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Thursday, 10 March 1966


Mr J R Fraser . - The Opposition welcomes this Bill, which proposes to repeal section 6 of the Australian Capital Territory Representation Act and, by that excision, to remove all restrictions on the voting rights of the member for the Australian Capital Territory. Personally, I welcome the measure because it is something that I have sought practically throughout the whole of the 15 years that I have represented the Australian Capital Territory in this place. The Bill provdes that it shall become effective after the next general election, that is to say, the member for the Australian Capital Territory in the 26th Parliament will be a member with full voting rights. There will be no distinction in voting rights as between the member for the Australian Capital Territory and any other member of that Parliament, with the then exception only of the member for the Northern Territory, as the Government has not yet moved to amend the Representation Act for that Territory.

At the outset I express the hope that with the authority, support and indulgence of the people of the Australian Capital Territory I shall be the first member for this Territory to exercise full voting rights. That, of course, remains to be seen; it is a matter to be decided at the polling booth.

The Opposition welcomes this measure because it achieves what the Opposition has sought to achieve on several occasions in this House. The first occasion was in 1959. The Government then was introducing some minor amendments to the Australian Capital Territory Representation Act. I think at that time - to the initial embarrassment of " Hansard " but quite correctly - 1 referred to them as piddling little amendments, and 1 sought to achieve a major reform by moving that all restrictions on the voting rights of the member should be removed from the Act. That amendment was quite thoroughly debated and was then voted upon and, of course, defeated by the Government numbers. Then in 1962 the Opposition itself introduced a bill which would have had exactly the effect of the present measure, that is to remove all restrictions on the voting rights of the member for the Australian Capital Territory. The Government permitted that, bill to go to the second reading stage and then allowed it to remain on the notice paper until the 24th Parliament was prorogued, when the item disappeared.

In introducing this measure the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Anthony) said -

Over the years there have been many requests that the member for the Australian Capital Territory be given full voting rights, but the Government has held firmly to the principle that this could be considered only when the enrolment for the Territory approached the average enrolment of the electoral divisions.

I admit at once that the questions of numbers has always formed the main basis of the Government's objection to the amendment of the Act to remove what I have always regarded not as an insult to me but as an insult to the people of the Australian Capital Territory in their being refused representation in this House by a member with full voting powers. But while it may be true that the question of numbers has always formed the basis of the Government's main argument, the Minister's predecessor in the position of Minister for the Interior, and indeed the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, found some other quite strange reasons for refusing to grant this reform. I refer to an answer given to me by the former Prime Minister in February 1959 when I suggested that the Government should take action to amend the Australian Capital Territory Representation Act. The Prime Minister showed solicitous concern for my welfare, or perhaps a solicitous concern for the people of the Australian Capital Territory, for in his reply he said -

I do not know whether the honorable member really wants to have a full vote for the Australian

Capital Territory. It seems it may expose his holding of the seat to some danger, but that is for him to determine.

Well, if he held that view the Prime Minister protected my interests by refusing to agree to the amendment I sought. I gather that the present Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) has made a similar suggestion, perhaps not with solicitude but rather with glee, that if the seat is made a full voting seat the present incumbent may not be able to hold it. That, of course, is something for. the future and something for the people of the Australian Capital Territory to decide. Back in April 1959, when the former Minister for the Interior, now the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth), was moving some minor amendment to this Australian Capital Territory Representation Act, he gave some reasons why the Government could not agree to grant full voting rights. He said -

If it is merely a question of numbers, then the member for the Australian Capital Territory is clearly not entitled to full voting rights at present.

This was in 1959, when the enrolment was much less than it is at present. The Minister went on to say -

There are, of course, other difficulties in the way. The Australian Capital Territory has been created by the Sates as part of the machinery of federation. As a centre of administration it is largely financed by the contributions of taxpayers all over Australia. Whether it is justifiable to have the fate of a government responsible for the national policy possibly at the mercy of the representative largely elected by the civil servants at the heart of the administrative machine is at least open to argument.

