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Wednesday, 30 May 1973
Page: 2847


Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) - When the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) was speaking to this clause last night I think he seriously misunderstood the position which had been taken up by my honourable and learned friend the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen). The honourable member for Moreton did not, as I understand it, in any way advocate that senators should be appointed to represent the Antarctica, Heard Island, etc. What he was doing was to use a form of argument which is known among logicians as reductio ad absurdum. The honourable member was trying to show the ultimate consequences of the kind of thing that was being put forward by the Government.

If a Territory is to have senators then why should not the smallest Territory have senators if size means nothing? But the size does mean something. There is some kind of reasonable ratio of size. When I look at the Bills which are before the chamber for cognate consideration, I think that the Government has very rightly arranged for proper representation for the Australian Capital Territory in this House. Previous governments did this. Because the population of the Australian Capital Territory has now increased it is entitled to have 2 members in the House of Representatives rather than one because it is a fair share in relation to the number of people and the number of electors in the Territory. The numbers are important. But when it comes to the Senate the Government seems to forget this altogether and says that the numbers are not important. When my friend the honourable member for Moreton spoke of this he was showing that if we adopted the Government principle that numbers were not important then every Territory would be equally entitled to have its own representatives in the Senate. This is the reductio ad absurdum. Tt shows the consequence of following out the principle which the Government has adopted and it is an absurd consequence. My honourable friend from the electorate of Moreton was, as T take it, simply pointing out the absurdity which followed from the adoption of the prin ciple or should I rather say the lack of principle in the proposals which the Government was putting forward in regard to this Bill.

This is not just a trivial matter. We pointed out earlier in this debate that the disparity between the various States in representation in the Senate in accordance with the number of people in the States, all States having equal numbers of senators although they have great differences in population, arose from a federal compact and we paid this price as the price of federation, lt is not something which we should otherwise willingly have paid but the compact has been made. It should be honoured and it will be honoured. But why should we saddle ourselves with new inequities? Why, for example, should the Northern Territory with something like 90,000 inhabitants have 2 senators which would mean one senator to 45,000 inhabitants while New South Wales with something like 4* million people has 10 senators which means one senator for 450,000 inhabitants? Why should we confer on the Northern Territory 10 times the right of the people of New South Wales? It does not seem reasonable at all. As a representative for New South Wales I do not see why this principle of the State compact should be violated in this way.

This is particularly important because of the system of proportional representation which we have for the Senate and which makes the Senate equally divided or nearly equally divided between the political parties. Between the major parties the majority in the Senate is never very great one way or the other. If you were to put in the 4 anomalous senators they would not be senators, they would be representatives. If you were to put in these 4 anomalous territorial senators - call them what you like - then it may well be that they would cut across party lines and because of their very coherent sectional interests they would be able to gang up and swing the whole balance of the Senate as between the major parties. Is this Government going to put the destiny of Australia in the hands of these small sectional groups which are not like the rest of Australia? After all, Canberra is not a general cross-section of the Australian community and neither is the Northern Territory. Are we going to put the Australian destiny in the hands of these small sections? I would say that this would be a quite unreasonable thing to ask the Australian electorate to do. There is no doubt in my mind that whereas the Government is endeavouring to curry favour with these small sections it is at the same time doing so at the price of the electors of Australia as a whole. Whereas it thinks it can get a little sectional advantage it will find that it will get a major disadvantage which will not be sectional because the rest of Australia will not like to see its rights taken away and concentrated in these small sectional interests.

There is one question of principle which I think should be brought forward when one speaks of the disparity in these numbers. This is something which is ruining the authority of the United Nations. The authority of the United Nations is ruined very largely because of the equality of the voting power which is exercised by nations which have only a few hundred thousand people as against nations which have a few hundred million people. For example, why should India have only the same voting power as Fiji or some country like that? This is not reasonable. It is the kind of disparity - the reductio ad absurdum - which we have seen in operation in the United Nations today which is destroying the authority of that world body on which the peace of the world, and I would say the continued existance of humanity, so much depends. This matter which is before the Committee now is one of quite high principle.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 4 (Representation in the Senate).







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