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Thursday, 24 February 1977

Mr MacKENZIE (Calare) - I rise to speak on some aspects of the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 1977. There are 2 major amendments on which I wish to speak. The first is the provision in the Bill for a distinction between large non-metropolitan electoral divisions of above 5000 square kilometres and metropolitan divisions under 5000 square kilometres. The provision is that no large division shall have an enrolment at the time of redistribution greater than the enrolment in smaller divisions, those under 5000 square kilometres. It thus ensures adequate representation for people of geographically large divisions. The second provision is the requirement that a redistribution shall be held, firstly, when 25 per cent of divisions have an enrolment exceeding the quota tolerance, of plus or minus 10 per cent, secondly, when the Governor-General sees fit to call a redistribution or, thirdly, if these two do not apply, at intervals of not less than 7 years.

First of all I would like to discuss the area distinction with which the Opposition is so concerned and which it sees as a devious ploy, a gerrymander, in favour of the rural bias. The honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) used the expression 'an iniquitous blot'. 1 think he might have meant 'plot'. He talked about the percentage of the vote obtained by the 3 major parties and the percentage of seats held in the House as a result of that vote. Time and time again, like so many of his colleagues, he ignores the fact that not all parties contest all seats. If he were to recognise that fact, he could not make the claim he did. This is part of the folklore rhetoric that so often surrounds this argument on the Commonwealth Electoral Act and redistributions.

The Opposition has claimed that in the past the 20 per cent tolerance has given a heavy bias towards rural areas. I admit that there is a grave discrepancy between country and city seats at the moment, but this is not the fault of the tolerance. This is brought about largely because of population changes between the States and infrequency of redistributions that have occurred over recent years. For example, the last was some 9 years ago. Let us look at this claim. In the 4 redistributions in 1955, 1962, 1968 and the last one in 1974-75 in 6 States, therefore giving 24 opportunities for redistribution- there were in fact only 3 occasions when the 10 per cent tolerance was exceeded. The metropolitan divisions in Tasmania in 1955 were plus 12 per cent, and in 1962 plus 10.2 per cent. In Western Australia the non-metropolitan divisions were minus 11.1 per cent in 1 968. 1 would point out that the mean variance in New South Wales over those 4 distributions spanning some 20 years for metropolitan divisions was plus 2.44 per cent and for nonmetropolitan divisions minus 3.48 per cent, giving a total variance of under 6 per cent between country and city electorates. How does that line up with the wild claims of a 40 per cent variation between country and city electorates? Over 4 distributions over 20 years the total variation in New South Wales, the State with which I am familiar, was less than 6 per cent.

If we take individual seats, of course we find extremes. Even so, in New South Wales on only one occasion since 1948 has any division got anywhere near 20 per cent, and that was the division of Darling. In 1968 the variation in that case was minus 18.6 per cent.

Mr McVeigh - That is a Labor seat.

Mr MacKENZIE - Of course Labor holds that seat. The other seat I would like to discuss, one which in my opinion should be well and truly over the tolerance, is the seat of Kalgoorlie. It has consistently had a variation of over 15 per cent. Why not have up to a 20 per cent variance for geographically large electorates, particularly a very large one like Kalgoorlie. which has an area of over 2 million square kilometres. The honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Cotter) pointed out clearly the extreme difficulties of servicing that electorate. In his maiden speech early last year he said:

The electorate I represent is the biggest electorate in the world. It covers approximately 880 000 square miles or ninetenths of Western Australia or one-third of the Australian continent. Its shores are washed by three of the world's oceans and its eastern boundary is the entire eastern border of Western Australia. Some other honourable members have spoken of the vast size of their electorates and the large number of people they represent. In this geographically largest electorate there live approximately 180 000 or 190 000 people of whom only about 57 000 are on the electoral roll. I think that this is the highest ratio of people to electors in any electorate in Australia. Whilst not all of them are on the electoral roll they represent 1 80 000 problems.

