Canberra: large, wealthy and loyally Labor

May 20, 2016 Alex Henderson
Photo from Creative Commons/Cfitzart.
Sitting Member:
Brodtmann, G (ALP)
Size of electorate:
1967 sq. Km

Redistribution details:

The most recent distribution expanded the electorate to cover parts of the inner city that were originally part of Fraser (now Fenner).

Key Comments

Canberra is the largest electorate in the ACT. There are 275,603 people enrolled to vote in it, including residents of Norfolk Island. It has the sixth-highest proportion of high-income families in Australia. It is a safe seat for the Labor Party.

Electorate Profile


Large, wealthy and loyally Labor. That probably sums up the safe seat of Canberra, the larger of the two Federal electorates in the ACT.

Canberra covers an area of 1,967 square kilometres, from the northern shore of Lake Burley Griffin, southwards to the state border.

This is almost four times the size of Fenner, which covers 459 square kilometres.

Canberra includes the upmarket suburbs of Deakin, Forrest, Parkes, Red Hill and Yarralumla, down to Tuggeranong, Weston Creek and Woden Valley, including the outlying rural areas of Tharwa and Tidbinbilla.

Some 227,603 people are enrolled to vote in Canberra, including all residents of faraway Norfolk Island who are entitled to enrol in the ACT.

The seat has been held by the  Labor Party’s  Gai Brodtmann, since 2010, and she will contest it again this election. As a town populated largely by public servants, university staff and to a lesser extent defence personnel, it is not suprising that the seat leans toward Labor.

Canberrans with long memories bitterly recall the hefty cuts to the public service by John Howard's Coaltion government and more recently they chafe about former Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott's sniping description of public servants as "shiny-bum bureaucrats".  

Science, the environment and education funding head the list of issues concerning most Canberrans. In particular, they are concerned about cuts to the CSIRO's budget, the inattention to action on climate change, broken promises about funding cuts to the ABC, changes to the GST, the slow rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) and paid parental leave.

Labor has held the seat of Canberra since 1996 and although the boundary of the electorate changed in a redistribution passed in May 2015 this is unlikely to change voting results. 

The electorate, which already covered the Inner South, Woden, Weston Creek and Tuggeranong, expanded across Lake Burley Griffin to cover the parts of the inner city lost by Fenner. 10,000 Canberrans in Acton, Campbell, Reid and Canberra City were affected by the re-distribution.

The Canberra electorate was created in 1974 following a redistribution. Formerly, it had been the Division of the Australian Capital Territory, which was created in 1949 in response to the growing population of the city and surrounding area. Before this election, Canberra had no representation of its own in the Australian Parliament, despite being the nation's capital.

A push for political representation led to the creation of The Federal Capital Territory Advisory Council in 1930. They lobbied the Parliament on the ground that Canberra residents should not be taxed without having proper representation in the nation's politics.

The matter arose again in 1944, when another group, the Canberra Citizens' Rights League, met Prime Minister John Curtin in person and argued the case of political representation for ACT residents. The issue was passed on to Cabinet, which once again did not act.

In 1948, representation of a similar nature to the Northern Territory was granted to Canberra residents—that is, they could have a Member of Parliament to speak for them, and debate any issue that arose. The only condition of this was that a Member of Parliament could only vote on matters directly relating to the Territory. The Division of the Australian Capital Territory’s first Member of Parliament, Lewis Nott, an Independent candidate, was elected at the Federal Election of 1949 and held the seat until 1951. In 1951 Nott lost the seat to Labour MP James Fraser, after whom the suburb of Fraser is named. Since then the seat has been predominantly held by Labor.

The ACT Representation Act that had granted and restricted the Canberra MP’s voting rights was later repealed in response to the electorate’s predicted population growth. In 1966, after some three decades of lobbying and with a population that made it one of the largest electorates in the country, Canberra and its Member of Parliament were granted the same voting rights and power as representatives from every other state.

 In 1974, also in response to population growth, the Division of the Australian Capital Territory was redistributed into two electorates, Canberra and Fraser (now Fenner).

Demographic information is important for understanding cultural values and the influence they may have on election outcomes. In the Canberra electorate, the five most common ancestries are Australian, English, Irish, Scottish and German. Canberra is classed as an inner metropolitan area, meaning it is situated in a capital city and consists of well-established, built-up suburbs. Most of the area within the Canberra electorate is residential with some light industry in Fyshwick and Hume, and areas of tourism and retail.

At 52.8 per cent, the electorate of Canberra has the nation's sixth highest proportion of high income families. Reflecting the nature of the ACT's employment base, Canberra has the nation's fewest number of residents employed in mining, and at 2.4 per cent has the lowest proportion of the workforce employed in manufacturing.

The name ‘Canberra’ is derived from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘meeting place’, which is fitting as Canberra is the home of the federal parliament. The Parliamentary triangle, including Old and New Parliament House, as well as the Lodge (the prime minister's home) and Government House (the governor-general's home) are all located in Canberra. Citizens in Canberra are, therefore, much more likely to be involved in politics, either through involvement or due to proximity.    

2013 Election Results

Candidate Party Votes % Swing(%)
SEFTON, Tom Liberal 43919 37.87 +0.66
MELROSE, Julie Australian Greens 14691 12.67 -5.89
HANLEY, Tony Palmer United Party 3725 3.21 +3.21
MAHER, Damien Bullet Train For Australia 4756 4.1 +4.10
BRODTMANN, GaiElected Australian Labor Party 47613 41.06 -3.17
BURT, Nicolle Secular Party of Australia 1264 1.09 +1.09


Alex Henderson


Lucy Harrington, Sarah Lee

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