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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2480

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(12.02) —This clause is part of a mechanism which aims to overcome one of the two defects that might emerge in a redistribution. The two questions that need to be examined are whether there is a gross malapportionment and whether there is a gerrymander. The malapportionment would relate to whether any one person's vote had more value than another person's vote; in other words, the loading of electorates with different numbers. The gerrymander would depend upon the geographer's pen and whether there was an intention to draw the boundaries, even respecting the principle of one vote one value, so as to collect a particular Party's votes in an area to give a preference. It has to be realised that electorates differ-that is, that some electorates, as Senator Robert Ray has said, are growing rapidly and will therefore grow much faster towards the end of their term and others are declining, rapidly or otherwise.

There has always been a tendency to suggest to electoral commissioners that the rapidly growing electorates should start below the quota and subsequently move towards it and through it and that the rapidly declining electorates should start well above the quota and move down through it in the median period following the redistribution. The Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform had determined and the Parliament had decided on a device which would allow a tolerance at the start of the period of up to 10 per cent and, as nearly as practicable after a median period of three years and six months, bring all the electorates in a State to equality. That has been attempted once. The difficulty was that the formula was a little too rigid. Distortions may have resulted from drawing boundaries with absolute rigidity. It was thought necessary to allow some tolerance, and it has now been recommended that that tolerance be 2 per cent.

I have to say to the National Party that I agree with the point made by Senator Ray, that is, that the National Party's amendment will frustrate its intention. Indeed, the application of a tolerance at the median point could result in a grave distortion at the end of the journey-a quite different result from what the National Party might have in mind. There is no perfect system, but the present system tends to apply the tolerance at the start. The principle of a 10 per cent tolerance has been understood in previous electoral Acts and, indeed, supported by my side and I think by the National Party itself. So we have that tolerance at the start. It is then necessary to devise a system that looks at the movement in the number of electors to give something of a fairness throughout Australia.

Many arguments are advanced from time to time that the principle of one vote, one value is wrong since the size of the electorate must be taken into account. It is said that the enormous size of, say, Kalgoorlie or Riverina-Darling must be taken into account because the member servicing that electorate has an immensely more difficult task than a member servicing the Sydney electorate of Phillip. That is true, as in Phillip there may be one or two municipal councils, one or two chambers of commerce and one or two other such bodies. In the enormous country areas there are so many other situations. The difficulty that a Parliament and a democracy must have is to reconcile the two situations. If we give an electorate a much lower number of votes, the individual vote of an elector in that electorate has a greater value than the vote of an elector in another electorate. That is the problem that is always before those who seek to define electoral boundaries. How far do we go in this exercise? We do a number of things in the big and extended electorates to provide more electorate office facilities, charter and motor car facilities, travelling allowances and so on. Whether we have achieved that objective is another thing, and that is another matter which needs to be looked at.

The fundamental fact is that, in a parliamentary democracy, in the end the majority will prevail. We ought to have a system in which a majority of votes means a majority of seats. If we can do that, we can look to other things. If one is to have a majority of votes giving a majority of seats-and that is what this is all about, and why we are in this chamber today-we have to find a method of redistribution that is very likely to reflect that principle. One has to watch not only for malapportionment but also for gerrymander. Those who insist that one vote, one value is the primary thing fail to understand that they could have that throughout Australia and the wet pen of the geographer could distort the whole system. The two must go together. We also need to consider the needs of the electors to be served, the needs of the electors to get to their member and the needs of the member to understand the electorate. All these things have to be put together. We have to ask ourselves whether, having put them all together, we have the best compromise we can get. In the end, we cannot really overcome the fact that it is comfortable to have a small electorate such as Phillip and enormously difficult to have an electorate such as Kalgoorlie, which constitutes virtually three quarters or more of the whole of Western Australia. These are vastly different situations. Consistent with that, one has to ask oneself whether an elector in Kalgoorlie should have significantly more power in his or her vote than an elector in Phillip. That is the dilemma we face.

The system was devised to allow a tolerance at the start, taking into account the principle of growth, stagnation or decline, so that in the median period of 3 1/2 years all electorates would be the same. It being demonstrated that that system was too rigid for the redistribution committees, the Select Committee recommended that a minor tolerance should be allowed. If we get anything that looks like a significant tolerance we should not have the system at all because the tolerance distorts it. If we place a tolerance of the order of 10 per cent or more at the median period we get an absolutely wrong result for the person who wants and advocates that at the end of the journey and for future journeys. I commend the Government's amendment. However, I suggest to the National Party that it will not achieve what it seeks by the amendment it has put forward.