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Tuesday, 15 November 1983
Page: 2713

Mr GRIFFITHS(8.40) —At the outset, I am bound to refer honourable members again to page 206 of Hansard of 4 May 1983. The honourable member for Boothby (Mr Steele Hall), the spokesperson for the Liberal Party and the Opposition in these matters, moved an amendment to the motion to appoint a Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform seeking to insert the following new sub- paragraph:

(g) electoral distribution and numbers of Members of Parliament, procedures and systems.

In the course of supporting the amendment, the honourable member for Boothby said:

I have included this as an additional point of study and recommendation for the Minister's consideration because the number of members of parliament is a very important aspect.

. . . .

Because of the obvious value it would be to the community I hope that he can see his way clear to express an opinion on this quite important matter of the number of representatives in this House and the other House.

His subsequent contribution to the House has been breathtaking in its philosophical flexibility. He has, with some confected outrage, come into this House and slammed these proposals quite simply because he is in the luxurious position of not having to treat them on their merits. As the proposals will go through, simply because of support from the National Party and broad bipartisan support from the Joint Select Committee, including qualified support from Senator Sir John Carrick, it is very easy for members of the Liberal Party to luxuriate in the position of being able to score a cheap political point or two. Let us get back to some of the figures we are looking at. In my own State of Victoria the average enrolment is 75,663 electors for each division. That is an 82.3 per cent increase since the last redistribution. Even taking into account these proposals, the actual increase in electors during that period will still be in the order of 54 per cent-a significant increase.

The increased workload of members of parliament has been adequately addressed by previous speakers. I shall not spend any time reiterating those arguments. There is one aspect, however, that has not been addressed, that is the implications for the democratic process of bringing the number of electors in each division thoughout Australia to a figure approaching equality. In Tasmania the five divisions currently have an enrolment of 56,493 electors on average. Of course, under these proposals that figure will not change but certainly the average number of electors in each division throughout Australia will. The average enrolment will drop from 74,989 to 63,335. It is a significant differential in those divisions but it is a move in the right direction towards the fundamental principle of one vote one value.

A moment ago, a member of the Liberal component of the Opposition, when he addressed this matter, expressed some outrage at what implicitly was a misinterpretation of Senator Sir John Carrick's position. Let me say at the outset that his qualification certainly was that because of the recession one ought not to go fully down this road at the moment and that it would seem to be an inopportune time to move. In addressing the principle we can all argue about whether it is the appropriate time or not, or indeed whether there ever will be an appropriate time with regard to these matters. They will inevitably be electorally unpopular and, as the Leader of the National Party (Mr Anthony) has indicated, one ought not to resile from making hard decisions simply because they will be electorally unpopular. I seem to recall a reasonably successful Prime Minister who, when leading the now Opposition, elevated the making of unpopular decisions to an art form and for some considerable time had a fairly successful electoral record. Let me quote from the dissenting report of Senator Sir John Carrick. On page 235 of the report of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform he said:

Many of the arguments adduced for an enlarged parliament are cogent. The Australian population has grown rapidly since 1948 (almost doubled) and the demands upon parliamentarians in a more complex social framework have greatly increased.

Certainly the extra burden cannot be fully met simply by increasing the size of the member's personal staff. The community will continue to demand the personal presence and attentions of the member.

Here we have the germ of another dispute in the Liberal Party. Of course, the honourable member for Boothby has made great play of the alternative of increasing the number of staff as one way in which we might resolve the problems of the significantly increased demands on parliamentarians. That is not a view embraced by his colleague on the Joint Select Committee, Senator Sir John Carrick, who further said:

In my view, while the logic of a larger parliament is strong, the overriding restraints of the current economic period must prevail.

I add that simply to be fair to the honourable senator and to put on record the points to which I adverted earlier. He did say that many of the arguments adduced for an enlarged Parliament are cogent, and he went on to agree with it in principle, while not supporting it for the moment on the grounds of economic needs.

