The Electoral Atlas of New South Wales

The Electoral Atlas of New South Wales

The Atlas

Although NSW has been mapped since the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 there is no existing atlas that gives an opportunity to explore the development of responsible government since its inception in NSW in 1856. Therefore, the purpose of this Atlas is to enable citizens, students and scholars the opportunity to compare the development of political aspirations and discern social movements over the last 150 years with maps of each of the 21 redistributions and 53 elections held in that time.

There are many ways to tell the story of responsible government in New South Wales. The approach taken in this publication, the Electoral Atlas of New South Wales, is to tell the story through the history of the State's electoral boundaries, electoral systems and election results. The Atlas illuminates 150 years of Responsible Government by examining the historical and political geography of the State and illustrates our changing political State and demonstrates the linkages between traditional politics, social movements and historical events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. An easy to follow format, consistent map presentation and the use of simple colouring schemes will allow the casual reader to quickly understand the ebbs and flows of the State's politics since 1856.

Atlas Topics

This foundation Atlas covers such topics as:
* The multi-member electorates of 1889 votes for Free Trade, Protectionists and the recently formed Labor Party
* The rise of Federation in late 1890s
* The growth and eventual success of the Labor Party from 1904 to 1910
* The rise and fall of Lang in the 1930s
* The emergence of the Liberal Party in 1947

The Team

Editors: Eamonn Clifford, Antony Green & David Clune.
Cartographers: Warwick Smith, Roger Hine, Chris Orme & Celia Murphy.
Authors: David Clune, Antony Green & Michael Hogan
Graphic Designer: Damien Bennett
Published and distributed by the New South Wales Department of Lands.

Find the Atlas

Search for this book at your local library through [ Libraries Australia] or via these links: ISBN 0975235427 or ISBN 9780975235423

Atlas Introduction - Broadening the Franchise

The first two elections in 1856 and 1858 were contested under the franchise arrangements that had applied for the old Legislative Council. The right of electoral enrolment was granted to any person holding freehold property to the value of £100, leasehold property to the annual value of £10, possessing a pastoral licence, having a salary of £100 per year, paying board or lodgings to the value of £40 per year, or just lodging to £10 per year. Potential electors had to have met these requirements for six months prior to their name being placed on the electoral roll. Rolls were compiled once a year by an officer appointed by the local Magistrate’s Court. Special hearings were held after each compilation at which objections to a name appearing or being rejected from the roll could be lodged.

The 1856 Census allows analysis of the proportion of the population entitled to vote, and published roll data also specifies the qualification under which electors were granted their right to appear on the roll.

The 1858 Electoral Act made residency the sole qualifying criterion, the vote being extended to all males aged 21 and over who were resident natural-born or naturalised British subjects. However, the six months residency requirement remained, which disenfranchised may people in itinerant occupations. The property qualifications remained for non-resident voters, allowing plural voting for those who held property in several seats. The property vote probably explains the high rate of enrolment in Sydney districts at the table of 1856 data. As late as 1891, more than one in ten names on the roll in inner Sydney districts qualified on the basis of the property vote.

The 1858 Act also introduced two special categories of electorates. Three Gold Fields electorates were defined as covering declared gold fields within specified general electorates. Rolls were not kept for Gold Fields seats, voters being able to establish their right to vote by presenting either a mining licence or business licence in a proclaimed gold field that had been held for at least six months. Voters could also appear on the roll for general districts, but were prevented from voting in both their resident general district and the overlaying Gold Fields district.

The second special seat was the University of Sydney, which would become entitled to a seat once there were 100 graduates resident in the colony. The University Senate petitioned for the seat to be created in 1876. The first election was a by-election on 8 September 1876, William Charles Windeyer defeating the youthful Edmund Barton 49 votes to 43. Registrar Hugh Kennedy advised:

As it appears that there is no legal necessity for members of the University who take part in the Election of a Representative to appear in academic costume, they will not be required to do so; but they are requested, if they conveniently can, to comply with the customary practice on such occasions.

Oddly, the next day the notice had been amended to say academic costume was “required”.

The 1880 Electoral Act redrew the State’s electoral boundaries to account for the changing distribution of population. The enrolment provisions of the 1858 Act were retained, though the Gold Fields and University of Sydney districts were abolished..

The most significant change to enrolment procedures took place with the 1893 Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Act. For the first time residence was made the sole basis for establishing a right to vote. Plural voting was abolished by ending the property vote, electors being only entitled to enrol in the district in which they resided. The required period of residence was also reduced to three months. The existing rolls were abandoned under the new Act. Entirely new rolls were prepared for the 1894 election, which probably explains the significant spike in turnout to 80% at the 1894 election, the highest rate until the introduction of compulsory voting. The period of residence was further reduced to one month in 1896, voters also being allowed to vote in their old districts in the interim.

