To boundary or not: The structural bias of ‘fair representation’ in rural areas

Kirsten Martinus, Benjamin Reilly

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Fair representation of different communities of interest is a central tenet of democracy. In Australia, governments at all levels historically employed rural weightings to maintain the representation of sparsely-populated regions. However, these have fallen out of favor as demands for one-person, one-vote equality have become the norm. This nominal equality can create other forms of bias in areas of uneven population which have distinct communities of interest, as is the case in many rural local governments. This paper explores this bias by unpacking findings of a ward boundary review in the rural local government Shire of Dandaragan in Western Australia. Drawing on interviews with councilors and community stakeholders, it examines different proposals for fair representation via ward and non-ward based structures. It finds that fair representation of all communities is challenged by inherent biases in the criteria for drawing ward boundaries that are often not well understood by those involved. It shows how a ‘no ward’ system which allows smaller communities to coordinate behind a single reputable candidate can generate fairer representation than a system of wards whose boundaries may or may not align with communities of interest.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-144
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


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