A range of matters were adduced by the various honourable members who spoke prior to me. I simply want to say that, as a relatively new member of the Parliament and as one of the members of the Joint Select Committee, my views on this matter have not been based upon the premise of adopting the most cynical position. I personally do not believe that the Australian Labor Party will be advantaged by these proposals and I certainly do not embrace the view which some of the Liberal members seem to embrace that their Party will be necessarily disadvantaged. There are so many variables which might touch upon the results of any election that they are at the most only of marginal import.

The subject of the work load of honourable members was addressed by the Leader of the National Party and it was certainly addressed in some detail. I do not think that honourable members need reminding, but people listening might be interested to get some idea of the work load of an ordinary humble back bencher in this Parliament. I have had employment in the past when I have worked like the proverbial drover's dog, but I must say with all sincerity that I have never had employment which has demanded quite so much in terms of application or time as has this form of employment. I know that might be greeted with some cynicism in terms of the electorate, but that remains the case. The view that there ought to be an increased Parliament was not a submission of the Australian Labor Party , but that of itself is not a reason to reject it.

One proposal from the Australian Labor Party was that variations in electoral enrolments ought not to vary by anything greater than 5 per cent. On the basis of the submissions put before the Committee and against my original intuitive feeling on that matter the Joint Select Committee unanimously agreed that the variation ought to remain at 10 per cent. That was because the arguments put before the Committee were compelling in their logic. I simply wish to put on record that my views on this matter changed because of the logic of the case. It had nothing to do with any other factors that, implicitly, the honourable member for Boothby was imputing to those members of the Joint Select Committee who did not support his point of view.

My commitments in the Federal Parliament-I would assume it is a fairly average work load for a new back bencher-include my membership of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform which has been, quite clearly, a significant work load in the last few months. I am also a member of the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege which involves a reasonably heavy work load, although not quite as heavy, of course, as the work load involved with the Electoral Reform Committee. I am a member of the House Committee on Privileges. I cannot claim that that has been a particularly heavy work load, although in certain circumstances--

Mr Hodgman —Not yet. Wait until after my motion.

Mr GRIFFITHS —I shall be having something to say about the motion of the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) in due course too. In any event I am also a member of the Caucus foreign affairs and defence committee, the Caucus economics committee and some three or four sub-committees of those committees. In terms of Party involvement, I am a member of the Victoria State Administrative Committee, the Victorian State Campaign Committee and the Civil Rights and Law Reform Committee. One could go on. Quite clearly, that is the sort of work load that many members need to fill. They are all important parts of the functioning of this Parliament.

Mr Hodgman —You will not be one of the 13 oncers.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond) —Order! The honourable member for Denison will cease interjecting.

Mr GRIFFITHS —I am not too concerned about those types of interjections.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Well, they are annoying me.

Mr Hodgman —I complimented you.

Mr GRIFFITHS —It is not often that I am complimented by the honourable member for Denison. In any event, that is for public consumption. Certainly the honourable members in this place are quite well aware of the sorts of demands placed upon us. I simply say in concluding that the strength of the parliamentary system and of the Parliament, as opposed to the Executive, is predicated substantially upon the need for back benchers to have the time and resources to make a proper contribution to the governments of this country. That will not be the case when the work load is simply too big for even the most assidious and hard-working back benchers to handle properly. When the honourable member for Boothby was in this House with his confected outrage-I believe having forgotten that he moved the motions to which I adverted earlier-I suspect that that may have been a function of a significant work load. It is surprising in the extreme that someone could have come into this House, moved the motions, put the views he put and, some months later, come into the same chamber and attack the very proposals that he actually moved in the House. I shall not go on.

The other aspect of an increased Parliament, the fact that, for example, in the House of Commons the back bench involvement in parliamentary reform and the various Bills that come through the House is significantly greater than it is in this House-that was made clear by the submission of Professor Gordon Reid-the larger pool of talent from which the Executive might be chosen and so on, are all fundamental reasons why we must take this unpopular decision. I personally believe that this may damage the Government electorally but that, of itself, is no reason to resile from taking a decision that is in the best interests of this Parliament.