A federal redistribution in underway and heading towards completion in Victoria next month.
Much interest has been given to the naming of federal divisions this time around with a bunch of eminent Australians having their say and calling on the AEC to anoint certain names to current or new seats. Some debate has also ensued in recent years about the appropriateness of current names like Batman or McMillan be continued to be used due to the perceived improper actions of these historic figures to indigenous Australians.
The naming of federal divisions certainly isn’t a first order issue but there should be a sense of uniformity across all 151 divisions that will be contested at the next election.
Unlike most state divisions which overwhelmingly take the names of geographical places, federal divisions overwhelmingly have been named after people for many years; particularly since the expansion of the House of Representatives ahead of the 1984 election. They must be dead though.
However, many, some 25 per cent, retain an association to geography. How we name all sorts of things, particular public property does matter. We owe it to our parliament to get it right.
Names of the past seats that have since faded away due to previous redistribution have included the likes of Corinella, Conobolas and Laanecoorie, named for an area of the Loddon River in Victoria.
Most current federal divisions are not geographical places, like a city, town or region. They are therefore mere names of a political boundary. It is artificial, like a local council boundary such as mine in Monash. Before 1994, it didn’t exist. The boundary is made to assist the bureaucratic structure of democracy.
The Australian Electoral Commission has this shown a willingness to ignore certain aspects of the guidelines such as the perplexing decision to rename the Aboriginal-derived Corangamite, created at federation, to Cox. Why? Some accountability needs to be implemented into the future.
A new accountability process will have no impact on the consideration of the boundaries themselves. That should remain fully independent and arms-length from government or parliament.
Making the current guidelines mandatory may give more direction to the AEC here.
The practise of aiming to honour every departed prime minister will continue to bring a sense of bipartisan order to the floor of parliament. It should be retained. It seems to be a typical quirk though that most of these are safe Labor seats with Menzies being the exception.
However, like the proposal to rename Margaret Court Arena last year due to beliefs held by its namesake, the AEC needs to be careful not to input itself into controversial public arguments, lest it invite the move to disband with naming seats after people altogether.
History can’t be altered.
Either go ahead and name all seats after geographical places or features. That way no one is offended or has any view whatsoever on the merit or otherwise of a division’s name.
Or just number them numerically or alphabetically.
Come to think of it, to pay off the national debt we could just privatise the whole process. Naming rights for federal divisions i.e. The Member for Vodafone has the call. As parliamentary broadcaster, the ABC could use this advertising revenue it as instead of receiving millions in public funds. Just a thought…
Theo Zographos is a Monash Councillor and former Liberal Party candidate.
Illustration: Australian Electoral Commission.
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