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Monday, 24 May 1965

Senator MURPHY (New South Wales) . - In this Bill we are not dealing with the rights of political parties. We are dealing with the rights of the people, and the right to vote is fundamental. If that right is impaired all other rights are illusory. There has been a miserable attempt in this legislation to set the country people against the city people. It is miserable because it is designed to take away the thoughts of the people from the real issue involved. Balanced development is important. The introduction of better communications in the country is important. All these things are important but democracy is even more important.

What does Senator Wright's argument really mean when you consider it? It is the same argument as that raised toy honorable senators who have spoken on behalf of the Australian Country Party. They say that we must give more value to the votes of persons in rural areas than to those in the cities because otherwise the country will suffer. Senator Wright said in effect that the people in the country areas should have more voting power because otherwise they would not be able to prevent decisions from being made by the majority of the people electing their representatives and their representatives acting on their behalf. In other words honorable senators opposite want to strike down democracy in this country. Under a system where every vote has an equal value, decisions will be made in a certain way but honorable senators opposite do not want that; they want a disparity. They say that greater voting power should be given to some interests in order that those interests may be able to change decisions that otherwise would be made. What else is that than a negation of democracy? I notice that the Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge) is signifying his disapproval. Let him speak up. What else is it but a negation of democracy when honorable senators opposite suggest that you must give a higher voting value to some sectional interests than to others? Is not the purpose to defeat a democratic decision that might otherwise be made?

Senator Webster - Does the honorable senator agree with the 10 per cent, provision?

Senator MURPHY - I say that there should be .no departure at all from the principle of one vote one value. The intendment of the Constitution is that the election of representatives shall be by the people. The same words are used in our Constitution as are used in the Constitution of the United States of America. The Supreme Court of the United States has had to interfere in that country to stop the kind of gerrymandering, and the kind of departure from democratic principles, which are being discussed in this chamber today. The Supreme Court of the United States has said what the words " by the people " mean. They imply that where you have one vote you will have one value. The Labour Party agrees with that principle.

Senator Mattner - But it does not carry it out.

Senator MURPHY - lt does carry it out. We will see to it that the principle is carried out. In considering the framework of our electoral laws - and it is true that this Bill may be regarded in this way - the fundamental approach is that there ought to be one vote one value. That preserves democracy. Where you have a quota there ought to be no departure from that quota, or at least you ought to keep to it as closely as possible. Because we live in a state of flux we cannot pin down, from a practical point of view, the size of electorates so that they will be exactly the same. Because of changes due to the incidence of births, deaths and so forth, inevitably there is a disparity of a few hundred or a few thousand. That is one thing that is permitted by the imposition of the differential. When one refers to 10 per cent, or to 20 per cent, it is not indended that by any means shall there be a great departure from the quota. One puts a limitation on it. One says that no matter what happens you will not get further out than 10 per cent., 20 per cent, or whatever it may be. That is one thing.

It is a completely different thing to come to the Senate and say that, in the electorates, there ought to be a deliberate departure from the one vote one value principle and that a weighting must be given to the country electorates. This ought not to be done. Honorable senators can talk about what has bean done end the intendment in the past. This Electoral Act never intended that that should be done in the past. There is not one word in it which says there ought to be a weighting so far as the quota is concerned. The approach that has been made is this: One has a quota as the basis of our electoral system and one keeps to that. But in determining what particular electorates might be, one has regard to various factors. If one were to approach this matter as some of the Government senators have approached it one would say: "Well, it is really innocent if one looks at it. Why should not one pay attention to these various matters?"

One can say that when the Distribution Commissioners come to chart out the actual electorates, they will pay attention to these various matters. But that is not the only voice that speaks. Another voice that speaks points out that the Distribution Commissioners shall pay attention to these factors, not merely in determining the outline of an electorate, but in determining the number of people who will be in the electorate. What warrant is there for this approach at all? Yet, this is the design behind the Bill. This Bill does not represent what is intended to be done with it. lt is obvious that what is really intended to be done with this Bill is to see that one electorate shall be larger in number than another electorate and that die country electorates shall have fewer electors than the city electorates.

