Electing the Parliament

Who can vote in New South Wales?
Voting is secret and compulsory in Australia and all eligible persons are required to enrol once they have lived at their present address for at least one month. It is compulsory to vote at Federal, State and local elections. “Eligible persons” means all Australian citizens aged 18 years or more. In addition, British subjects who were on an Australian electoral roll on 25 January, 1984 are also entitled to vote.

Enrolment is done by filling in an Electoral Enrolment form which must be sent to or lodged at a Divisional Office of the Australian Electoral Commission. Forms are available from Post Offices or Divisional Offices of the Australian Electoral Commission, the locations of which are listed in telephone books.

For more information, try the Australian Electoral Commission website. Enrolment forms can be downloaded from that site.

For a comparison of the New South Wales voting system with other voting systems in Australia, try the Electoral Council of Australia site.

Electoral districts in New South Wales
Elections for both Houses of the Parliament of New South Wales are held every fourth year on the last Saturday in March. New South Wales is unusual in Australia in having such a fixed electoral term. Voters vote for each of the two houses of Parliament and each has a different electoral arrangement and method of election.

Legislative Assembly - The State of New South Wales is divided into 93 Legislative Assembly electoral districts. Each State electoral district is represented in Parliament by a Member of the Legislative Assembly.

State electoral district boundaries are determined by a distribution process which provides for an equal number of electors in each electoral district. A margin of allowance of plus or minus 3% of the average enrolment is permitted. A redistribution is carried out when the number of Members of the Legislative Assembly changes (after a change in the law); or after every second New South Wales General Election; or when more than a quarter of the electoral districts do not have an equal number of voters (within a margin of 5% more or less); or at other times as provided by law.

Distributions are conducted by three Electoral Districts Commissioners appointed by the Governor of New South Wales. The Commissioners endeavour to ensure equal numbers of electors in each electoral district but with due consideration to other issues within the district such as ‘ community of interests’, including economic, social and regional interests; the means of communication and travel within the district; the physical features, area and natural boundaries of each district; and the boundaries of the other existing electoral districts. The process allows for public comment and objections before finalisation.

For more information on State Electoral Districts go to the New South Wales Electoral Commission website.

Legislative Council - The Legislative Council (Upper House) does not have separate electoral boundaries, Members being elected on a proportional basis across the whole state, as though the state were a single electoral district.

Federal electorates - New South Wales also elects 50 Members to the Federal House of Representatives (as well as 12 Senators). Federal elections take place every three years or less. They can occur at any part of the year but would not be conducted at the same time as State elections. The boundaries of the 50 Federal electorates are, naturally, larger than and different to the 93 State Electorates. For more information on Federal Electorates, access the Australian Electoral Commission website.

Local government - New South Wales has 177 local government areas, the size and nature of which vary from heavily populated compact city or suburban municipalities of quite small areas, to thinly populated country shires covering very large areas of the state. Local Government areas are normally divided into several wards, each of which returns several members to council following an election. Municipal boundaries are changed from time to time and are determined through legislation and processes managed by the Department of Local Government. Most State or Federal electorates would encompass all or parts of a number of municipalities.

For more on local government in New South Wales visit the Local Government and Shires Association of New South Wales website or the Department of Local Government website.

The voting system in New South Wales State elections

Voting for the Legislative Council - The New South Wales Legislative Council (the Upper House) consists of 42 Members who represent the whole state in Parliament. At each General Election, 21 members are elected to serve two terms of Parliament, that is, a maximum period of 8 years. The candidates for a Legislative Council election are presented in a state-wide ballot.

The method of voting for the Legislative Council is known as optional preferential proportional representation. The name of each candidate and their political party affiliation is shown on the ballot paper and the voter has the choice of group voting (i.e. usually for a particular party) or individual voting (for individual candidates). In a group vote, only one group need be selected. In individual voting, at least 15 candidates must be voted for in the order of preference of each voter.

Some changes to aspects of this part of the Legislative Council electoral system are expected to be in force by the next elections.

In order to be elected, candidates generally need to obtain a quota (4.22%) of the total formal votes cast in an election. Achieving a final result is complex as surplus votes (i.e. those a candidate receives above the quota of 4.22%) are redistributed to other candidates using a formula and process which continues until all 21 Members of the Legislative Council have been elected.

There are no by-elections for the Legislative Council. Casual vacancies (where a Member resigns or dies mid-term) are elected by a joint meeting of both Houses of Parliament.

Voting for the Legislative Assembly - The Legislative Assembly (the Lower House) has 93 Members. Members of the Legislative Assembly are elected for a maximum term of 4 years. Each Member of the Legislative Assembly is elected to represent an electoral district of New South Wales. In an election for the Legislative Assembly electors can only vote for the candidates seeking election for the electoral district in which they are enrolled.

The method of voting for the Legislative Assembly is known as optional preferential.

The name of each candidate and their political party affiliation is shown on the ballot paper. The voter places the number "1" in the square next to the name of the candidate who is the voter’s first choice. No other vote need be made but the ‘optional preferential’ part gives the voter the option of allocating further preferences by placing consecutive numbers, beginning with the number "2", in the squares next to the names of additional candidates.

To be elected, a candidate must receive more than half the number of the first preference votes taken in the electoral district. If no candidate receives more than half of the first preference votes, a distribution of preferences takes place. In this process, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their ballot papers are distributed to the remaining candidates according to the next available preference shown on them. Those ballot papers on which only a first preference is shown cannot be distributed and are set aside as exhausted. This process is repeated with one candidate being eliminated each time, until a candidate has more than half the number of the votes remaining in the count.