I want to assure the present honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory that I do not express that view merely because, at the present time, he happens to represent a political party in opposition to the present government. A glance at the party numbers in this House should be a convincing reassurance to him on that score. Indeed - and I do not know whether the honorable member can take this as a compliment or otherwise - at has been represented to me quite strongly that while the member for the Australian Capital Territory has no vote in the House and therefore does not directly influence the fate of a government, residents in the Australian Capital Territory make the best of both worlds by electing a representative of the opposite political persuasion to that of the government in office.

At least, having used that quite specious argument, the Minister had the grace to say -

I concede that at times that kind of view demands some pretty accurate political forecasting. I mention that argument only to emphasis that this government is not actuated by party politics or personali ties in its present views. Another argument sometimes used to justify the withholding of full voting rights is the extent of which the Commonwealth Government is obliged, as part of its function of developing a national capital, to spend on the provision of amenities here large sums of money that are quite out of proportion to the taxation contributed by the electors resident in the Australian Capital Territory. I do not rely on that as a very powerful argument except to say that there is no ground for supposing, on the present expenditures on Canberra, that the citizens are not receiving a very fair share of government consideration.

I mention this to show that the Government has not always relied entirely on the question of numbers - that it has not always based its opposition to this electoral reform on the numbers enrolled in this electorate. In that same debate, in reply to my amendment seeking the removal of all restrictions on the voting rights of the member, the then Minister for the Interior said -

To my mind it is entirely reasonable that we should look to an approximate equality in the numerical size of electorates. I will deal with that point. It was also suggested that because I had introduced into the discussion the question of according a vote to the representative of a civil service community my argument fell to the ground on the numerical question. At no time in the debate have I said that when the numbers in the Australian Capital Territory came up to the average number in any electorate this Government would automatically grant full voting rights to the member of the Australian Capital Territory. I introduced this as another consideration which must be taken into account. t believe that it is quite an important point. It was quite rightly said that it was undesirable to deprive a civil servant living in Melbourne, Perth, or Sydney of a vote. Where civil servants are spread as a sort of leaven amongst all the other electorates, there can never be said to be a true civil service vote as such, because it is not readily identifiable.

He went on -

It becomes rather interesting to find the civil service charged with the duty of being nonpartisan in the advice it gives to governments, charged with being impartial in its approach to political problems, and yet having possibly a decided leaning towards one political party or another, where that civil service vote is identifiable.

That is the only distinction in principle between the civil servants in Melbourne, Sydney or somewhere else in Australia and the conglomeration of civil servants in Canberra. I am quoting the words of the former Minister for the Interior, now Minister for Shipping and Transport. He went on to say -

Is it desirable that the civil service vote, as such, should be identified with a political party when, in point of fact, the duty of the civil service is to give impartial advice to the government of the day? It is quite true that there is a distinction which can be drawn. A civil servant may hold definite political views and yet, in the line of duty, still give impartial advice to those carrying out the government. I believe many do, but in the public mind I think confusion would be created and the doubt would be there.

I have said on previous occasions - and I say again that I think that was a very poor argument for the Minister to use at that time. I hope and believe that the present Minister will not use that form of argument, and indeed the fact that he has introduced this Bill and has, I believe, persuaded his Prime Minister and Cabinet to agree to its introduction, reveals that he will not adopt that line of thinking. But it needs to be recorded that that was the argument used by a previous Minister for the Interior in refusing to grant full voting rights to the member for the Australian Capital Territory, thus denying lull representation in the Parliament to the citizens of the Australian Capital Territory. As I have said, the Government requires members of the civil service to hold political views. In fact, it compels them to express political views in compelling them to vote. The compulsion to vote quite clearly pre-supposes that the civil servant who goes to the polls must hold and must express political views when he casts his vote for the candidate of one party or another. So I believe that the argument put forward by the former Minister was completely without substance, in that it denied to a whole community the right of full representation in the Parliament.

