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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1681


Senator ROBERT RAY(5.44) —In 1983 the electoral law was changed and for the first time the Commonwealth of Australia had a redistribution in which the final boundaries were not referred back to this chamber and the other chamber for ratification. I think that, in itself, is a major advance. One of the problems in the past, especially when different parties have been controlling different Houses, has been that if the prevailing Government or prevailing Opposition has not liked the boundaries it has simply knocked them back. There are many instances of that occurring, even in the last 30 years. In 1962 a redistribution for every State was held. A combination of the National Party of Australia and the Australian Labor Party rejected the proposals. They made it quite clear to then Prime Minister Menzies that the proposals would be rejected. Again in 1975 six sets of proposed boundaries were introduced into the House of Representatives, passed, went to the Senate chamber and were rejected.

Following the trend of several other States in this Commonwealth, the Hawke Labor Government introduced legislation that appointed independent commissioners and allowed them to come to an end result without reference back to this Parliament. There was a lot of debate. This was not a bipartisan policy by any means because the Liberal representatives on the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform opposed this process. I think honourable senators can see by the end process of the redistribution in six States that it was not a particularly bad process. When the first set of boundaries was announced in Western Australia the Liberal Party screamed long and hard, as though it had been dudded. One would have to admit that the boundaries, by accident and coincidence, favoured the Labor Party. When the final boundaries were announced in Queensland the Labor Party yelled: 'We have been dudded'.

When one looks at the situation Australia-wide one sees that the boundaries favoured no one. The situation was different in different States. The Labor Party was advantaged in Western Australia. The Liberal Party was advantaged in Queensland. In Victoria the redistribution had the effect of marginalising electorates, so neither party was particularly critical because they knew that if they won a majority of the votes they would win a whopping majority of the seats. The redistribution had little effect in South Australia as it gave both parties a safe seat. Finally, in New South Wales it created seats for all parties, although it did cause some tension amongst the coalition parties in seats such as Parkes and Page. In those seats, instead of members of the parties acting like gentlemen and deciding that either the National Party or the Liberal Party would contest a seat, they slugged it out amongst themselves-not a very enjoyable spectacle, although we enjoyed it very much.

A couple of problems arise out of the redistribution. One is the requirement for redistributions to be based on growth, as well as allowing for only a 10 per cent tolerance between the seats. At times that gave the commissioners a very difficult job. If they wanted to base a seat on a fast-growing area they really had to couple it with a declining area to make the whole thing balance. I am not sure whether this Parliament considered the full implications of that change at the time, but it may be a matter we will have to tackle in the future if we are to get the sorts of seats this Parliament deserves, that is, seats on community of interest, geographical and other requirements. The implication of the Act that each electorate must be of equal size within 3 1/2 years of the boundaries being announced I think made the task difficult for the commissioners. On the whole I think they did a good job. As I said, there are always winners and losers in redistributions. On the whole, they have tended to balance out evenly between the parties. I think Professor Hughes and the rest of the redistribution commissioners are to be congratulated.

One other point I would like to raise is whether the initial submissions from parties are of any use at all. I tend to think they are not. I tend to think the resubmission and appeal procedures are good safeguards for each political party to be involved in. However, I believe that the original submission, which is always, of course, based on self-interest or disguised self-interest, wastes the commissioners' time and the political parties' time. We put a lot of effort into designing the boundaries we want. We can never get those boundaries because the commissioners would be accused of being biased if they delivered those boundaries.