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Monday, 24 May 1965

Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) . - I enter this debate now when I can hear the engines of the 5 o'clock aircraft starting up. I realise the hopelessness of my earlier quest and recklessly abandon it now to enter the debate. 1 agree with what has been said by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator McKenna). The important question is not whether it will be the immediate intention of the Distribution Commissioners to achieve the purposes expressed by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Anthony) in his publicity. The important aspect of the legislation is that it is a new departure. While the provision in the Bill with respect to the quota is the same as that contained in the old Act, the way is left open for a gerrymander, the limits of which we are unable to guess. It could reach the proportions of the gerrymander perpetrated in South Australia by a State Government of the same political beliefs as the present Federal Government. The boundaries set up by that gerrymander still exist in South Australia. As an illustration of its extent, the honorable member for Enfield in the last South Australian Parliament represented more electors than did the Premier together with four of his Cabinet Ministers. That gerrymander has operated for a considerable time. If the Distribution Commissioners decide, or are directed, first, to consider the density of the population in a State, the easiest way out of their difficult problem may be by allowing to country areas - where there would be big electorates - 20 per cent, less than the quota, and allowing to metropolitan areas 20 per cent, more than the quota, using the difference only as a basis for finding the boundaries. A quota of 50,000 in a country electorate would thus be reduced to 40,000. A quota of 50,000 in a metropolitan electorate would be increased to 60,000. Irrespective of whether this legislation carries the seeds of a gerrymander, the extent of which may make us ashamed of the electoral system, it introduces various arguments as between city and country areas. Australia is one of the most united nations of the world with little distinction drawn between residential areas, but during this debate attempts have been made to justify different electoral treatment for city and country people because of the difficulties of representation of country people. It is expected that every Australian will do his best for the welfare of the community and that, accordingly, he will receive proper representation.

I have toured almost all of the residential area in the electorate of Grey, the biggest Federal electorate in South Australia. References have been made here today to other big electorates. Not all the electorate of Grey is covered by residences. The elected representative would not have to cover the whole of the electorate to interview all his constituents. It is possible to travel for miles in the Grey electorate where few, if any, people reside. The area of the electorate could be extended to some extent even now without increasing the number of electors in that electorate. These things must be taken into account. If country electorates tend to become unwieldy and their areas become so great that, despite the improvement in modern transport, the electors cannot be properly represented by their member, we ought to consider decreasing the sizes of electorates or redistributing boundaries in such a way as to incorporate more thickly populated regions with sparsely populated ones so that the areas may be smaller but the number of electors the same as before.

We have heard both the supporters and the opponents of the proposal that the electoral quota for one electorate shall be different from that for another electorate. The campaign began immediately this proposal was heard of, and we have been told that it is justified because one electorate may have peculiarities not found in another. There is also the fight between city and country interests. We have seen this in South Australia for a long time. This has acted to the detriment of country people, because the State Government considered that it could not establish a proper system of decentralisation without making some safe Government seats insecure. As a result, the real needs of outback areas have tended to be ignored and country people have been put at a disadvantage compared to city residents who enjoy all the city amenities. In many instances, country people should have received more consideration than has been extended to them. This sort of situation tends to hold back the development of country areas and does a great disservice to country people, as experience in South Australia has shown. However, I hope for two things - first, that the present situation in South Australia will soon be rectified now that a more just Government has taken office there, and, secondly, that a system of gerrymandering akin to that existing in the State sphere in South Australia will not enter into the Federal sphere.

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