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Wednesday, 4 April 1973
Page: 1081


Mr FISHER (Mallee) - I rise to speak against this Bill and in particular to speak against clause 3 of it. A rural society, because of its minuteness, particularly in relation to voting strength, but because of its strength in relation to the economy and its effect on the rest of the Australian community, has to be protected from under-representation. Our sparsely populated areas must be protected from centralisation of political control as well. The needs pf our country people, who include not only those on the land but the people and the workers in our country towns and provincial cities have needs and opinions which can be expressed only in Parliament through the voice of their chosen representative, to whatever party he belongs. This rural voice is only as strong as the numerical strength of its representation in the Parliament. The Australian Country Party is the only political party created exclusively for the purpose primarily of seeing that those in the outback, those engaged in the . rural industries and those engaged in the valuable export industries have this parliamentary expression. <

The' Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly), who is responsible for the introduction of this Bill which relates to the distribution of the States into electoral divisions, has stated that under the Commonwealth Electoral Act Western Australia is in need of a further seat. We agree, but it is' also the only State that at this stage requires an alteration in the electoral boundaries. I. suggest that the last election was significant for the lack of support by country people for this Government, and I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that at this stage support for this' Government must be at an all time low in rural areas. Hence the desire of the Australian Labor Party ro attempt to consolidate its position by electoral alterations.

It is not and must not be accepted that the Australian Country Party will, as a result of sarcasm, criticism or abuse, be a party to a redistribution or any other alteration to our electoral laws which will deprive those people living in country areas of their rights. We are justified in rejecting this Bill on the principle that the remoteness and distance of country areas from the centres of administration disadvantage representation and the fact that relatively bad communication facilities show no signs of any continual improvement under this Government are real reasons for retaining our present electoral system. The sections of the legislation relating to remoteness and unanimity of interests are vital to future adequate and equal representation. The way the supporters of this Bill speak in debate leads us to believe that our electoral system brings into conflict rural and urban interests, that there is a division and will be a division between rural and urban people. I can only say, and I can be certain of this, that the implementation of this legislation will create such a division.

The Australian Country Party thinks of people in no such way. In the long run real democratic government, real equality of representation or real equality in the value of votes is achieved only by ensuring that all members of this Parliament have an equal opportunity to represent the people in their electorates. There are fewer people in country areas in comparison with city areas, but they are producing more and are performing valu-able functions and must keep performing these functions if this nation is to remain healthy. In terms of human political values and because of their efficiency their voice is diminishing. More than 60 per cent of Australia's exports flow from rural Australia. It is plainly in the national interest to see that this is sustained. It can be sustained in a political democracy only as long as there is a voice to represent country people and as long as this voice has some numbers behind it to render it effectual.

All rural members of Parliament in this House, irrespective of Party loyalty or affiliation, must surely recognise the basic fact that people cannot be seen in terms of a mathematical formula. Legislators can only truly represent their interests, whether social, political or economic, by having a voice to speak for them. Surely the problems of size, of communication and of geography, which affect the ability of a member of Parliament to confer with his electorate, are obvious even to any person who has never been outside a city. Yet the proposal of the Labor Party is to increase even further the size and, simultaneously, the problems caused by this very factor. Will the Government and the likeable, yet comical, Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) next suggest that country people, because of their population, can also make do with fewer churches, schools, telephones or postal services?

If examples are to be taken as any guide, numerous examples can be produced to prove that our system not only is one of the most notable for electoral equality but is also one of the world's best in most other aspects. What people really want is good and balanced representation. Good representation where a Federal member looks outside his city office and sees the rooftops of all his constituents in a compact area is quite different from good representation of constituents by a Federal member of Parliament Who comes from a rural area made up of farmers and small towns, with their many interests, backgrounds, economic problems and diversities. When the Country Party attempts to do something tangible about these difficulties by recognising and catering for them, Labor screams 'gerrymander' and insists that the Country Party is manipulating on behalf of its own interests and not in an attempt to help those rural citizens, three-fifths of whom are represented in this Parliament by members other than Country Party members of Parliament.

An exact equality of electors in every electorate cannot be achieved and therefore a reasonable variation has to be allowed if redistributions are not to become an annual event. At present the average overall margin of allowance of our 41 rural seats is below 10 per cent, yet these are the seats under challenge and under discussion. This raises the real question of why any alteration of electoral boundaries is being attempted. Surely this Labor Government has sufficient confidence in its policies and in its abilities to believe that it can attract enough support from the Australian people without having to attempt to assure political immunity to boundary alterations. This is the first time for 2 decades that the Australian Labor Party has had the policies to attract a sufficient majority of people. Our democratic system allowed it to be voted into office. The essential part of our democratic system is that it does allow any Party, large or small, any organisation or any individual to run for parliamentary office and have some confidence in the result. Any dramatic alteration of our electoral laws, as proposed here, will not alter the vital composition of this place as regards ideology or philosophy, but democracy will be threatened in that it will make for the tyranny of a 2-party system.

The percentage number of votes polled in any election in relation to the number of seats held is a useless and unsound comparison. Such a percentage looks good or bad depending on the number of ultra-safe seats held by any Party or vice versa and naturally also on the number of seats contested. It is most decidedly a challenge to those who sit in this place to stand up and be counted on whether Australia is to have continued democratic rule and opportunity or whether the will of any one Party is to dominate our legislature. The great responsibility of Government and of this Parliament is for all people to be truly represented not only in number but also by the views and the needs of all people living in metropolitan and rural areas. 1 ask the Committee to vote against the Bill.







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