We have had recent experience in this Parliament of the attitude of this Government to a civil servant who chose the express certain political opinions and to hold to a certain political belief. I refer to the recently elected member for Dawson (Dr. Patterson), who was a very senior public servant when he announced his intention to contest that seat as the candidate of the Australian Labour Party. What the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, had to say on that occasion is fresh within the memory of many members of this House. I would say that the people of this Territory particularly and the people of Australia as a whole should remember these things, because those are the views expressed by leading members of the Government parties on their attitude towards members of the Public Service. It is perhaps worthwhile just to glance back on the history of this matter, because it is quite clear that members of the present Government parties have not always based their argument against full voting rights for the member for the Australian Capital Territory on the question of numbers.

The Australian Capital Territory Representation Act was passed through this Parliament by the Chifley Labour Government in 1948. That was the Act designed to give the first representation in the Parliament to the people of the Australian Capital Territory and it included the provision that the member for the Australian Capital Territory might vote only on a motion to disallow an ordinance. In this the Government was following the pattern of legislation already in force in the Northern Territory to grant representation there, lt was held - and I think quite rightly - that at that time, when the electorate numbered between 1 1 ,000 and 12,000 voters, you could not have given a member representing that number representation equal to that of members representing electorates then averaging 50,000 or 60,000 electors. But the non-Labour parties of that day assailed the Government on its provision. Of course it is the duty of an Opposition to oppose, but they assailed the Government for not granting full voting rights to the member for the Australian Capital Territory. They protested that the Government should have given him full voting rights even though the enrolment was then only 11,000 or 12,000.


Mr Daly - They were very honest in opposition.


Mr J R Fraser - They were kept honest in opposition. The trouble was that they were not kept in opposition long enough. They might have been more honest today if they had been. On 1 1 th November 1948 a former member for Henty, Mr. Jo Gullett, who later resigned from politics - I think he got heartily fed up with the conditions in the party to which he belonged, he gave politics away and became a farmer in the Australian Capital Territory and is now our Ambassador in Greece - speaking to the debate on the original Australian Capital Territory Representation Act, said -

It is just as well to remind ourselves that the people of Canberra will still be classed with lunatics, criminals, children, aborigines and, of course, aliens; as people without an effective voice in the national affairs of this country, and people without a say in their own process of self government.

That was the view expressed by Jo Gullett, who was a member of the Opposition in 1948 and who, of course, became Government Whip in the Menzies Government. But the description he gave, apart from the minor amendment now made to grant voting rights to Aborigines, could still be held to reflect the opinion of the present Government so far as residents of the Northern Territory are concerned. The amendment now proposed will, as from the commencement of the next Parliament, remove the people of the Australian Capital Territory from that classification. But from now until, say, February of next year, they could be classed with lunatics, criminals, children and, of course, aliens. After February of next year that stigma will be removed from them, but it will remain with those who live in the Northern Territory and who elect a member to this Parliament.


Mr Daly - Judged on their representatives here they are highly intelligent voters.


Mr J R Fraser - I thank the honorable member for Grayndler very kindly on my behalf and on behalf of the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson). It is perhaps worth recalling criticism expressed by a quite distinguished member of the Menzies Government, which then, of course, was in opposition. I am now speaking of the debate in 1948. The honorable member for Wentworth, Sir Eric Harrison, who became Vice-President of the Executive Council and later High Commissioner for Australia in the United Kingdom, also criticised the provision of the Chifley Act of 1948 which denied full voting rights and said that the then Opposition parties, when they came into power, might find it necessary to amend that provision. The debates to which I have referred show how opinion has changed and how Government members who in those days felt that the member for the Australian Capital Territory should have full voting rights, have voted and spoken against a bill on the same subject.

I do not propose to use anything like my full time in this debate, though I wish to place certain things on record. I think lt is worth reminding the House that although this seat was created in 1948 when there was an enrolment here of only about 10,000, at the first election in 1949 when the late Dr. Nott was elected to this House as the first member for the Australian Capital Territory the enrolment was only about 11,800, as the Minister said yesterday. At the 1951 election when I was elected it was 12,774. By 1954 it had increased to just short of 15,000 and in 1955 it was 16,181. In 1958 the enrolment had crept up only to 20,563. It was not until the election in 1961 that the first substantial increase took place. In the three years between 1958 and 1961, the enrolment jumped from 20,563 to 28,698. In the following year it increased to 29,941. At the election in 1963, the enrolment was over 36,000. The present figure is 43,726.

