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Thursday, 20 April 1961

Mr WHITLAM - That is completely inaccurate. In New South Wales, the distribution is mathematically the most precise in Australia. The only criticism I make of the New South Wales system is that the country quota is smaller than the- city quota. I believe that the principle followed in Tasmania and Victoria is the correct one, namely, that the same number of persons should be on the roll for all electorates wherever they are. We do not believe that one can achieve a better distribution of population by distorting the distribution of electorates.

Mr Forbes - How do you get over the problem of Kalgoorlie?

Mr WHITLAM - I have already referred to the problem of an electorate such as Kalgoorlie and, one might add, Leichhardt and Kennedy. I have pointed out that, with a margin of one-tenth, those electorates would, not be appreciably larger, if at all, and they would still be very much smaller than the electorates which bore those names twelve years ago. Furthermore, if aborigines were given a vote in

Australia, those electorates, which are the three in which most aborigines in Australia live, would in fact have smaller areas than they have now.

Mr Freeth - That is wrong, because you would have to amend the Constitution.

Mr WHITLAM - You would not have to amend the Constitution.

Mr Freeth - You do not count the aborigines in the number of voters.

Mr WHITLAM - We can still give the aborigines in those electorates a vote. I appreciate the point the Minister has made; the aborigines could not be counted in fixing the quota. The three electorates, however, could be given the minimum number of electors permitted by the one-tenth margin. Then, with the inclusion of aborigines, the number of electors would equal the quota.

Let me illustrate the distortion which can occur by lapse of time. In New South Wales, at the time of the last distribution, while the quota was not departed from at all significantly, there was in fact a very great difference in the populations because of migrants and infants. We shall not be moving an amendment to cover this position in the act, although it is an unfortunate feature that the voters whom the distribution commissioners have to consider in dividing a State into electorates do not include the whole population.

Mr Thompson - They include only those who are enrolled.

Mr WHITLAM - And do not include migrants and infants. One would think that the fact that there was a great number of migrants or infants in an electorate would entitle the electorate to a smaller number of electors. The distribution commissioners, unfortunately, invariably ignore that feature. I shall give the position on that point which has arisen in New South Wales in recent years. At the time of the last census, 30th June, 1954. the most populous electorate in New South Wales, my electorate of Werriwa, had a population of 86,952. The electorate with the smallest population, that of Warringah, had 64,238.

Mr Chaney - Not voters?

Mr WHITLAM - No, population, the difference being due to the fact that in my electorate 48.24 per cent, of the population was enrolled and in Warringah the figure was 69.88 per cent. That illustrates the vast demographic difference between different electorates, for which this act makes no allowance whatever.

Mr Thompson - You have a young, virile population in your electorate.

Mr WHITLAM - That is true. It is a young population and, also, many of the parents there are not yet eligible for enrolment. By the end of last month the position had become still more distorted. In Warringah there were 64,000 and in my electorate 121,000. The position is worse in Victoria. At the time of the last census, the most populous electorate in Victoria was Lalor, which had a population of 98,345, and the least populous was Higgins, which had 63,074. The proportion of the population on the rolls was 43.38 per cent, and 69.25 per cent, respectively. At the present time, the population of Lalor is 184,000 and the population of Higgins is 58,000. That is, my colleague represents three and a half times as many people as does the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt).

This may be a relatively academic subject. I know that the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) is interested in it, because when he was a university lecturer the only contribution he ever made to academic writing was a justification of the South Australian electoral system. It was a real tour de force. The figures show that distribution under this act is quite unbalanced. The task of representation in this Parliament is very uneven as between members.

The concluding point that I wish to make concerns the method of voting itself. Honorable gentlemen have frequently referred to the very great number of informal votes for the Senate. The Minister gave me an answer to a question on this subject on 10th May last year, concerning the percentage of informal votes at the Senate elections in 1958. The percentage of informal votes rises very greatly with the increasing number of candidates foi whom electors must vote in order to cast a valid vote. In New South

Wales, there were 21 candidates contesting the Senate elections. In one electorate there were 1 8.4 per cent, informal votes. In Victoria, seventeen candidates contested the Senate elections and there was one electorate in which there were 16.01 per cent, informal votes. In Western Australia, fifteen candidates contested the Senate elections and in one electorate there were 11.51 per cent, informal votes. One could go through all the electorates in this way. It is quite clear that the greater the number of candidates for the Senate the greater the percentage of informal votes. This is no reflection on the Australian electorate. The percentage of Australians able to read and write is as great as the percentage of people in any other country who are able to read and write, but our voting system for the Senate is the most complex voting system in the world. It is true that in the United States there are sometimes ballot-papers which have upon them very many more candidates and very many more positions, but in the United States one can vote for the Democratic or Republican ticket and the vote is valid. One casts, in effect, one vote.

