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Tuesday, 13 September 1983
Page: 669


Mr HUNT —by leave-I join the honourable member for Boothby (Mr Steele Hall) in complimenting the Chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform for the way in which he steered the Committee through the whole of the winter recess. I do not think many members of this Parliament-outside the Ministry at any rate-were kept as busy as those who were involved in this Committee. It was a very extensive inquiry. We received hundreds of submissions not only from party organisations but also from local government bodies and a great number of organisations and individuals. The members on that Committee had a very busy recess indeed.

Although the National Party was opposed to public funding and disclosure of funding-the reasons are spelt out in the minority report-there was a measure of co-operation among members of the Committee once it was made clear that it was the Government's policy to implement public funding and once the methodology to be used in disclosure of funding was made clear. The Committee reached agreement on a great number of machinery processes. I think the report recommends the simplest and most practical form possible in declaring and disclosing public funding for the purposes of election campaigns. I was pleased that the Committee saw fit to agree to maintain the 10 per cent tolerance for the purposes of electoral redistributions. the reasons are spelt out in the report. I was also pleased that the Committee agreed to recommend that that area should go back as one of the criteria for the purposes of consideration by commissioners when drawing electoral boundaries.

The principal reason I address myself to the report is the recommendation for an enlarged parliament. The National Party in New South Wales expressed the view that it was in the community's best interests that there should be a modest increase in the numbers of members and senators of the Commonwealth Parliament. The National Party in New South Wales was reluctant to propose that more politicians should be provided for but, having weighed up all the evidence, it decided to support a modest increase. Arguments have been put for more staff for parliamentary members, but they, too, cost money. If we do not watch out we will have parliamentary members surrounded by more and more of their own bureaucracies attending to the functions of the electorates and of this place. In the years that I have been a member of this Parliament, I have not been able to help being somewhat amazed at the proliferation of committees. I do not, for one moment, suggest that they are not necessary in a complex society such as ours today, but there is a limit to the number of people who can perform, contribute and specialise on such committees.

I believe that the time has come to extend the size of the Parliament. There has not been an increase in the number of senators from the States since 1949, yet in the 35 years since the number of voters has almost doubled. The number of eligible voters in some electorates has grown even faster. For instance, in 1958 41,516 electors were enrolled for the electorate of Richmond in New South Wales, but there are now 85,383, an increase of 105 per cent. In New South Wales the number of Federal members has actually fallen from 47 to 43 since 1949 despite an increase of 70 per cent in the number of voters. People in rural areas are worse off because of successive redistributions that have reduced the number of rural electorates making electorates larger and larger and making it ever more difficult for constituents to get in touch with their local members.

I will summarise the reasons why I believe the Committee acted responsibly in recommending an enlarged parliament. There has been no increase in the size of the Federal Parliament since 1949 while State assemblies have substantially increased over the same period. The average number of enrolments for the House of Representatives has risen from 39,948 electors in 1949 to 74,989 electors in 1983. The present Ministry, for instance, is 70 per cent larger than the Chifley Ministry. The ratio between the Executive and the back bench is unsatisfactory. A larger parliament would provide a greater pool of talent from which to select or elect Ministers. If parties are sincere about one vote, one value, an enlarged parliament would bring a more even result in the average size of enrolments for electorates between the States. I refer principally to the anomaly that presently exists. The average South Australian electorate has over 80,000 voters, some 40 per cent more than the average Tasmanian electorate which has 56,493 voters. The proposed arrangement for enlarging the Parliament, as suggested in the report, would reduce this disparity to 20 per cent. Thus, those who advocate the one vote, one value concept should find this proposal attractive. That in itself puts some consistency into the view that the number of electors enrolled in electorates should be as even as possible not only within States but also between the States.

Finally, the growing involvement of the Federal Parliament in social, environmental, ethnic and other issues since 1949 has increased substantially. These are some of the issues: Aboriginal affairs, more extensive social welfare policies, uniform legislation such as company law, education, conservation and the national heritage, family law, the status of women, ethnic affairs, child care, tourism and small business, sport and cultural affairs, Federal affairs and local government, technology, law reform and legal aid, consumer affairs, minerals and energy, electronic communications, television and the proposed satellite, the expanded industrial role, more complex economic issues and a greater involvement in overseas aid. In view of the fact that we are moving towards the new and permanent Parliament House on Capital Hill the time has come when the Parliament should give due consideration to enlarging this Parliament to enable it to cope with the affairs of this nation in a more efficient manner. I do not think the answer lies in purely and simply giving the existing members more and more staff. I believe parliamentary members have a very great responsibility, both in this House and in the other place, to the electors of this country. The time has come, in view of the fact that the electorate has nearly doubled, to provide additional members to enable them to carry out that function.