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Wednesday, 26 April 1961

Mr DRUMMOND (New England) . - I was intrigued and deeply moved by the pathetic disclosures that the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) made regarding the differences between various sections of the Labour Party. It was very interesting indeed to hear what the honorable gentleman had to say. Having listened to his remarks, I am irresistibly reminded of an episode for the accuracy of which I can vouch. A very distinguished Apostolic delegate went to the city of Bathurst, where he was welcomed by the mayor to the " queen city of the plains ". The mayor of Orange was present, and welcomed him on his arrival in that city to the " queen city of the hills, the valleys, the plains and the rivers ". When replying to the welcome, the distinguished visitor said, " Finally, Mr. Mayor, I wish you joy in your queen competition ". I leave my honorable friends to draw for themselves the moral from that perfectly true story and I shall proceed to deal with the measure that is before the House.

I should say that the principal requirement in any electoral act in any country that claims to be a democracy is to ensure that every elector has a reasonable chance of recording his vote in a clear and impartial manner and that he shall not be hindered by laws which prevent him from recording that vote. It is essential that he shall not be prevented from having the benefit of the principle of one vote, one value, by electoral subdivisions which have the effect of throwing into the hands of massed populations a very much greater power than rests with those who are not so conveniently situated in regard to contact with the Government, with departments, and with all the means of information. Such a system has regard to the features which are laid down in the electoral act. I hope to refer to them in the course of my address.

I should like to take up the story of voting for the Senate where the honorable member for Batman left off. Every one of us must have been more than impressed by the figures he cited which show how great is the difference between the number of informal votes cast for the House of Representatives, where two, three or five candidates are contesting an electorate, and the number of the informal votes cast for the Senate, where there may be up to 25 or 30 candidates. I am quite sure that there is a moral to be adduced in regard to the host of people who come forward for Senate election. I agree with the suggestion of the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) that it is high time something was done to curb the unnatural, almost insane desire of some people for publicity, by making candidates, particularly for the Senate, pay something to Consolidated Revenue for the trouble and expense to which they have put the country and for generally clouding the voting issue.

I should like to refer to the fact that there are certain features in the present set-up of the Senate which will reduce that great institution to an absurdity unless some effective action is taken, in the first instance not through an electoral act but through an amendment of the Constitution. Every honorable member knows that under the Constitution whenever the size of this House is increased the size of the Senate is increased proportionately. Members of the House of Representatives are to senators in the proportion of two to one. At present there are 60 senators. Having regard to all the circumstances, I do not think that the number is too many, but let us see where this observance of the proportion will land us. The size of this House will have to be increased in the not very distant future. There are now 60 senators for a little over 10,000,000 people. In the great republic of the United States of America, since the recent admission of two more States, there are 50 States, with a population of 200,000,000, and they return 100 senators.

If we are to increase the number of senators every time we increase the number of members of this House, the position will be so absurd that a great institution, which is of incalculable value to this country, may be just forced out of existence by the derision of the electors. The quicker we have an amendment to the Constitution which will break this nexus between the two Houses, while ensuring, as I think it was suggested by the Constitutional Review Committee, that no abuse results from that break and that a proper balance is preserved, the better it will be. 1 would say to my honorable friends, " If you want to make the Senate effective and if you want to get over this tremendous difficulty of so many informal votes, then you have to go back to the original intention of the founders of this country ". They envisaged that there should be a much greater number of States than six. As Sir Henry Parkes said, if we had started this Commonwealth with double its number of States it would have been to its advantage. If the representation of the States in the Senate were to proceed as it has in the United States of America we would eventually have two senators to each State and we would not have an army of people presenting themselves for election for each State. That is a weakness at the present time. There may be ten, seven or five senators to be elected, according to the circumstances of the case. There are ten senators representing each State. If there is a double dissolution then ten senators have to be elected. If there are casual vacancies, instead of five senators having to be elected at the triennial period, an additional senator or two has to be elected. If we increased the number of States we could have a smaller number of senators for each State. Then, as this country grew, the number of senators could be proportionate to the population of the country.

Let me say this emphatically: If we are going to have a Senate, then the Senate representation of each State must be equal to the Senate representation of any other

State, irrespective of the number of people in each State; otherwise, with Sydney and Melbourne holding one-third of the total population of Australia, the needs of this vast country could be completely overlooked. At the present time, because of our unfortunate system, we are spending countless millions of pounds in trying to overcome the congestion in Sydney and Melbourne whilst there is a dire and pressing need for the development of the rich resources of our great continent. I will not pursue that line any longer. Let me pass on to the question of the House of Representatives.

