Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 23 August 1973
Page: 348


Mr RIORDAN (Phillip) - The speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) is remarkable in many respects. He sees the establishment of the principle of equality of voting as a means by which the Australian Labor Party will be entrenched in office for a long time and he quite blatantly and unashamedly opposes this legislation on that ground. What a concession for him to make. What a remarkable statement for him to make. As if that were not sufficient, he went on to suggest that over recent years the party polling the majority of votes has always been elected to government in this Parliament. That statement is simply incorrect. Three times in the last decade that has not been the case. In 1954 the Australian Labor Party polled 50.1 per cent of the votes and the Liberal Party and Country Party between them polled 47 per cent. The Labor Party had a majority of 3 per cent of the population of Australia voting for it and was in Opposition. In 1961 the Australian Labor Party polled 46.76 per cent and the Liberal Party and Country Party polled 40.91 per cent.


Mr Daly - The Country Party got 5 per cent.


Mr RIORDAN - It would be lucky. In 1969 the Australian Labor Party received 46.95 per cent and the Liberal Party-Country Party received 43.3 per cent. In each election the minority votes of the population of Australia elected the majority of members to the Parliament. The number of seats of the Liberal Party and Country Party went as high as seven more than those of tHe Australian Labor Party. In 1969 although Labor polled 3i per cent more of the vote than the combined Liberal Party-Country Party coalition that group had 7 seats more, even though it polled 3 per cent less.

One vote one value, for the benefit of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is not a grossly misleading smokescreen. It is the basic concept of democracy. All in a democracy should have equality of power. It cannot be claimed that we have a true state of democracy if we deny the concept of equality of all of our citizens. All are equal in our view. The Opposition parties apparently believe that some are more equal than others. Those who deny this concept of equality should have the courage to admit their attitudes in public so that the Australian people may pass judgment on them at the first opportunity.

Australia is becoming a nation riddled by political gerrymanders in certain States and the worst of these are in New South Wales and Queensland where there is blatant unashamed gerrymandering of electoral boundaries in order to not ensure democratic control but the continuation of Liberal Party-Country Party minority government. On the attitude of the Opposition to jockeying of electoral laws I noted the comment of the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) who was reported in the Brisbane 'CourierMail' of 9 June of this year as having agreed that State governments had jockeyed electoral laws. I was pleased to read that he said that and I hope that when he speaks in this Parliament tonight he will support the concept of one vote one value.

It is time in Australia for the community to lay down rules which set an example in political integrity. The Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) has fixed his attitude on the principle of one vote one value and nobody in the Opposition dares to quibble with that principle. But honourable members opposite find excuses, obscure though they may be, to try to justify not applying it. There is no room in Australia for political elitism. We reject the concept that some should have more say than others. The Minister has introduced legislation to establish democratic principles. His has not been an attitude of idle talk. Legislation has been introduced by this Government to grant voting rights to the 18- year-olds. That is a large area of adults who have received the franchise. An electoral commission has been established to take the Electoral Office away from the possible pressure of party political influence. Now we seek to introduce the principle of basic integrity, that every citizen's vote should be counted equally - the principle of one vote one value.

It is time that this Parliament considered some basic principles. The purpose of drawing electoral boundaries is to achieve a parliament representative of the majority of citizens; it is not designed to ensure a convenient and easy means for members of Parliament to ensure their re-election or an easy and convenient way for them to represent their constituents. This legislation goes only part of the way in the search for the principle of one vote one value. But it is a very significant step in that direction. It seeks to reduce the possible differential between the largest and smallest electorate from 40 per cent to 20 per cent. In other words it seeks to achieve not complete equality but reduction by half of the current disproportionate discrimination. Under the existing law it is possible to disfranchise 40 per cent of an electorate. It allows opportunity for blatant and shameless gerrymandering of the electorate and of the complexion of this Parliament.

I am not suggesting that previous redistributions have been shameless gerrymanders, but I am suggesting that when this Parliament lays down guidelines for electoral redistribution commissioners they will feel at least some obligation to pay regard to these guidelines. What this Party, this Government, seeks to do is to give them a free and open book to do as much as is necessary to achieve equality of political power for all of our citizens. It is grossly unfair discrimination to give some electors more say than others, and the insidious part of it is that because people in similar income groups tend to live in the same sort of area, unequal representation leads inevitably to discrimination based on income. Such a situation is contrary to the principles and spirit of the Australian Constitution itself.

All electors, irrespective of their income, religion or colour or place of residence are entitled to expect equality of power to decide who shall govern them and who shall make the laws which they are bound to obey. The present Act is designed to give some who live in rural electorates more say and a disproportionate voice in the selection of governments. The present situation is equivalent to denying some citizens the right to vote because virtually their vote is meaningless. This is achieved by giving the 75,000 electors in La

Trobe the same voice as the 51,000 electors in Paterson. There is no possible justification for such a state of affairs. It means an effective one-third less say in this Parliament for those citizens who live in La Trobe than for those who live in Paterson. We see the emergence of a new privileged class because of this position. It has been an effort to establish what I might call a rural-ocracy in Australia. We must be astute to prevent and to remove the possibility of a cynical approach to the establishment of a permanent one-party rule.

The thing which amazes me most about this argument is that although this Government is seeking to put beyond its own power the capacity to gerrymander its political opponents are fighting it all the way down the line. The use of personal information gained in the census, processed by modern computers without the legislative protection of one vote one value could lead to a most undemocratic situation. It could lead to the establishment of a society which would be a mockery of democracy. This Government is in a most unusual situation. It is not trying to prevent its political opponents from engaging in a gerrymander. It is attempting to place the capacity for boundary rigging beyond its own reach. It is fighting to give away its capacity to gain an unfair advantage.

