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Wednesday, 3 May 1939

Mr DRAKEFORD (Maribyrnong) . - I agree with the suggestion put forward by honorable members on this side that this matter should be postponed, and I was glad to hear the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) express a similar view. However, in case the House should decide to proceed with the inquiry I propose to move an amendment which will provide a better method of representation than that which is embodied in the motion now before the House. I want to refer to another aspect of representation. To-day the Senate represents considerably more electors than was the case when it wa3 inaugurated. In 1903, 36 senators represented a total of 1,893,586 electors. Since then the number of electors has increased, and I suggest that the number of electors represented by individual senators warrants re-examination. One remedy provided for in the Constitution, and one which I think is desirable, is that the number of senators may be increased. In 1920 the number of electors represented by senators jumped to 2,760,216, in 1925 to 3,302,016, in 1934 to 3,902,677 and on the 31st March, 1938, to 4,093,576. Thus, to-day, we have 36 senators representing more than twice as many electors as was the case in 1903, whilst it is estimated than in 1941, when the next general election will be held in the ordinary course of events, 4,250,000 electors will be represented by senators. What applies to the Senate in this respect applies also to the House of Representatives, because in 1903 the average number of electors represented by each honorable member in this House was approximately 26,000 whereas at the last general election it was nearly 57,000. I submit that to-day individual members of both this chamber and the Senate are obliged to represent far too many electors to be able to do the work effectively. I do nOt think that any honorable member in this House, particularly any one who represents ' an industrial electorate and is in close touch with his constituents, will claim that he is able to handle effectively all the various matters brought forward by the electors whom he represents nominally. There are weighty arguments in favour of deferring the proposed inquiry, but if the House decides to proceed with it, I have an amendment to move. I do not put it forward in a frivolous spirit merely for the sake of suggesting something different from that which the Government proposes. I am sure that many honorable members on the Government side believe that better representation should be afforded. The present proposal provides that three members of the House of Representatives shall be appointed to serve on the committee. Under such an arrangement the Opposition in this House would have only one representative on the committee, while the Government would have two. That would not be in proportion to the strength of the parties. At the present time, in a House of 73 members, the Opposition has 29, while the Government parties make up the remainder. I suggest that the number of representatives on the committee should be increased, and to that find I move -

That the word " three ", paragraph 2, be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word " five ".

If that be agreed to I shall then propose that the Senate shall have four representatives - two from the Government and two from the Opposition - making a total committee of nine, instead of seven. At the last Senate elections 53 per cent, of the electors voted in favour of Labour candidates. I understand that my proposal has received some consideration from members on the Government side of the House, and that there is no real objection to increasing the number on the committee. Even if the number of appointees from the House of Representatives were increased to five, the Government would still have a majority on the committee. The Government would have three representatives from the House of Representatives, and the Labour party would have two. Each party would have two representatives from the Senate, making nine in all, of which the Government would have five representatives and the Labour party four. For my part, however, I am not convinced that there is any need for this committee. My personal view is that I would prefer to have a committee appointed to examine the whole subject of representation, not only as it concerns the Senate, but also as it affects the House of Representatives. Our object should be to ensure that Parliament shall be able to do its work in an effective way.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Spender) adjourned.

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