Some method will have to be devised for effectuating the wishes of the majority of Australian citizens. The method we shall propose is that a vote for the Senate shall be valid if preference is indicated for the number of candidates required to be elected. That is, if there are five vacancies in the Senate, which is the usual happy position, one will cast a valid vote if he indicates a preference among five candidates. In the case of a double dissolution, one would cast a valid vote if he indicated a preference among ten candidates.

Mr Forbes - What would happen if you had to go further in distributing preferences?

Mr WHITLAM - It would be optional preferential voting, which is a well-known feature in electoral systems. There is little doubt that the number of informal votes would greatly drop if that system were introduced, and it is in fact followed in a great number of other legislatures. There is no legislature, I believe, which requires such a complex voting system as we have and where, accordingly, invalidity is so pronounced.

The other suggestion concerns voting for the House of Representatives. A candidate has a very definite advantage when his name is at the top of the ballot-paper. We propose to move in committee an amendment which will ensure that position on the ballot-paper for the House of Representatives shall be determined in the same way as position on the ballot-paper has been determined in Senate elections for the last twenty years, that is, by lot.

Mr Buchanan - You should have the sitting member on top.

Mr WHITLAM - No, I would be prepared to forgo that advantage just as senators do. Why should we be deprived of a right that Senate candidates have? The consequence of twenty years' voting for the Senate with position on the ballot-paper determined by lot appears quite clearly from the fact that Senator McKenna is the thirtieth senator in the alphabetical list of senators and Senator McManus is thirtyfirst. That is, the Senate is evenly divided alphabetically.

Mr Chaney - That would surely be as a result of coincidence or accident.

Mr WHITLAM - Let me give the figures which will show why I suggest that it is not accidental. In the alphabetical list of members of the House of Representatives there are 95 members with names beginning with letters from A to M, in the top half of the alphabet. There are 29 members whose names begin with letters in the lower half of the alphabet. That is not a coincidence.

Mr Forbes - Did you check the telephone book?

Mr WHITLAM - I would be prepared to make that test. I am quite certain that the telephone book would not have three times as many people with names beginning with letters in the first half of the alphabet. There are 95 members of this House whose surnames begin with letters between A and M and 29 whose surnames begin with letters between N and Z. Of Government members, the names of 61 begin with letters in the top half of the alphabet, and the names of sixteen begin with letters in the bottom half. The figures for the Opposition are 34 and 13 respectively.

Mr FREETH (FORREST, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - What is really relevant is whether they got the -first position on the ballot-paper or a lower position. A name beginning with B might still be in number two position.

Mr WHITLAM - There is a very definite system of selection by the Government parties, I believe, to choose candidates in narrowly held electorates whose surnames begin with a letter higher than that of the sitting member. We can debate this in detail at the committee stage. The honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Chresby), who is interjecting, is a very clear example of this. He just beat the sitting member at the last general election because he was above him on the ballot-paper. This can be proved quite clearly in committee.

As honorable members interject, I can see that the House is getting a little hilarious at the end of a strenuous week. Honorable gentlemen know the principal points concerning which amendments will be moved in committee. The figures which will be given in committee will prove that there is an advantage of somewhere between 2 per cent, and 4 per cent, of votes to the person who is on top of the ballot-paper. In recent years, the seats which have changed hands have usually changed in favour of the person whose name was on the ballot-paper above the name of the sitting member. At this second-reading stage, I hope I have given food for thought to some members who will follow in this debate. I hope that over the intervening week-end Government supporters will .prepare some .arguments instead of having only interjections to refute the very reasonable amendments which we will move at the committee stage.

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