This intention is not expressed in the Bill. But it has been expressed again and again inside and outside of this chamber by persons on the Government side. Who is the most responsible of those persons? The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Anthony) has been reported as saying at Murwillumbah that he would make sure that fewer people were required to elect representatives in country areas than in the cities. How will he make sure of this? He is the Minister in charge of the Electoral Act. Distribution Commissioners work under the Minister. What is said about this? In his second reading speech, the Minister for the Interior said -

Although not included in the proposed amendments, the Government intends that the Minister direct the Chief Electoral Officer to arrange for consultations between the distribution commissioners appointed for the several States for the purpose of obtaining uniformity in procedures and to ensure the proper interpretation of the law by the commissioners.

Senator Prowse - Is not that a desirable thing?

Senator MURPHY - What does it mean? These Distribution Commissioners are appointed, and they hold their office during the pleasure of the Governor-General - during the pleasure of the Government. So, the Commissioners are going to be told what to do. It has been made apparent already by the Minister for the Interior what they are going to be told to do - something that is not in the Bill. There is not one word in the Bill, on the face of it, which justifies this approach. But let. us not be deceived because Senator Wright and others have said that the Bill is going to be used in such a way, in practice, as to give a greater voice to one section of the people than to other sections. It is completely opposed to democracy. Why should acres be represented? That question has been put and it cannot be answered. This Bill should provide for the representation of people, not the representation of square miles. Senator Wright speaks about the small areas down at Darling Point as contrasted with larger areas elsewhere. But it is not the area which counts; it is the people who count. The House of Representatives is a representative chamber, but the honorable senator tried to obscure the issue by speaking about the Senate. The Senate is a representative chamber of the States, not of people. The representatives of the people Sit in the other chamber, and there has been an endeavour to break down that representation by introducing considerations which are completely irrelevant.

Representation of the people must be on a basis of equality; otherwise you do not have democratic government. Whatever else he may do, let not the honorable senator from Tasmania ever say again in this chamber that he stands for democracy. Representation of the people is the very core of democracy, but he publicly announced himself as being against equal representation of the people. He said that because country people were pioneers, or some were of this stuff, they should have a greater voice so that decisions could be made which otherwise would not be made. What is that but a denial of equal representation of the people? The honeyed words that have been used by Government supporters will not obscure their purpose in endeavouring to gerrymander and destroy equal representation of the people.

Nevertheless, there may be ways in which this can be countered. First, we still have a Constitution in this community. If I am right, any endeavour to use this Bill so as to deny equal representation - that is, to use it in the way in which the Government has clearly indicated that it will be used - is contrary to the Constitution. In this country, as well as in the United States of America, steps can be taken to invalidate representation which is unequal. The next safeguard is that the Distribution Commissioners, if they have the courage, will understand that their duty is to observe the law. The first law is the Constitution. The next law, but subject to that Constitution, is this legislation. The Commissioners ought to have the courage to obtain advice as to what their plain duty is and should not be induced by the Minister's pressure upon them to depart from the requirement of equal representation in this community.

Next, if the Government uses this measure in the way that it intends and we have unequal representation in this community, certain consequences will follow. If the Government, after a period of time, is able to be returned in the House of Representatives by less than a majority of the total votes cast, this will mean, as the experience in South Australia and in other parts of the world has shown, that the electorate will divide itself about the point at which the Government can be returned. If the Government can be returned by, say, the votes of 48 per cent, of the people, the electorate will tend to divide itself around that point. There will come about all over Australia, as came about in South Australia, the position that there will be a majority of Labour voters in the community and a minority of Government voters, even though the Government will still be able to obtain a majority of representatives in the other. House. The consequence will be that the Senate, which is elected on a States basis, will turn against the Government. So people like Senator Webster should not be too jubilant. The Government, in embarking upon a gerrymander, a denial of equal representation in the House of Representatives, for the first time is lending an ear to proposals for breaking down the strength of the Senate. It is obvious to anybody who looks to the future that the Senate will be the only legislative chamber in which an attempt can be made to break the gerrymander that will undoubtedly flow from this Bill.

There is an evil intent behind this measure. It is of no use for Government senators to quibble about the provisions of the Bill and say that they do not mean anything. What is the reason for the amendments contained in the Bill if it is not to pave the way for inequality of representation? Why should the Bill have been intro:duced if it was not to carry out the purpose that has been stated inside and outside both chambers by Government members - that is, to introduce unequal representation of the people in this community? This legislation can be described only as being a wicked onslaught on democracy in Australia.

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