City members complain about people not on the roll or ineligible to vote whom they have to serve. The honourable member for Kalgoorlie pointed out the nigh impossibility of adequately representing large areas. I quote the honourable member as reported in the West Australian on 2 June 1976 under the heading 'Kalgoorlie Electorate Too Big says MHR'. It states:

The size of the Kalgoorlie electorate may warrant dissection, the sitting member Mr M. Cotter said. He said that the Kalgoorlie electorate was such a huge size that no member of Parliament could do it justice. It was physically impossible to give the people the same quality of representation as people in city electorates experienced. Mr Cotter said people e metropolitan and smaller country seats had a far greater opportunity to see and speak to their Federal people than the people in the Kalgoorlie electorate. The electors had to rely on infrequent visits from their representative.

I could not imagine why members representing large city electorates would wish any further area or enrolment imposed upon them. My colleagues the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder), Kennedy (Mr Katter), Maranoa (Corbett) and Leichhardt (Mr Thomson) would, I am sure, agree with those sentiments, and to a lesser extent I would agree with them about my own electorate of Calare, which is not a large electorate compared with theirs. In these areas one cannot afford the luxury of living outside the electorate. One has to move house to contest an election or even to seek preselection. One has to move again with redistribution. One has to maintain an office in the electoratenot in a nice air-conditioned building in a

Commonwealth office block in a capital city where the constituents have to go to the member and the member does not go to the constituents.

I would like to correct the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) and Senator McLaren. They have said that of the 4 large electorates in South Australia only one member resides in his electorate and that is the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis). But they have failed to point out that Grey is one of only two out of a total of 47 large electorates which is represented by the Australian Labor Party.

Mr McVeigh -That is two too many.

Mr MacKENZIE - They have only two of the large electorates. I would point out to honourable members and Senator McLaren that if they do their calculations and look at enrolments and representation in large electorates in which the members have offices or reside they will see that in New South Wales of a total of fourteen 100

Eer cent reside in their electorates and twelve ave offices in their electorates. In Victoria out of a total of 10 nine reside in their electorates and eight have offices in their electorates. In Queensland the score is 100 per cent on both accounts. In fact 92 per cent of members representing large electorates reside in their electorates, so hogwash to the claim that on account of Grey alone the Labor Party better represents large electorates. In some cases where members do not reside in their electorate they reside or they have offices in major cities very close by. A particular case in point is Launceston.

I do not wish to canvass in great detail or at any great length the problems of distance, isolation, communications and transport, except to bring forward a few examples. My colleague the honourable member for Leichhardt has an electorate where there is a town of something like 5000 people with no roads whatever to it, many towns and constituents with no telephones whatever, no television- that is an absolute luxuryand in many cases no mail services and no air services. In other large electorates there are very good air services. Most roads in Leichhardt are very poor in the dry season and absolutely impassable in the wet season, and that situation does not apply only to the large electorate of Leichhardt. The honourable member for Hughes gave a bleeding heart speech about the grave social problems involved in dealing with inner city suburban electorates. Yet I understand that the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) does not even require a car to service his electorate. In fact I understand that he has never even driven one. In some of the electorates which have an area of about Vh miles by 3 miles and some 55 000 to 60 000 people one could service the electorate by jogging around it before breakfast.

Another factor to be considered is how many city electorates have a very significant number of State members? How many have the situation which applies in Kalgoorlie, where there are 17 State members? How many have 10, 15 or 20 local government organisations? How many have 5, 10 or 15 newspapers or other media outlets? How many electorates really consist of the rich graziers whom the Labor Party is so keen to denigrate? That myth of the rich grazier! They seem to forget that farmers represent the new poor in this country. My own electorate is 60 per cent urban in provincial towns or cities. When will the Labor Party recognise that the contribution these large electorates make is very significant to the national wealth in terms of both agriculture and mining? How many Labor members would like to spend some time with the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Sullivan) driving his 50 000 miles per annum? I am sure the honourable member would make an offer to take them around, and they would suddenly realise the amount of time wasted in simply driving around the larger electorates.

The honourable member for Burke pointed out that in his opinion the duties of a member were, firstly, to cast a vote on behalf of his constituents and, secondly, to interview constituents personally. He said that he recognised the need for better facilities in terms of allowances and staff for members adequately to service large electorates. But I wonder if that could be done. I wonder how effective the better facilities and allowances would be, and again I quote the honourable member for Kalgoorlie. On 2 May he was reported in the Sunday Telegraph as saying that in the first 4 months of his new parliamentary year he had expended more than half of his electoral allowance. He pointed out that he could drive 2500 kilometres in a straight line in several directions without leaving the electorate.

