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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2479

Senator ROBERT RAY(11.55) —I do not intend to go into a long and detailed debate on representation. I even promise not to get into the question of alleged payments under the Queensland electoral system, at this stage at least. Senator Collard has talked about equality of representation. It is quite clear that there will not be an argument on that from this side of the House. We would like all Australians to have equal access to members of parliament throughout Australia, as, I might add, we believe in equal access to commercial television stations. This is part of our generous philosophy. But we do not believe that that sort of access can be granted by giving an extra weightage to a vote of someone in a rural area as opposed to a vote in a city or elsewhere.

We have always sought to try to establish that equality of representation, firstly, by running high quality candidates in rural areas, and we have a great track record on that; secondly, where necessary, by increasing the size of Parliament-I have never been an opponent of increasing the size of Parliament-to make sure that those seats do not blow out and become too big; and, thirdly, by increasing the resources of the members of parliament in distant areas to enable them to provide services that are much more easily provided in small electorates. Once one starts fiddling with the weightage of representation, where does one stop? Senator Collard today suggests 20 per cent as a fair measure of where one stops. Possibly people in other States would take that further. There have been many examples in Australian history-even in the West Australian Legislative Council at the moment-where it has not stopped at 20, 30 or 40 per cent; the difference in weightage has been 3:1 or 4:1. It is that in general to which the Australian Labor Party objects.

Senator McKiernan —Thirteen to one.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Senator McKiernan tells me that the ratio in Western Australia is 13:1. It really does depend upon where one wants to draw the line. Drawing the line at 20 per cent is not too hurtful. But once one accepts a degree of weightage in voting, one abrogates one of the basic principles. Therefore, when the figure goes to 30 or 40 per cent, it does not matter because the principle has already been lost.

What we have in the current Commonwealth system has never appeared in any Australian State. Not only do we have a 10 per cent limit at the time of redistribution; we also put in a very important criterion, that is, growth. At the time of the redistribution those seats that the commissioners judge to be fast growing are basically set at below quota-anything up to 10 per cent below. Those that they believe will decline in enrolment or not match the growth in other areas are given more electors than the average, up to 10 per cent. What occurred in the last redistribution was that we asked the commissioners to devise a scheme whereby all seats, 3 1/2 years after the redistribution, would be of equal enrolment. In other words, a fast growing electorate would have less than average in one election; at the second election it would have average and at the third election it would go over the average amount. So over a three-election period it would balance out. That growth criterion is absolutely essential to understanding our current redistribution. I may be misunderstanding the amendment put forward by the Queensland National Party.

Senator Boswell —The National Party, not the Queensland National Party.

Senator ROBERT RAY —I am sorry, the National Party. What it is doing is amending one of our amendments. It does not really refer to the initial redistribution. What we are now giving the commissioners a chance to do is to have a 2 per cent variation 3 1/2 years into a redistribution. What happened last time was that, in trying to get them absolutely dead level after 3 1/2 years, the commissioners had to do some artificial things-jump a creek here or artificially put fast growing and declining areas together. Giving them that 2 per cent variation after three years enables them to be more creative and to create more homogeneous seats.

The National Party amendment would give up to a 10 per cent tolerance after 3 1/2 years. If the National Party wants to achieve what it is proposing, it has to do two things. It has to go back to the original Act and amend the 10 per cent variance to 20 per cent at the start of the redistribution. That seems to me to be what it intends. If the National Party wants a rural bias, for which it argues genuinely but with which I disagree, it has to remove the growth criterion, the predominant criterion of the Electoral Act governing redistributions. We have to do those two things. But I am afraid that the amendment, as it now reads, is just a nonsense. It will mean nothing. It will not necessarily result in advantages. I also point out that if the National Party wants to have a 20 per cent variance at the start of redistributions without touching the growth criteria, it will be badly hurt in certain areas of Australia in the initial period. There is no doubt about that.

I admit that certain National Party seats are now growth seats, which is not traditional in Australian politics. Seats such as Fisher or those in northern New South Wales are growth seats. But if a 20 per cent variance is introduced and the growth criteria are not touched the National Party will find when the first redistribution comes out that 70 or 80 per cent of its seats are 20 per cent over quota. That will not achieve the other objectives that the National Party has been putting forward today. Senator Boswell looks a little confused. I am just saying that the National Party's amendment does not go to the original redistribution and the variance allowed. It goes to the rule that governs electoral boundaries three and a half years after a redistribution. In effect, the amendment would just make a nonsense of the redistribution. It would not help the National Party in any particular way.

I again stress that even if the Party gets a 20 per cent variance at the very start of the redistribution process, unless the growth criteria are removed, the Party will be worse off than ever in most States, with the exception of two seats in northern New South Wales, and maybe the seat of Fisher. It really goes against my grain when people in this chamber, for the wrong reason, oppose their own self-interest. I find that absolutely appalling. I hope the National Party will reconsider the amendment.