Should a Member resign or die mid-term (between General Elections), a by-election is held in that particular electorate only to elect a new Member.

For more information on State Elections go to the New South Wales Electoral Commission (NSWEC) website.

Other voting systems

Federal elections - The voting system used for the House of Representatives (Federal Lower House) is a full preferential system, not an optional preferential system as applies for the State Lower House. In this system the voter is required to place a number in the square against the names of every candidate, indicating their order of preference from “1” (first choice) downwards.

Voting for the Senate (Federal Upper House) is more like the State Upper House system with the option of voting for group or individual candidates. However, there are some differences in the rules and methods of counting.

For more information on Federal Elections go to the Australian Electoral Commission website.

Local government elections - All local government elections are held throughout New South Wales on the same day (usually in September) every four years. Some variety exists in local government, in some cases separate Mayoral ballots are held at the same time as those for the rest of the Councillors. In other municipalities and shires, the Mayor (or Shire President) is elected by the new Councillors. Local government areas are normally divided into three to five wards, each returning at least three Councillors. A preferential voting system is used.

For more information on Local Elections go to the New South Wales Electoral Commission (NSWEC) website.

Referendums - A referendum is the submission of a proposed law (a Bill) or some other form of proposal to the electors for their approval. Referendums are conducted by the Federal Government (usually for proposed changes to the Australian Constitution); by the State Government; and by some local governments (sometimes on a large number of local issues of all kinds).

State Referendums are held to gauge voter opinion on certain issues; to change certain parts of the New South Wales Constitution Act (especially concerning the Legislative Council); or because a Bill has reached a state of deadlock between the two Houses of Parliament. In the latter instance, the Legislative Assembly may direct that the Bill be submitted by way of referendum to the electors for approval. This is the rarest form of referendum in NSW.

In a state referendum, electors are usually required to tick on the ballot paper their answer to the referendum question, either "YES" or "NO". If a majority of the electors voting approve the Bill, it is presented to the Governor for the Royal Assent and the law is amended accordingly.

Results of referendums in New South Wales
Following are the 16 questions put to the voters of New South Wales in referendums since 1900, together with the results.

1903: As to what shall be the number of Members in the Legislative Assembly: 125 or 100 or 90?
RESULT: 90 Member Legislative Assembly

1916: The question is the hour at which licensed premises should close: 6pm or 7pm or 8pm or 9pm or 10pm or 11pm?
RESULT: 6pm closing time

1928: Are you in favour of Prohibition with Compensation?
RESULT: Not Approved

1933: Do you approve of the Bill entitled "A Bill to reform the constitution and alter the Powers of the Legislative Council; to reduce and limit the number of Members of the Legislative Council; to reconstitute the Legislative Council in accordance with the reformed constitution; to amend the Constitution Act, 1902, and certain other Acts; and for purposes connected therewith."
RESULT: Approved

1947: The question is the closing hour for premises and clubs licensed under the Liquor Act, 1912: 6 pm or 9 pm or 11 pm?
RESULT: 6 pm closing time

1954: The question is the closing hour for premises and clubs licensed under the Liquor Act, 1912: 6 pm or 10 pm?
RESULT: 10 pm closing time

1961: Do you approve of the Bill entitled "A Bill for an Act to Abolish the Legislative Council to provide that another Legislative Council shall not be created, constituted or established nor shall any Chamber, Assembly or House, other than the Legislative Assembly, designed to form part of the Legislative Parliament of New South Wales, be created, constituted or established until a bill for the purpose has been approved by the electors in a referendum to amend the Constitution Act, 1902 and certain other Acts; and for purposes connected therewith."
RESULT: Not Approved

1967: Are you in favour of the establishment of a new state in north-east New South Wales as described in Schedule 1 to the New State Referendum Act 1966? (The referendum was restricted to the electoral districts in question.)
RESULT: Not Approved

1969: Do you favour the law being amended to permit hotels to trade generally on Sundays between the hours of 12 noon and 6.30 pm?
RESULT: Not Approved

1976: Are you in favour of daylight saving?
RESULT: Approved

1978: Do you approve of the Bill entitled "A Bill for an Act to provide for the election of members of the Legislative Council directly by the people"?
RESULT: Approved

1981: Do you approve a Bill for an Act to extend the maximum period between general elections for the Legislative Assembly from 3 years to 4 years
RESULT: Approved

1981: Do you approve a Bill for an Act to require Members of Parliament to disclose certain pecuniary interests and other matters.
RESULT: Approved

1991: Do you approve of the Bill entitled "A Bill for an Act (a) to reduce the number of politicians in the Legislative Council and to reduce their maximum term of office; and (b) to apply to the Legislative Council the same method of filling casual vacancies as applies to the Senate?"
RESULT: Approved

1995: Do you approve of a Bill entitled: "A Bill to require the Parliament of New South Wales to serve full four year terms and to prevent politicians call early general elections or changing these new constitutional rules without a further referendum?"
RESULT: Approved

1995: Do you approve of the Bill entitled "A Bill for an Act to Prevent Parliament from changing laws about the independence of judges and magistrates without referendum?"
RESULT: Approved

Electoral Funding
The Election Funding Act 1981 provides for the public funding of part of the cost of NSW state election campaigns. Parties and candidates who intend to seek reimbursement from public funds for expenditure incurred in an election campaign are required to apply to the Election Funding Authority of NSW and register. These registers are kept by the Authority and are made available for public inspection.

The legislation also provides for the public disclosure of the sources of funds used and the expenditure incurred in an election campaign. Declarations lodged by the parties and candidates are retained by the Authority and made available for public inspection.

For further information: