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Tuesday, 23 November 1965

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) (Leader of the Opposition) . - The Opposition welcomes the decision of the Government to submit these two referendum proposals to the people of Australia for their consideration and, we earnestly hope, for their approval. We regard it as vitally important to the well-being of the people and the welfare of the nation and the health of democracy that they should be carried. On their merits they deserve overwhelming endorsement. The first Bill, now before us, seeks an alteration of section 24 of the Constitution which states that the number of members of the House of Representatives shall be as nearly as practicable twice the number of Senators. The second Bill proposes an elimination of section 127 of the Constitution which provides that in reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth or of a State or Territory, Aborigines shall not be counted when the census is taken. I shall deal with this second Bill at the appropriate time.

The proposal to break the nexus between the size of the House of Representatives and the size of the Senate, though simple in Its purpose, is rather complex in the explanation that has to be given in its favour. Unfortunately, certain people have already seized upon those complexities to confuse the public about what is really intended. It would be a tragedy if these politically motivated attempts to confuse were successful. For the choice before the people is simply this: If we do not make this change now our hopes of bequeathing to the next generation a Parliament that is both workable and truly representative will be dashed to the ground. One tiny political group - the only group represented in this Parliament opposing this measure - has already declared what its tactics in the forthcoming referendum campaign will be. It proposes falsely to depict this proposal as an attempt to gain power for an unlimited increase in the number of Parliamentarians, and it hopes to play upon that irrational and, indeed, basically anti-democratic ill-will that regrettably and absurdly exists in some sections of this community. Let it be said at the outset: Far from extending the powers of this Parliament to increase its own size, this proposal places a limitation on those powers, where no limitation at present exists or has ever existed.

Constitutionally, we can enlarge the membership of this House indefinitely and at will. The Constitution imposes no restrictions on our numbers; but in its present form it does force us to increase the number of senators in the ratio of one to two, every time we increase the numbers in this House. Under the proposal now before us, that burdensome necessity would be ended. But the proposal in the Bill goes further. It proposes that for the first time in our history there shall be a restriction placed on the size of the House of Representatives, by establishing that there will be not less than 80,000 people for each seat. I stress the words " not less than ". It could, at the discretion of the Parliament, be raised to 85,000 or even higher, but it could never be lower than 80,000 people - 80,000 men, women and children, natural born, naturalised, unnaturalized and aborigines. At present there is no such restriction. Let me emphasise and reemphasise that there is nothing in the Constitution to prevent us from deciding that there shall be one seat for every 30 or 40 or 50 thousand people, or whichever figure we might choose. As long as we also simultaneously and proportionately increase the Senate we can make this House as large as we like. I do not think anybody wishes to do that. If this proposal is carried, we shall not be able to do it.

Let me ask this simple question: Does anyone in his senses believe that as the population of this country grows - and it will grow at an increasing rate - there will never be an increase in the size of this Parliament? The population has already increased by 4 million in 17 years from 7i million at the end of World War II to Hi million today. It will grow by at least another 6 million in the next 16 years because the base on which it will grow is larger. It is obvious that there will be and must be an increase if this Parliament is to work and if the people of Australia are to be served adequately in a democratic way. But unless the nexus is broken, this necessary and inevitable increase can be achieved only at the price of a great increase in the number of senators.

It is not those who support this proposal who want an extravagant increase in the number of Parliamentarians; it is, rather those who oppose it who would commit Australia in the quite near future to an excessive, extravagant and unwanted increase of both senators and members of the House of Representatives. This is the inescapable consequence of the opposition of the people to whom I have referred, if their opposition is successful. Fortunately, I believe it will not be successful.

