Opinion Number. 1554


elections distribution of state into divisions: exercise of functions by distribution commissioners: criteria: procedure: whether bound to hear, or consider any suggestions made by, members of House of representatives

Key Legislation

Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 Part III, ss 16, 19, 20, 21


I have been asked by the Minister for the Interior to advise upon the questions raised by the following letter:

Questions have arisen with regard to the principles which should control the action of Distribution Commissioners in performing their functions under Part III of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. The points upon which I would be glad to receive your advice are—

  1. Are the Commissioners bound to afford members of the House of Representatives an opportunity of appearing before them and submitting suggestions as to the Redistribution while the Commissioners are preparing their First Report on the Distribution in the State?
  2. If the Commissioners are not bound in the manner suggested are they at liberty under the law to consider any suggestions made by members?

Section 16 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918–1929 provides for the appointment of Commissioners for the purpose of the distribution of a State into Divisions.

By section 19 it is provided that in making any proposed distribution of a State into Divisions, the Distribution Commissioners shall give due consideration to:

  1. Community or diversity of interest,
  2. Means of communication,
  3. Physical features,
  4. Existing boundaries of Divisions and Subdivisions,
  5. State Electoral boundaries.

Sections 20 and 21 of the Act are as follows:

20. Before reporting on the distribution of any State into Divisions the Distribution Commissioners shall cause a map with a description of the boundaries of each proposed Division to be exhibited at post-offices in the proposed Division, and shall invite public attention thereto by advertisement in the Gazette.

21. Objections or suggestions in writing may be lodged with the Distribution Commissioners not later than thirty days after the first advertisement in the Gazette of the proposed distribution, and the Distribution Commissioners shall consider all objections and suggestions so lodged before making their report.

These sections give any member of the public a right to make objections or suggestions in writing within thirty days after the first advertisement in the Gazette of the proposed distribution, and require the Distribution Commissioners to consider all such objections and suggestions.

The questions asked refer to the earlier stage during which the Commissioners are engaged in the preparation of maps.

It is the duty of the Commissioners, in discharging their function of preparing maps to inform their minds in such manner as they think proper. They may consider reports by officers or statements by other persons. They may inspect the districts concerned. They may obtain information from any source as to the matters (a), (b), (c), (d) and (e) mentioned in section 19. It is for the Commissioners themselves to determine what weight they will attach to any of the information obtained by these or other means.

They are not bound to obtain information from any particular person or persons, but they are at liberty to do so, and they have the responsibility of fully informing their minds before they prepare the maps.

They are not bound to give any person, whether a member of the House of Representatives or not, an opportunity of appearing before them. But they are at liberty to receive and consider suggestions from any source. They have no authority to exclude from their consideration suggestions simply because they come from some particular source.

My answers to the two questions asked by the Minister are:

(1) No.

(2) Yes.

[Vol. 27, p. 82]