Wales is undergoing a redistribution because the number of members of the House of Representatives it is entitled to has decreased from 47 to 46 as a result of a determination made by the Electoral Commissioner on Thursday 27 July 2023.”
Unsurprisingly, the main political parties and many serving and former MPs and Councillors have made over 50 submissions that they hope will influence the AEC’s final decision, which is scheduled to be announced in mid 2024.
Libs propose abolition
The NSW Liberals’ proposal would see residents in beachside suburbs such as Curl Curl and Manly politically merged with residents in harbourside suburbs Greenwich and Gladesville, as well as Lower North Shore suburbs Artarmon and Lane Cove.
A Liberal spokesperson directed Manly Observer to an on-the-record response from the NSW Liberal Party State Director, Chris Stone:
“The Liberal submission better reflects different patterns of population growth around the State. We suggested abolishing two seats in the low or no growth suburbs north and south of the harbour, with a new seat in the outer south-west where population is growing rapidly. We suggested minimal change to seats in regional NSW, where growth has been unusually strong because of the COVID pandemic.”
However, in their submission, the NSW Liberals incorrectly identify Warringah as a Liberal electorate.
Mr Stone continued, “Our suggestions are reasonable, with both Liberal and Labor parties having one of their traditional seats abolished (Warringah and Blaxland). A new seat is suggested in the outer southwest around the new airport precinct, which will be very marginal and hotly contested by both parties….”
Teal says no deal
The electoral division of Warringah is currently represented by ‘teal’ independent Zali Steggall, a former Olympic medal-winning alpine skier.
Previously a safe conservative seat, the Liberal Party of Australia held Warringah for 25 years under Tony Abbott, Prime Minister from 2013 to 2015, until Ms Steggall unseated him in the 18 May 2019 federal election, following an 18.3% swing away from the Liberals.
Consolidating her position in the 21 May 2022 federal election, Ms Steggall’s support increased after another swing of 6.6 per cent against the Liberals, and she retained the Warringah seat with a comfortable lead.
A spokesperson for Zali Steggall directed us to her submission to the AEC, as well as Ms Steggall’s consideration of the proposed electoral boundary changes, which she released in an official statement on her website on 30 October:
“I have made a submission regarding the AEC’s NSW electorate redistribution review which provides two options for growing the seat of Warringah. There has been a division named Warringah since 1922. Prior to 1949 it included areas now in the electorates of Mackellar and North Sydney.
“As the Warringah electorate is bound on its east by sea and south by the Harbour, in order to expand and increase numbers it is necessary to reclaim some of the areas in the adjoining electorates of Mackellar and North Sydney. The proposals I have put forward are focused on bringing like-minded communities together as well as bringing the boundaries more closely in line with the state electoral boundaries and/or using a significant landmark, such as the Warringah Freeway as a border.”
In her response to the NSW Liberals’ proposal to abolish Warringah, Ms Steggall declared, “I am aware that the Liberal Party has made a submission which suggests removing the electorate of Warringah. This is disappointing, but not surprising and shows how little regard the Liberal Party have for the people of Warringah, their interests and needs.”
Where is Warringah?
Warringah is a federal electorate covering 68sq km, which, according to the AEC, encompasses “an area from Neutral Bay, Mosman and Manly in the south to Curl Curl and Frenchs Forest (part) in the north. Bound by Middle Harbour, Military Road, Falcon Street, Bent Street, Forsyth Park, Montpelier Street, Eaton Street, Rawson Street, Kurraba Road, Anderson Park and Neutral Bay in the west.
“The main suburbs include Allambie Heights, Balgowlah, Brookvale, Cremorne Point, Curl Curl, Fairlight, Forestville (part), Frenchs Forest (part), Killarney Heights, Manly, Manly Vale, Mosman, Neutral Bay, Queenscliff and Seaforth.”
The first election in which Warringah participated was the 1922 federal election; the most recent was a century later, for the 2022 federal election.
Manly Observer asked the AEC: Considering that Warringah is one of six formerly ‘safe’ Liberal electorates that have swung to the ‘Teals’, is the AEC concerned that the NSW Libs’ proposal to amalgamate Warringah with North Sydney might be seen as gerrymandering, in order to enable a greater proportion of Liberal voters in the geographic area (ie, more likely to dislodge the independent Teals in future elections)?
A spokesperson replied, “The AEC is merely the secretariat for redistribution processes with an independent panel making the actual proposals and final determinations of boundaries and names. Australia’s electoral system is much admired for many things – chief among them is the independent and transparent nature of redistribution processes.”
The spokesperson continued, “The criteria that is considered when determining boundaries has nothing to do with current political representation but rather the number of voters per jurisdiction, the areas of common interest and other factors like major geographical features. These are legislated criteria.”
Mackellar under threat of amalgamation too.
Mackellar MP and fellow ‘teal’ Independent, Dr Sophie Scamps, made a submission to the AEC on 27 October concerning her own electorate, which is also under threat of amalgamation.
In it she stated, “I understand that Mackellar has been identified as an electoral division where the number of electors does not fall within the acceptable range of the projected enrolment quota to April 2028, and will have to slightly decrease.
“In my view the guiding principle for the review should be that any new boundary for Mackellar should enhance rather than diminish the existing identity and cohesion of the community.
“In the lead up to the 2022 Federal election, the Voices of Mackellar community group undertook hundreds of conversations to better understand the electorate. One of the questions asked was ‘What do you value most about living in Mackellar?’ There were two stand out responses: the strong sense of community spirit that connects us, and an appreciation of the unique and beautiful environment of the area…”
The 39 sq km North Sydney division that might expand to swallow up parts, or all, of Warringah and Mackellar is registered by the AEC as covering an area “from Sydney Harbour in the south to North Willoughby in the north and from Middle Harbour in the east to Parramatta River at Hunters Hill in the west.”
To submit a comment to the AEC regarding NSW electoral boundaries (deadline 6pm Friday 10 November 2023): https://formupload.aec.gov.au/Form?FormId=nswRedisUpload