In his second reading speech, the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) showed beyond a doubt that section 24 as it now exists imposes a ruthless arithmetic upon us. I do not propose to repeat his lucid demonstration of how the existing requirement of the Constitution, the need for order and stability in Government and practical political considerations operate together to impose on us an inescapable dilemma. I can only say that nobody can deny the conclusion he reached, and it is this: Under the existing Constitution, either the Parliament must be increased by a total of 68 members - 44 members of this House and 24 senators - or it will never be increased at all. This is not a matter of opinion and it is not a matter for argument. It is an incontrovertible fact about the operation of section 24 as it now stands.

Those who oppose the breaking of the nexus are therefore committed to one of two courses. Either they say that there shall never be, at any time in the future of this nation, no matter how large the population of Australia grows, no matter how onerous and complicated the duties and responsibilities of the National Parliament may become, there shall never be any increase whatsoever in the size of the National Parliament. Or, alternatively, they are committed to the proposition that the House of Representatives should be increased by 48 members and the Senate should be increased by 24 members. And who wants either of those things to happen? But if the people do not approve this recommendation, that is precisely, certainly, inevitably, inescapably, inexorably what must and will happen.

This Bill proposes to implement one of the recommendations of the Joint Committee of Constitutional review in its Report to both Houses of Parliament in 1959. We on this side of the House regret that all the recommendations of this invaluable report have been so far ignored by the Government. We welcome the Government's decision to try to implement at least two of its recommendations and this Bill gives effect to one of them.

The Joint Committee's report pointed out that, at the time of Federation, the first House of Representatives of 75 members provided one member for every 50,000 persons. Despite the increase in the size of the House of Representatives to 122 members in 1948, because of Australia's rapidly expanding population the figure in 1965 is now 120,000 people for every member. By comparison, the House of Commons in Britain contains one member for every 81,000 persons, and for the House of Commons in Canada, which has a Federal system comparable to ours, the figure is one member for every 64,000 persons.

I find it hard to understand the argument that in fixing the desirable number of members of this House, we should take into consideration the existence of large numbers of State members of Parliament. This argument, at its shallowest, usually takes the form of adding up the members of the six Legislative Assemblies and the five Legislative Councils in the States, adding to that figure the number of members of the House of Representatives and the number of senators, comparing this admittedly hefty figure with the size of the House of Commons and then using this comparison as proof "that we have too many politicians " - the expression generally used.

Of course the analogy is completely false. If the comparison is to be made at all, then the councillors of the very large cities of Great Britain should certainly be added to the number of members of the House of Commons. The London County Council for instance, presides over a population equal to that of Australia and administers budgetary expenditure much greater than that of any of our largest States - possibly as great is that of New South Wales and Victoria combined. But in any case this numbers game is quite irrelevant.

The responsibilities of members of this House are not only far greater, more complex and more important than those of State Members of Parliament but they are duties and responsibilities of a totally different order.

Even on the narrowest considerations of the time and detail involved in a member's work, the most time-consuming matters of all, those in the fields of postal and cutoms services, of social services, repatriation, health benefits, taxation and immigration, are almost entirely Federal matters. And a significant thing is that there is no constitutional limitation on the size of any of the State Parliaments, as we propose to impose on ourselves. Was not the size of the Victorian Parliament recently increased by nine members? Nobody seems to have objected to that.

The other argument used against this proposal is that of State rights, so-called. To the extent that the Senate can in any meaningful sense be said to be the House of the States, those rights are in no way impaired by this proposal. The rights of the States as distinct from the rights of the nation - in so far as that distinction has any meaning - are guaranteed by equality of representation in the Senate. This guarantee is fully maintained in this proposal.

The Constitutional Review Committee went very thoroughly into this question. I can say this because I was a member of it and I enjoyed the company, opinions and confidence of all my fellow members on both sides of that Committee. It proved what we all know to be a fact - that the Senate has never operated as a States'

House, lt has divided, as we ourselves have divided, on party lines and never on State lines. The party system has made this inevitable as the most prescient of the framers of the Constitution foresaw. This was not only inevitable but, to my mind, it was eminently desirable, for nothing has done more to give this nation a truly national conscience and to weld it into a true political entity than the operation of the party system. In any case, the practice does not differ from what happens in the United States, where the Senate and House of Representatives, combining to form the American Congress, operate in the interests of the American people. The United States Senate is also supposed to be a State House. It never has been a State House.