With regard to the hours of voting, I would like those whose lot is mainly cast in pocket-handkerchief Sydney electorates to look at what can happen in rural districts in the midst of the harvest season. That is when we have had our general elections almost ever since I have been in this House - for some twelve years. If a man has a harvest to reap he must sometimes work day and night. He must work through the hours of daylight to make sure that his harvest is collected. A farmer may live twenty miles from a polling booth and it might be late in the day before he hastens in to record his vote. He is in a different position to the person who simply has to walk around the corner or, perhaps, go a mile, at the most, to get to a polling booth. I think the House would be well advised, in all the laws that it proposes, to have regard to the fact that this not a static country yet. People are constantly moving the frontiers out and should not be subject to handicaps in the exercise of their voting rights.

It has been suggested that the postal voting methods of New South Wales should be applied to the Commonwealth. I sincerely hope that no such action will be taken by members of this House. Let me point to some of the absurdities of the New South Wales system which would disfranchise many more people, if applied throughout the Commonwealth, than it affects in New South Wales. Here is a case in point: If you live more than five miles from a polling booth in New South Wales you can get a postal vote, wherever you may be. But if you have the misfortune to live. say four and nine-tenths miles from a polling booth you cannot get a postal vote even though you may be in another State or on the other side of the world at the time of an election.

The position in New South Wales is, to say the least, bad and unreasonable. At every election thousands of people are prevented from exercising their franchise simply because they do not live outside of the five-mile limit. Why should a person living outside the five-mile limit be able to get a postal vote if he happens to be in Victoria or Queensland at election time while a person who lives inside the five-mile limit cannot get one? The thing is so utterly incredible that I wonder that the people of New South Wales have not risen in anger against it. I say to honorable members, regardless of their policy, that every man in this country is entitled to a fair go. The electoral procedure in New South Wales does not give people a fair go.

If it should be suggested that the electoral system in New South Wales has been abused, two kinds of action could be taken: 1 ne first would be to tighten the electoral law. But that suggestion has never been made. No proof nas even been adduced that anything was crooked in New South Wales elections, and I do not believe that anything has been crooked. However, for a variety of reasons, perfectly healthy, normal men and women may be absent from their electorate on polling day. They may be on holidays or they may be absent for any reason at all. They may be on the omer side ot the world. Why should they be deprived of their right to say who will govern them. 1 would condemn root and branch any proposal to adopt the New South Wales system of postal voting. I hope that it never replaces the electoral law of the Commonwealth. 1 pass on to the application of a 10 per cent, or 20 per cent, margin in the allocation of the quota to electorates. My colleagues on the Constitutional Review Committee will recall the discussion that we had on that subject. If the section of the legislation which lays down the conditions upon which distribution shall be made were carried out there would be a great deal, indeed, to be said for retaining the present proportions. The Commonwealth Electoral Act says -

In making any proposed distribution of a State into Divisions the Distribution Commissioners shall give due consideration to-

(a)   Community or diversity of interest,

(b)   Means of communication,

(c)   Physical features,

(d)   Existing boundaries of Divisions and Sub divisions,

(e)   State Electoral boundaries; and subject thereto the quota of electors shall be the basis for the distribution, and the Distribution Commissioners may adopt a margin of allowance, to be used wherever necessary, but in no case shall the quota be departed from to a greater extent than one-fifth more or one-fifth less. 1 can conceive that that section could honestly be used for the purpose of maintaining a fair balance between the people who suffer the disability of living in a vast scattered region and those who are concentrated, as in the case of the metropolitan City of Sydney, within an area of about 300 square miles out of the 310,000 square miles of New South Wales. In the case of my own electorate, I was given the maximum quota of nearly 42,000 electors, but in other electorates, which I could walk around in perhaps half an hour or an hour, the average has worked the other way. My own electorate has an area which is not nearly as large as that of the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) or that of the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe). The area of the electorate of the honorable member for Maranoa is equivalent to the combined areas of Holland, Belgium and Denmark. I cannot see that this margin of 20 per cent, in quotas is being used to remove population disparities between electorates having people scattered over wide areas and those in which people are concentrated in towns.