This is still considerably short of the average of electoral enrolments in the 122 seats that return members with full voting rights in this House. In February, the average stood at 49,236. Although enrolment in the Australian Capital Territory is still some thousands short of the Australian average, it is worth putting on record again the fact that the present enrolment of 43,726 in this electorate is greater than the figure in 50 of the electorates represented in this House by members with full voting rights. Of those seats, 21 are in New South Wales, 14 in Victoria, 4 in Tasmania, 6 in Queensland, 4 in Western Australia and 1 in South Australia. So there are substantial reasons for the introduction of the Bill that the Government has now brought in.

Just for the record, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I point out that of the 50 electorates with an enrolment exceeded by that in the Australian Capital Territory, no fewer than 9 are represented by Ministers. It may have been of great help to our argument that the enrolment in the Territory is now some 3.000 greater than that in the seat of Higgins, which is held by the Prime Minister, and about 3,000 greater than that in Lowe, the seat held by the present Treasurer (Mr. McMahon).


Mr Daly - It is about 11,000 above the enrolment in my electorate.

Mr. J.R. FRASER__ That is so. The enrolment in the Australian Capital Territory exceeds that in the electorate of New

England, which is held by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair), that in the Paterson electorate, which is represented by the Minister for Defence (Mr. Fairhall), that in Richmond, which is represented by the Minister for the Interior, and that in Curtin, which is held by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck), who has just held the House enthralled with a discourse on external affairs. The enrolment in this Territory exceeds that in the electorate of Perth, which is held by the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Chaney), and that in Fawkner, which is represented by the Minister for Air (Mr. Howson). I repeat that the enrolment in the Australian Capital Territory exceeds that in the electorates represented in this House by nine Ministers of the Crown.


Mr Mackinnon - It exceeds also the enrolment in the electorate represented by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell).


Mr J R Fraser - The enrolment here exceeds not only the enrolment in the seat held by the Leader of the Opposition but also that in the electorate represented by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean). I suppose there is a fairly even balance between seats represented by Government supporters and those held by Opposition members among the electorates whose enrolment is exceeded by the figure for this Territory. The full tally of electorates with an enrolment currently lower than that in the Australian Capital Territory is already 50, and officers of the Commonwealth Electoral Office have indicated to me that the enrolment here is rapidly overtaking that in a number of other seats. So. by the time this measure becomes effective, the enrolment in the Territory may exceed that in 60 or more electorates. By that time the enrolment in this seat may well be greater than the enrolment in at least half the electorates represented in' this House.

It is obvious that an electorate of this size should no longer be denied full voting representation in the Parliament and I commend the Government on having introduced this measure. It is a great pity that the Administration has not seen fit to introduce it with immediate effect, but I accept as a reasonable proposition the proclaiming of this amending measure on the day on which the Twenty-sixth Parliament assembles.

This means that when the people of the Territory go to the polls later this year they will know that they will be voting to elect as their representative in this Parliament a member who will have full voting rights at least equal to those of all other members of this House. I should like to stress one point Mr. Deputy Speaker, because some idle thoughts have been projected about this matter. The mere granting of full voting rights will not alter the actual parliamentary role of the member for the Australian Capital Territory, because this, after all, is a most unusual electorate. Any usual Commonwealth electorate on the mainland comprises an area represented in the State Parliament, on the average, by two members. I think that in Tasmania there are probably five State members to every Commonwealth division.


Mr Duthie - There are seven.


Mr J R Fraser - That is better still. In the average division on the mainland there are two State electorates. There are also a number of city, municipal or shire councils, as the case may be. But in the Australian Capital Territory, there is no government at the State level. There is no local council or Legislative Council. So the member for the Australian Capital Territory in any future Parliament, whoever he or she may be, under the existing system will have to represent the electorate not only at the Commonwealth level but also at the State and local council level. Further than that, because the Commonwealth is here landlord to everybody - because it owns either the land or both the land and the house built on it - a matter that normally is one between landlord and tenant here becomes a matter between the citizen and the Commonwealth. So the member for the Australian Capital Territory must act in that field as well. In addition, because the Commonwealth is, either directly through the Public Service or through other channels, employer to so many, what would normally be matters between employee and employer here become matters between the citizen and the Commonwealth. So the problems that arise in these fields also land on the table of the member who represents the Territory in this House.