It has been suggested that in some way the smaller States would suffer if the size of the House of Representatives were increased without a counter balancing increase in the size of the Senate. But in fact the smaller States stand to suffer only if the size of the House of Representatives is not increased, for if that occurs they will certainly lose representation. The abortive redistribution plan of 1962 illustrated this quite clearly. Under that redistribution, Western Australia and Queensland would each have lost a seat. And why was this? Because the smaller States, even if their population is increasing, are not growing at the same rate as the larger States. This is a trend which is unlikely to be reversed in the foreseeable future, much as I, for one, would like to see that happen. We would all wish to see this trend reversed, but it is a fact that the fastest rate of growth of population will continue to take place in our already most populous and overpopulated areas.

Each State is guaranteed no less than five members in the House of Representatives, and if the size of the House of Representatives is not increased, future redistributions will inevitably give more seats to the larger, more populous, and more rapidly growing States than to the smaller States. Unless we are able to increase the number of members of the House of Representatives, then the representation of the smaller States in this chamber will decline both absolutely and proportionately.

We have heard in recent weeks, mounting criticism, and we must be aware of growing uneasiness both inside and outside this Parliament, concerning the dominance cf the Executive over the Parliament. I myself have canvassed this matter fairly widely in Parliament and by articles I have contributed to the Press. I have pointed out that unless some reforms are made now then revolutionary changes may be necessary in the future. Whatever might be said for or against other systems, it is certain that the size of the Parliament is directly relevant to the relationship between the Parliament on the one hand, and the Executive on the other. Under our system the Executive is part of Parliament, and is composed of members of Parliament.

It is inevitable that, with the widening of the powers and responsibilities of this national Parliament, the size of the Ministry must be increased. But a large Ministry swamps a small Parliament. Not only must the Parliament be of reasonable size to produce a sufficient number of men of sufficient ability to discharge the complex tasks of executive responsibility, but the non-ministerial remainder must be large enough not to be over-awed or controlled by the Ministry.

One-sixth of the members of this House are Ministers, but what is more relevant to this particular argument, nearly one-third of Government members are Ministers. Quite probably at least half the remainder aspire to be Ministers. This is not to say that they should be Ministers; I only say in this context that a large proportion of Government private members have healthy ambitions and aspirations to ministerial status. I am looking at a few of them now. But in a small Parliament like this, this has the effect of producing what I might describe as a ministerial psychology. The remnant of those who are neither Ministers nor aspiring to become Ministers is too small to provide, within the Government ranks, a vigorous, critical and competent check upon the Ministry.

For all these reasons the proposal contained in this Bill deserves the support of the people of Australia if they believe, as I think they do, that democracy must be preserved and that it can be preserved only by means of an effective Parliament. This is a proposal to make Parliament more effective. It is a proposal to secure adequate representation of the people in this Parliament. It adds guarantees against the abuse of the powers of Parliament which do not at present exist. It is an economical measure because it prevents an extravagant and unwanted increase in the numbers of members. It provides the only way that the representation of the smaller States can be secured.

In fulfilment of the undertakings that the Australian Labour Party has repeatedly given in this Parliament, and in its written policy statements, we pledge ourselves to its support. It is a proud moment in my life when I can join in a bipartisan approach to this question. Only once, and that was in the Communist Party dissolution referendum, have I voted against a referendum to change the Constitution regardless of the political colour of the Government that submitted each of the referendums since I first had a vote in 1917. I must qualify that statement, because I voted against the second conscription referendum in 1917. 1 commend the Bill to the Parliament. I commend it to all supporters of the Australian Labour Party and I commend it most earnestly to all the people of Australia.

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