The tolerance principle has been accepted in Australia since Federation, and it has been accepted in many other countries. We should look at New Zealand, where enrolments range from 16 000 to 2 1 000 people, a differential of 35 per cent. We should look at Britain, where in the election following the redistribution in 1974 their constituencies ranged from 22 000 to 96 000 people, a differential of between 400 per cent and 500 per cent. In Canada, a country very similar to Australia geographically, their electorates range from 7500 to 80 000 people. Representation means far more than the right to mark a ballot paper. It means the right to be adequately and fully consulted in discussing problems and in marshalling ideas. It means the right to be able, without undue difficulty, to talk to one's member. It means the right of proper communication with those who sit in Parliament. That right is in a large measure denied to many members who represent large country electorates. It is a right for which country people need to be protected to a degree, but only to a limited degree, under the existing law. Members of the National Country Party would be failing in their duty if they did not fight with all their power to protect the limited rights of country people and to secure for country people something approaching the equality of representation to which they are entitled as Australian citizens.

Let us look at the sacred academic argument of one vote, one value. This, of- course, is an impossible ideal to achieve, and I challenge members on the Opposition benches to name one country where it has been achieved in terms of their euphemistically named ideal of electoral justice.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - France, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark.

Mr MacKENZIE - And I presume Communist China. How can one accept one vote, one value as a philosophy when one looks at the quotas on the enrolments based on the December 1976 figures. The quota for South Australia is 71 850, for Tasmania 52 000, for the Northern Territory 40 000. How ridiculous it is to talk about electoral justice. Secondly, the Constitution provides for an original State to have a certain number of members and thereby the Constitution denies electoral justice. Senate representation varies from 300 000 people in New South Wales, 59 000 people in the Aus.tralian Capital Territory, 50 000 people in Tasmania, and 20 000 people in the Northern Territory. Equality of representation is a fine ideal but it is not attainable in such a huge, dispersed, sparsely populated country as this.

The anomaly of territorial representation is something which I think needs to be brought up. The population in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory is not to be counted when determining the size of the House of Representatives, and I think there is merit in the argument put by the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen). If the territorial population is eligible to vote, to pay taxes, and we presume soon to vote at referenda, surely it is consistent that it be included in determining the size of the House of Representatives. How strange is it that the size of the House of Representatives will soon be reduced to 123 members, only 2 more than it had 30 years ago, in spite of the enormous increase in population during that time.

Concern has been expressed by the Opposition that by having an area differentiation country divisions will be tied to the fastest growing city divisions, but I point out that that is not mathematically possible. It is not mathematically possible to have a fast growing city seat held at minus 7 per cent or minus 8 per cent or even minus 9 per cent, as has been suggested, and still provide in New South Wales, for example, for the enrolments required in the remaining 14 divisions over 5000 kilometres. Let us be factual in our discussions. Let us see through all the rhetoric that is associated with so much of the ballyhoo about electoral representation. In practice, the real variances are more likely to be what they were in the past and, as far as metropolitan seats are concerned, that was up to plus 3 per cent and for non-metropolitan seats down to minus 4 per cent, a total of 6 per cent to 8 per cent. They could, of course, be the same. I believe it is totally justifiable that larger nonmetropolitan seats are not greater in enrolment than city seats. What a ridiculous situation it was with the Labor redistribution in 1974-75 that the largest division in Victoria, the division of Mallee, had the largest enrolment in that State. What about the proposed division of Flynn in Queensland, where there was one division extending from Camooweal or Mt Isa down to Birdsville and across to the outskirts of Toowoomba, stretching 1700 kilometres in a straight line. Not all of that is spinifex, sandhills or camels. Most of it consists of many settlements, some big, some small, and an area like that is quite impossible to serve.

Finally, the second proposition that has caused concern is that a redistribution shall not be held more frequently than every 7 years, if the other 2 provision do not apply. The leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) expressed some concern about that. I ask him: Does he not recognise that there is a completely different ball game? One quarter of the divisions have to be out of kilter by 10 per cent and immediately a redistribution has to be called for that State. The Governor-General- the Opposition's friendcan call a redistribution as be sees fit. I believe that that is a perfectly reasonable proposition, and so is the provision to ensure that disabilities encountered by country people in obtaining a reasonable degree of representation are minimised.

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