Certain classes of voters such as police and the military were denied the right to vote, though these restrictions were removed in the following decade. Following the lead of other states, women were granted the vote for the 1904 election, though women were not allowed to run for Parliament until 1920. Aborigines were not denied the right to vote, but always struggled to meet the residency requirements. The adoption of the joint roll arrangements with the Commonwealth in the 1920s effectively removed the right of Aborigines to vote until the 1960s.

The 1893 Act had adopted a Voter’s Right document that a voter presented to be checked off the roll before a ballot paper was issued. In 1900, the compilation of annual rolls was made a function of the local police and Elector’s Rights were abolished in 1906. Rolling rolls rather than annual reviews were adopted in 1920.

Compulsory enrolment was adopted in 1920 and compulsory voting for the 1930 election. The only significant change to enrolment laws since has been the extension of the vote to 18 year-olds in 1973. In both World Wars, special provisions were introduced to allow service personal to retain their electoral rights. The vote was also extended to service personal under the legal voting age.

Atlas Introduction - The Changing Electoral System

The first election was conducted under first past the post voting in districts returning between one and four Members. Voters had as many votes as there were vacancies to be filled. Like minded candidates in multi-Member districts would arrange a “bunch”, advocating a vote for a ticket of candidates. This voting method was retained for both the 1858 and 1880 Electoral Acts.

However, the 1880 Act included a provision to deal with future population growth by allowing districts to be allocated extra Members as population increased, up to a maximum of four Members. The size of the Parliament increased from 108 MLAs in 1880 to 141 in 1891, with an increase in multi-Member districts. The Act failed to provide for the loss of seats in districts with declining population. Along with other inadequacies in the electoral system, this led to the reforms of 1893.

The 1893 Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Act divided the state into 125 single Member electoral districts, with Members elected by simple majority or first past the post voting. Following Federation, the size of the Parliament was reduced to 90 seats in 1904. The form of the ballot paper was changed in 1906 and the confusing method of crossing out the names of candidates not supported was replaced by the Commonwealth procedure of marking the boxes for preferred candidates.

With three Parties in the field in the 1890s, informal electoral pacts were adopted to cope with first past the post voting. In the period where Labor supported Reid’s Free Trade Government, the two Parties avoided contesting seats held by the other. The demise of the Progressives after 1904 reduced politics to a two-party system, though many former Progressive MLAs remained in the Assembly as independent liberals. Other organisations such as the Temperance Alliance and the Farmers’ and Settlers’ Association chose to issue lists of preferred candidates in this period. The problem of competing conservative candidates dividing the non-Labor vote was dealt with by several experiments with the electoral system between 1910 and 1930.

The first was the introduction of second ballots at the 1910 election. If the first ballot failed to produce a candidate with more than 50% of the vote, a second ballot was conducted one to three weeks later between the two leading candidates. This overcame the problem of competing anti-Labor candidates, but in practice revealed other problems. There were 26 second ballots between 1910 and 1920, and in 20 cases, the turnout increased at the second ballot. At the 1913 election, the increased turnout at the second ballot appeared largely responsible for Labor winning seats where Labor’s vote had trailed the combined vote of non-Labor candidates on the first ballot.

In this period, there were several attempts to establish a new Progressive Party. The split in the Labor Party over conscription resulted in the Liberal Party, Progressive and pro-conscription Labor MLAs coalescing into a new Nationalist Party. In the post-war period, the pressure for a separate Progressive Party was revived. The new party was in favour of proportional representation, the system introduced and used at the three elections in 1920, 1922 and 1925. Ballots were now to be marked with numbered preferences rather than ticks and crosses, mimicking the new Federal preferential system. The counting method adopted was similar to the Tasmanian Hare-Clark system, or the modern Senate system. The main difference was that candidates were listed in alphabetic order, not grouped by party. At the first election in 1920, preferences were compulsory, producing an informal vote of 9.7%. It was as high as 16% in Botany where voters were required to indicate 19 preferences. Preferences were made voluntary beyond the number of Members to be elected ahead of the 1922 election, reducing the informal vote to 3.6% in 1922 and 3.3% in 1925.

Proportional representation proved unpopular with many Members. The parties were also unhappy with the finely divided Parliaments the system produced. Declining population in the west of the State required the boundaries to be re-drawn and the opportunity was taken to revert to single-Member districts for the 1927 election. By this stage the parties had stabilised into the system that remains today, a single Labor Party opposed by two Parties, one rural based and the second predominantly urban based.

The 1927 election was fought on single Member districts, but using optional preferential voting, a provision imposed on the Lang Government by the Legislative Council. The Bavin Coalition Government that followed introduced compulsory preferential voting for the 1930 election. This system remained in place until changes to the Constitution in 1980 re-introduced optional preferential voting. Both single-Member districts and optional preferential voting are now entrenched in the State’s Constitution and a referendum is required to change them.

Example Images from the Atlas

The 1851 Redistribution:

The 1910 Election Results:

The 1917 Election Results:


* NSW Department of Lands 2006, Electoral Mapping Unit.

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