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Wednesday, 4 April 1973
Page: 1094


Mr RIORDAN (Phillip) - During the whole of the debate at the second reading stage and on each clause of the Bill we have heard millions of words spoken by the Opposition as it has desperately clutched at straws before it has sunk beneath the political waves. This Government does not seek the establishment of an electoral system which allows for rural domination or for city domination. This Bill seeks to re-establish in Australia government by the people. Those people who would deny that concept are people who would deny the very basic tenet of democratic society. There is no case in Australia for the establishment of second class citizenship. There is no case in Australia for saying that some citizens shall have less say in the selection of government than others. We are not here to preside over the dilution of citizen rights in this community, and those people who say that as a matter of some almost divine right they should have more say than others are people who do not and cannot claim to have any sympathy with the democratic concept. All must have an equal say in selecting a government.

Much has been said here about the plight of poor members in country areas; that we must have smaller electorates in country areas to suit the convenience of members of Parliament. This is a specious, spurious argument. Members of Parliament are elected by people who are entitled to vote to select the government to govern the country in the interests of the people. The people of this country do not select a few privileged citizens and say: 'We will send you to Parliament whereafter you shall live in comfort for the rest of your life'.

That is not the purpose of a member of Parliament, at least as I see it and at least as it is seen on this side of the Parliament. If electorates are too big to allow the members concerned adequately to service them there is a case for adequate assistance and additional facilities being provided for those members. It is not and cannot be a case to say that those citizens who live in that electorate shall have more say than those who live in the overcrowded, densely populated city electorates.

It is of no use somebody saying that the country carries the city. That is sheer nonsense. And of course it is being said here in several of the arguments put that there is inconsistency in the Government's approach for 2 reasons. Firstly, it is argued that because an equal number of senators represents each of the States we cannot expect that there should be equality of value in voting in the House of Representatives. Those who put forward that argument are indeed ignorant of history. They apparently do not realise that the idea of having equal representation in the Senate from each of the States comes from what is known as the great compromise of the Constitution convention in the United States of America in 1778. This very argument almost split the convention in half. The question was: Should there or should there not be one vote one value? The weight of the argument was ultimately that there must be equality in the value of voting, otherwise the whole concept of democratic society crashed. To protect the rights of the smaller States, the less populated regions, the compromise reached was that the other chamber, the Senate, should have 2 senators from each of the States. That is the basis of it and it is the basis of the position in Australia. And yet those on the other side of the chamber will argue: 'Do not quote the United States Supreme Court. Do not quote what happens in the United States.' They are either very ignorant of history or alternatively conveniently ignorant of the history of this system of government. They wish to ignore the precedence for the Federal system of government except when it suits them.

The other very spurious argument put to show alleged Government inconsistency was an argument which ran something along these lines: At the turn of the century or early in this century two-thirds or some such figure of electorates were in rural areas. Of course there was also a quite different distribution of population at that time. When one looks at the very radical proposals that my very good friend, the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly), is accused of having introduced in clause 3 of this Bill and when one looks back as far as I have - perhaps it goes back further - it will be found that his proposals are almost identical with the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act of 1918. There are one or two minor variations but not much of substance. The only thing of substance is that the requirement to follow State electoral boundaries has been removed and the need to follow the trend of population - a provision which is currently in the Act - has been left in.

The Minister is accused of radical change, but the census of 1916 revealed that 60 per cent of the people of this country lived outside capital cities and 40 per cent in the capital cities. In 1972, 54 per cent of the Australian population lived in capital cities, and the population of capital cities has gone from 2 million to 8 million in that period. In other words, the enormous increase in population has been predominantly in the city areas. It has been argued that there are difficulties associated with the representation of country areas. I have already addressed myself to this aspect but let me add one comment on the difficulty of getting around. I represent an electorate which has an area of 5.3 square miles, but that is all ground space. It is a far greater area if one measures floor space because my electorate goes up, not out. I guarantee that country members in their cars or charter aircraft can travel between their country towns and cities more quickly than a city member can move between the suburbs of Sydney in peak hour traffic. This, of course, is a factor which honourable members opposite overlook. They conveniently overlook the problems associated with high rise development and with overcrowding in city electorates. The difficulties associated with representation in the cities are equally as great as they are in most rural areas.

However, this evening we are discussing a simple point: What is the most convenient way for members of this chamber to represent electors? We are discussing what is the most democratic and most equitable way of ensuring that we have government by the people and that every citizen has an equal say. We do not want to develop second class citizens or a citizen who has a diluted vote. I put it to the Committee that the real essence of this Bill is to ensure that the right of the people to select their government is preserved. What is on trial tonight is the basic concept of democracy. Never mind about propaganda slogans; let us look at the facts and the principles. The fact is that this Bill will bring the Act much closer to the concept of an equal value for each vote cast. Is that not the basis of democracy? I put it that those who deny it deny the very foundation on which our parliamentary system of government is based. This amendment should be agreed to because it will ensure that the will of the people prevails.







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