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Wednesday, 13 June 1906


Mr ROBINSON (Wannon) .-! am verv glad that the honorable member for Gippsland has raised this question, because it is a matter of very serious import to the representatives of country electorates. As far as the Wannon division is concerned, it will make no difference to me which scheme is adopted, because the Commissioner appointed to make the redistribution recommended exactly the same boundaries in 1905 that he has recommended in 1906. But when the question of representation was first discussed by this Parliament, it was laid down that there were differences between country and city electorates. Those differences arise from the scattered nature of the population in rural districts, and from the fact that the electors there experience a difficulty in getting into touch with political influences. They cannot come into contact with their representatives as rapidly and effectively as can the electors in the city divisions. To give an example, which I can verify by actual statistics, I may mention that whilst in many towns in my own electorate over 60 per cent, of those whose names appear upon the roll voted at "the last election, in some of the more scattered country districts - owing to the difficulties attendant upon exercising the franchise - not more than 25 per cent, of the electors voted. In many cases it is impossible for the farmer and his wife to go to the poll at the same time. Consequently, in the country districts, we are faced with practical disfranchisement, and the only way in which that difficulty can be overcome is by making a difference between the number of electors in city constituencies and the number in country divisions. Under the. proposed scheme, the electors in the city divisions average about 29,000, as against 27,000 in the country constituencies. That is to say, the proportion is as 29 to 27.


Mr Tudor - Will the honorable and learned member give the other figures?


Mr ROBINSON - I am prepared to quote a good many figures. Under the proposed scheme the proportion of electors as between the city and country constituencies is as 29 to 27. That represents almost equal electorates. When Ave turn to the scheme which was proposed last year, we find that under it the proportion was as 32 to 25 - a very considerable difference, and one which allowed for a proper representation of country interests. Under the proposed redistribution scheme the Commissioner has practically increased the difficulty under which country electorates labour. The whole change that is contemplated will fall upon the rural divisions with redoubled force. I do not object to Victoria losing, one of her representatives. It seems to me absolutely necessary that she should do so. But I do claim that, in the redistribution scheme that is now proposed, the loss should not fall entirely upon the country districts. The objections which have been urged against the amendment will not hold water for a moment. It must be recollected that this scheme was not in the hands of the departmental officials until about the 20th May last. Consequently, the only work which they have been able to perform has been accomplished between that date and the present. Moreover, in some of the electorates no change in the boundaries has been made. If the amendment be adopted, the only cases in which work will require to be done again will be those isolated ones in which mere are towns on the borders of two continuencies. That work would no doubt be considerable, but with the assistance of half-a-dozen extra hands this objection could easily be overcome in a very short time. There is no reason why the Department should not take the 1905 scheme in hand to-morrow if the House decided to adopt it, and be ready for the next general elec tion just as if we adopted the present scheme. The question as to the legality of the procedure need not trouble us. If there be anything at all in it the difficulty can be readily overcome by passing a Bill of one clause. But I do not think there is anything in it. The Minister who usually gives his legal opinions with, great confidence was very timorous in his objections, and I think we may fairly assume that there is not very much in his contention when he adopts such a hesitating attitude. This is a question of the greatest interest to electors living in country districts, and if those who represent such electorates do not object to the redistribution we might as well say once and for all " bring in equal electorates." If, instead of a difference of one-fifth above or below the quota, we are to have one of only 7 per cent, between the quotas of town and country eletorates, that difference can be wiped out without making any change so far as country electors are concerned, and we might as well do away with the section in the Act which was designed to protect country interests. I think that the honorable member for Gippsland is to be commended for the action he has taken - an action which is in accord with many others designed bio him to protect the interests of country electors - and I sin.cerely hope that he will press his amendment to a division.







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