The Government is attempting to establish a fair basis for future democracy. In doing that its political opponents oppose it and complain that by giving every citizen an equal vote they will be in permanent Opposition. What an indictment. What a disgraceful state of affairs when members of this Parliament stand up before the Speaker and blatantly say: We think that there should be perpetuated in the laws of this country a system which will allow for a minority rule of the Australian people'. How can we expect the citizens of this country to accept and obey what might be unpopular laws at a particular time if they are made by a minority representative government? The democratic concept in our society is very fragile. It involves the principle of government by the consent of the governed. Government by the people, the rule of law and the equality of all citizens before the law are basic points and the very foundation on which democracy is built. Members opposite would destroy, perhaps unwittingly, this very basic concept.

Inequality of voting power between citizens is a denial of liberty which cannot be accepted. Any denial of liberty in Australia is not acceptable nor can it be justified under any foreseeable circumstances. My view is that those who truly believe in democratic government will consider this Bill on the ground of principle, not in a narrow and cynical way concerned only with grabbing political power or with the obsession to maintain disproportionate representation. There is no basis in fact or having regard to history to suggest that this measure could result in a misapplication of proper principles in electoral distribution. In fact the opposite is the case. This proposal will merely give a clearer and more precise guide to the Electoral Commissioners if and when they are considering new electoral boundaries. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) cited the case of Wesberry v. Sanders in the United States Supreme Court. He has a very strange way of interpreting legal judgments. I think he must have read the wrong case because I have in my possession the report of this case. It is contained in volume 376 of the United States Law Reports at page 10 of which the following appears:

The question of how the legislature should be constituted precipitated the most bitter controversy of the Convention.

This was a reference to the United States Constitutional Convention of 1778. The report continues:

One principle was uppermost in the minds of many delegates: That, no matter where he lived, each voter should have a voice equal to that of every other in electing members of Congress. In support of this principle, George Mason of Virginia 'argued strongly for an election of the larger branch by the people. It was to be the grand depository of the democratic principle of the Government.

James Madison agreed, saying 'If the power is not immediately derived from the people, in proportion to their numbers, we may make a paper confederacy, but that will be all'. Repeatedly, delegates rose to make the same point: That it would be unfair, unjust, and contrary to common sense to give a small number of people as many Senators or Representatives as were allowed to much larger groups.

Later in that judgment, to which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred but did not bother to quote for obvious reasons, the court, at page 17, said:

Soon after the Constitution was adopted, James Wilson of Pennsylvania, by then an Associate Justice of this Court, gave a series of lectures at Philadelphia in which, drawing on his experience as oneof the most active members of the Constitutional Convention, he said:

All elections ought to be equal. Elections are equal, when a given number of citizens, in one part of the state, chooses many representatives, as are chosen by the same number of citizens, in any other part of the state. In this manner the proportion of the representatives and of the constituents will remain invariably the same.'

On page 18 of the report, quoting Madison, the judgment said:

Who are to be the electors of the Federal Representatives? Not the rich more than the poor; not the learned more than the ignorant; not the haughty heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscure andpropitious fortune. The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States.

The same principle holds true here. The Australian system of federal government closely follows the system of the United States and the same principles held to be valid there are valid in our great nation. Those who would destroy that principle are people who oppose the basic Australian concept and who are at variance with the Australian attitude. The Australian Constitution has been based on the principle that there shall be a minimum representation guaranteed for each State but that within each state there shall be equality of representation. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred to the tolerance needed for rapidly growing electorates, but he did not put what he really has in mind. What he is really up to and what he is really about is preserving representation for rapidly diminishing electorates; not giving credit for the rapidly increasing ones. The history of the Opposition in government proves that beyond all doubt. The dilution of the votes of some citizensor some class of citizens cannot be justified within the concepts of democratic government, and it will not be tolerated by this Government. If need be I have no doubt it will not be tolerated by the Australian people. The Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) has served fair warning that if the Opposition wishes to frustrate the will of the people in this regard it can take its case to the highest court in this land and argue it out on the platform of public opinion the court of public opinion in the electorate.


Mr Anthony - Let us do that.


Mr RIORDAN - I hope the honourable member means that and is prepared, at the appropriate time, to stand up and say that he does not believe in one vote, one value.


Mr Anthony - Just like in the Upper House in New South Wales. You got done on that, did you not?


Mr RIORDAN - I say to my honourable friend that justice will be done. Nothing is surer. I remind the Leader of the Country Party that nothing is surer than when a vote is taken in this Parliament tonight a majority of members will stand on the side of true democracy - will stand for equality of rights for all Australian citizens. Before I conclude I refer to the case of Reynolds v. Sims which is reported in the United States Law Reports. The judgment in that case contains these words:

Logically, in a society ostensibly grounded on representative government, it would seem reasonable that a majority of the people of a State could elect a majority of that State's legislators. To conclude differently, and to sanction minority control of state legislative bodies, would appear to deny majority rights in a way that far surpasses any possible denial of minority rights that might otherwise be thought to result.

This legislation sets new rules. It can be regarded as setting new guidelines for the Australian political system. The Leader of the Country Party referred to certain State legislatures. I agree with him completely that it is a shameful disgrace to the Australian way of life that there should be such gerrymandering.The only consolation is that the parliaments concerned appear to be having less say and fewer constructive things to do.

The last time it was suggested in this Parliament that the Labor Party had engaged in a gerrymander was in 1949. 'A gerrymander', cried members of the Opposition at that time. It was a gerrymander which saw the defeat of a Labor government, and the Liberal and Country Parties learned well from that mistake. In the last decade they introduced redistributions on 3 occasions to ensure them of government even though they received a minority of the votes.







Suggest corrections