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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2482

Senator MACKLIN(12.14) —The Australian Democrats will oppose the amendment. When I listened to Senator Collard I quickly realised that he had misread the clause and was trying to move an amendment to a completely different clause. The amendment does not tighten up the system; it frees up the system. It was brought about by discussions in the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform when we were confronted with the problem of getting numerical equality 3 1/2 years down the track and when probably we could not achieve that result given the database that we had to start with. The amendment is a recognition of the lack of information we have in determining redistributions.

It is hoped that by making use of different building blocks-for example, the census basis-progressively over time we will be able to get better accuracy. However, at the moment we talk about equality 3 1/2 years down the track, and really it is a punt. The amendment does not actually refer to that. The arguments as to why such things should occur always intrigue me. They seem to ignore the realities in Australia. The realities are that every electorate is different in some way. There are disadvantages in country areas, but there are also disadvantages in city electorates. For example, a member with an electorate in parts of Sydney and Melbourne may not just represent 60,000-odd electors on the roll but he could also represent over 60,000 others who are not on the roll. Therefore, he has 120,000 people to look after-twice the number of people on the roll. There are different types of disadvantages.

Senator Bjelke-Petersen —Who would the 60,000 people be?

Senator MACKLIN —Does Senator Bjelke-Petersen not realise that there could be migrants who are not citizens of this country? There are people who are not on the roll.

Senator Boswell —Why wouldn't there be migrants out in Maranoa?

Senator MACKLIN —There are none in Maranoa. Senator Boswell knows that and so do I.

Senator Boswell —I don't know. I haven't done a survey.

Senator MACKLIN —If Senator Boswell has not been to Maranoa, that is his problem. I have. He knows that there are none.

Senator Tate —Not 60,000.

Senator MACKLIN —No. I assure Senator Tate he would not find one in Maranoa. Every House of Representatives electorate has peculiar problems-problems that are caused by geography, migration, ethnic backgrounds and the difficulty of language communication. Language is a tremendous problem in some Melbourne and Sydney electorates. Members have to pay out dearly to get translators to help them in their work. I am sure that Senator Bjelke-Petersen has not found that difficulty when she has travelled in Kennedy, as I have not. We must recognise that there are different problems around the country. I join with Senator Sir John Carrick in saying that we do not translate those difficulties into a power proposition. What we do is to seek directly to address the problem. Senator Tate, as the Special Minister of State, could address one of the problems which Senator Bjelke-Petersen raised. There is the technological advance of a 008 telephone number which we and members of the House of Representatives do not have the advantage of using a 008 number, anybody in Kennedy could ring Bob Katter for the cost of a local call. I have been urging that for a long time. People would be able to ring Bob Katter and say their piece for the cost of a local call. Currently, they can send him a letter for the cost of a stamp; I think that they should be able to contact him on the phone for the cost of a local call. We should have that facility.

The major problem in terms of distance is physical access, and it applies both ways as Senator Bjelke-Petersen suggested. It is a major problem that ultimately cannot be overcome no matter what we do regarding additional electorate offices and additional ability to travel and to hire planes. That is one of the disadvantages of distance. That is as difficult to deal with as the problem of language, when non-citizens are in one's electorate, and the other problems that confront members of the House of Representatives.

In any democracy the parliamentarians represent the people. They do not represent trees, sheep or farms; they represent people. Ultimately we have to deal with that issue as the basic building block of our redistributions in this country. We attempted in the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform to overcome some of the problems that occur-through distance, language, ethnicity or religion. Senator Sir John Carrick would remember well our talking about the hours of polling. We tried to address the problems directly and we tried to solve them as best we could by amendments to the Act. But one of the things that we did not do was try to take power away from the people.

I remember a small piece of paper with a rather nice message on it that was circulated in one of the State electorates in the last Queensland election. It said: `Use your 0.46 of a vote wisely'. I do not think any such pieces of paper should be circulated anywhere in this country. I think we should be able to circulate pieces of paper which instead say: `Use your vote wisely', and to do that we have to have a fair and equitable redistribution system.