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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16361

Mr TOLLNER (12:31 PM) —The Commonwealth Electoral Amend-ment (Representation of Territories) Bill 2003 is self-explanatory—it seeks to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act to guarantee the Northern Territory a minimum of two voices to speak in this chamber for the loyal citizens that occupy one-sixth of our continent.

A second enabling amendment would give effect to that from the general election of 2001.

Mr Speaker, while this bill is firstly about the desire for better representation in federal parliament for Northern Territorians, it is, I believe, for all Australians a legislative move for nation building.

The Northern Territory has, for better or worse, always been a special case in Australia. The Commonwealth parliament has made special provision for the Territory many times in the past.

This chamber has recognised time and time again that it is its duty to make such provisions:

· in 1922, when parliament first enacted special legislation to allow the Territory to send a representative to attend Commonwealth parliament—albeit without the right to vote;

· in 1936, when parliament first allowed that member to vote in this chamber—although only on matters relating to ordinances of the Territory;

· in 1958, when the elected member for the Northern Territory was allowed to vote on any proposed law or matter relating solely or principally to the Northern Territory;

· in 1968, when the member for the Northern Territory was granted full voting rights;

· in 1975, when the Territory, along with the ACT, was allowed to elect two senators to the upper house;

· in 1978, when the Northern Territory gained self-government; and

· upon many other occasions over the past 102 years when the Commonwealth has enacted special provisions applying to the Northern Territory.

From the date of its inception in 1901 the Federation has recognised that Australia is such a large and diverse country that the principle of one person, one vote would disadvantage, even disenfranchise, the large and less populous regions of this great nation.

Thus was every state, at the time of Federation, guaranteed a minimum of five representatives and a Senate constituted of equal membership from the member states.

There is nothing in this bill that does not echo the precedents, purposes and intents of our constitutional forefathers. Indeed the bill confirms and continues the tradition of inclusive nationhood under Federation.

We in the Territory are few. By chance and misfortune in February this year the Australian Bureau of Statistics (which admits to a substantial margin of error) found us lacking in population terms by less than 300 people to qualify at the next election for two representatives.

The rigid application of mathematical formula, properly required of the Commonwealth Electoral Office, confirmed the Territory's loss of a representative seat by a factor of less than 0.0025 per cent.

Population projections show that this is a temporary condition—by 2005 the Territory will again have the numbers to qualify for two seats.

This amendment to the act is no more than a bridging device that will carry the Territory across the momentary statistical glitch that threatens to again disadvantage the occupants of 1,346,000 square kilometres of the mainland.

Mr Speaker, Territorians do not seek unusual or inappropriate consideration.

We do not complain that we are not counted at the time of a national referendum in the same way that other Australians are counted.

We do not complain that we have no right to trial by jury, nor that the Commonwealth retains unusual powers within the Territory that it does not have in the states and that the states would not concede to.

We contribute, on a per capita basis, some three times the average export earnings of the states. Territorians have always punched above their weight.

I call on members on both sides of this House to recognise that this is not a plea for special treatment over and above that accorded to our fellow Australians. (Time expired)

Bill read a first time.

The SPEAKER —I believe the member for Solomon has an explanatory memorandum to table. I invite him to do so even though the time has expired.

Mr TOLLNER —I table the explanatory memorandum.

The SPEAKER —In accordance with standing order 104A, the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.