I quite realize that a great deal could be said in support of the contention that the 20 per cent, margin permits too great a lee-way bearing in mind the rapid growth of population in certain electorates. Without having any strong feelings on the matter, I decided that, on the balance of probabilities, I would support the suggestion to reduce the margin to 10 per cent. I know that many of my friends have looked upon the 20 per cent, margin in the way I have done, namely, as a means of balancing small electorates with huge electorates such as Leichhardt, Maranoa, Riverina, Darling and so on. However, if it is suggested that manipulation could occur, I contend that there could be worse manipulation with a margin of 20 per cent, than with a margin of 10 per cent.

I pass to the subject of the aboriginal race. I noted with interest the argument that was put forward very effectively by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) when dealing with this matter.I congratulate the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) on taking steps to have a select committee appointed to inquire into all aspects of the question of how to give the aboriginal race, in totality, a franchise. The aborigines are scattered over vast areas and some are primitive. That makes the problem a very difficult one. I do not think there would be the slightest difficulty in my own State of New South Wales. Just recently I saw in the showground of a town in my electorate a full-blooded aboriginal in police uniform directing traffic. He gave me the impression that he could hold his own anywhere. The honorable member for Fremantle advanced a theory as to why the Constitution was drafted in a way that appears to reflect upon the aboriginal race. He referred to the relevant portion of Section 51 of the Constitution, which reads -

The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to - (xxvi.) The people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws;

My honorable friend adduced that the reason for the insertion of that provision was that the States, in their jealousy, feared that if unrestricted power were given to the Commonwealth it would be used by the Commonwealth to set aside vast reserves for the aborigines, to the detriment of the people of the States. I know enough of the crisscross of human motives to realize that that probably is one explanation, but I do not believe it to be the right one. There was, at the time the Constitution was framed, a feeling that laws might be enacted affecting the Asiatic people who had come to Australia, notably the Chinese. I believe that this provision was inserted to ensure that the aboriginal race would not be discriminated against. The Constitution therefore provides that, for the sake of the peace, order and good government of this country, the Commonwealth may pass laws having an adverse effect on any other race, but not laws to the detriment of our native people. That was fair and reasonable. I believe that the explanation I have given is sound. My research leads me to the belief that it is founded on fact. It would not be to the credit of Australia if the other explanation that has been given were the main determinant. It may have had an effect, but it was not the main determinant which was, as I have said, to make it quite clear that no adverse action should be pursued against the people who belong to this country.

I pass now to the question of whether the names of candidates should be drawn from a hat or, as at present, they should appear in alphabetical order. It may be said that as my own name commences with the letter " D " naturally I would be in favour of retaining the present system. However, plenty of people have names commencing with the letters " A " and " B ". At the last election I was opposed by a gentleman whose name commenced with " B ". He belonged to that section of the labour movementofwhich my friend, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), has shown such an eloquent dislike. The fact that his name commenced with" B " did not have very much affect on my fortunes. Other people also whose names commenced with a letter before mine in the alphabet have stood against me. I think that honorable members should think seriously about this matter before monkeying with the natural order of things. I make the point that the average Australian will bet upon whether a red bull ant will beat a white bull ant in a scrap or one frog will jump further than another frog.

If the names are put in a hat and if, as a sitting member, you happen to draw the bottom position, irrespective of whether your name commences with a Z or an A a very considerable section of your constituents will say, " He is out of luck. We will be on the winning horse ". I want honorable members opposite to think that over. That possibility is not a figment of the imagination. The luck is not necessarily on the side of the sitting member. On the other hand, let us suppose that the honorable member for Blaxland is opposed by a brilliant young union man who is standing for election for the first time and who draws the bottom position on the ballot-paper. The young man's pals will say, "Obviously he has drawn the wrong number. We had better stick to the old horse ". I am afraid that I am mixing the serious business of politics with sporting phrases, but we must have regard to the facts of life. I say to my friends opposite, " If you want to buy into that kind of gamble and draw names from the hat, I will have none of it. I know too many of my countrymen too well ".

I feel, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have covered quite a lot of the ground that my colleagues have not covered. I congratulate the Minister upon his effort to clarify the position in relation to the aborigines and to introduce a workable provision. I congratulate him upon having brought forward certain other proposals, and I hope that, perhaps with one minor exception, there will be no amendment of those proposals.

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