Mr Stewart - What does he do in his spare time?


Mr J R Fraser - I can assure you, Sir, that he does not play squash. I mention these matters, not necessarily to scare off any aspirants, but just to point out to them that if they come here with any hifalutin ideas that they will be able to study and speak on matters of national and international import, under present conditions they will have to think again, because their time will be so fully occupied with representation of the kind that 1 have mentioned as to make this impossible, just as it is impossible for me to become familiar with much of the legislation that comes before this House or. indeed, to become an expert in any particular field of legislation. This is one of the facts of life in this electorate. The job of representing this seat is a full time one and it has to be done at many levels.


Mr Daly - Is it rewarding?


Mr J R Fraser - It is perhaps rewarding, but not sufficiently so. Under present conditions, as the member for the Australian Capital Territory is the only full time paid representative that the people of this Territory have, his time is fully occupied with the thousand and one matters which his constituents bring to him and which in other electorates would be dealt with by members of State Parliaments and of city, municipal or shire councils. As I have said, this is one of the facts of life in this electorate and I put it on record for the benefit of those who believe that the member for the Australian Capital Territory, now that he is to have full voting rights in this House, will be able to speak on all the great topics that come before this Parliament and that he will be able to make himself an expert on external affairs, repatriation benefits, social services and the like. He has, of course, to represent his electors on these matters. He has to represent them in all the fields of federal legislation, but in addition he has to represent them in fields in which normally they would be represented by members of a State Parliament and by a local council. That position will oe maintained until the Government sees the wisdom of creating within this Territory some form of local self government.

This is one of the great needs of this Territory, and I believe that within the electorate the opinion is growing in strength that this reform should be undertaken and that the people of the Territory should be given the right to govern themselves in their day to day affairs. Not only should they be given this right; they should also no longer be allowed to escape the responsibility of governing themselves.

The Minister for the Interior who introduced the Bill has also committed himself on this matter of self government for the Australian Capital Territory. He has inquiries in hand to overcome the problems created by the division that must be made between what is properly national expenditure in the Territory and what can properly be said to be local expenditure to be borne by the residents of the Australian Capital Territory. But until this Territory is given some form of local self government, either through a Legislative Council or a Territory Council of some kind, the member for the A.C.T. in this Parliament must act for his constituents - and the population of this place now approaches 100,000. He must act for them in all the three categories I have described. In fact, because the member for the A.C.T. must bring their representations to this Parliament, this National Parliament itself is required to spend portion of its time dealing with matters which should more properly be dealt with by a Legislative Council or a local council.

I.   said once of a previous Minister for the Interior that I wished the previous Minister for Territories would bite him, because that Minister for Territories had established a Legislative Council for the Northern Territory and a Town Council for Darwin while the Minister for the Interior of that time was still refusing to introduce those reforms into the A.C.T. I hope the present Minister for the Interior will persuade the Government of the wisdom of taking this step as early as possible.

In introducing the measure, the Minister made some reference to the Northern Territory and 1 have done so also in passing. I hope that the Minister will help to persuade the Government to remove all restrictions on the voting rights of the member for the Northern Territory. That is one act of justice to which we on the Opposition side as a party are committed and I hope that the Parliament shortly will have the opportunity to amend the Northern Territory Representation Act. Perhaps the present incumbent will thus be persuaded to change his mind and instead of resigning remain the member of the Northern Territory, the electorate which he has served so well for many years.

I commend the Bill which will give delayed justice to the people of the Australian Capital Territory. I know that the people of this Territory will exercise their powers at the polls with wisdom and make a clear assessment of the policies of the opposing parties and the candidates who stand for election. I repeat the hope that having campaigned so long for this reform to grant full voting rights to the A.C.T. I shall be the member who will first exercise full voting rights for the Territory in this Parliament.







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