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Thursday, 24 February 1977
Page: 455

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - Perhaps I can allay some of the fears of the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King), in relation to the disappearance of his electorate. I have heard it on the grapevine that many honourable members opposite will be plugging for the disappearance of" Wannon before they will be plugging for the disappearance of Wimmera. It surprises me to hear these political bushrangers who sit in the corner seats to the left of the Labor Party stand up and weep every time redistributions are mentioned. They have quite a history of that sort of thing. They are notorious for it. I refer to the National Country Party, the same Party which rules in Queensland with 29 per cent of the popular vote. That Party is quite expert at rigging boundaries to get itself into power. I do not go along with the proposition put by the honourable member for Wimmera, namely, that there is a need to make country electorates smaller in area so that the member can serve it better. I believe that members could better represent their constituents if those who represented large areas lived in those large areas. I know that some honourable members who represent country electorates in fact live in capital cities. I think that proposition ought to be put to rest. I point out that it is not my intention to slur every person who represents a large electorate. However, some honourable members are able to do that.

I have put the proposition before, and I will put it again, that the function of a member of Parliament in Australia is twofold. I mention them not necessarily in order of priority. One of his functions is to come into this chamber and cast a vote on a particular issue on behalf of the people who live in the electorate he represents. As I read the Constitution, that is my understanding of what it intends. The other function of a member of Parliament- this is a practice which has grown up more than anything else- is for him to endeavour personally to interview people in his electorate. Because of the time that we spend away from our electorates that, of course, is not possible. Therefore I do not believe we do the institution of Parliament very much good if we endeavour to prostitute the Constitution by making some electorates smaller in number than others. That would create a disadvantage for those in the smaller electorates compared with those in the larger electorates. When honourable members cast a vote in this place they ought to be representing as nearly as practicable, to use the words of the Constitution, the same number of people.

The servicing of one's electorate, as I pointed out, is a different proposition altogether. If a member has a heavy work load he cannot do that adequately because he spends so much time away from his electorate. That is a job that can be done by staff and facilities provided for the member. I have said before, and I will say again- I stand by this proposition at all timesthat if the people of Australia demand service from their parliamentarians they must face up to the fact that they have to provide their parliamentarians with the tools with which to carry out their trade.

Mr Scholes - There was more done in that area by Labor Ministers than by Country Party Ministers.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) -That is true. My friend from Corio is quite right More was done in that area by a Labor Minister than was ever done before. The people of Australia must face up to providing those facilities. If they expect service from their parliamentarians they must be prepared to buy him the tools with which to do his work, and that means providing staff in his electorate.

The National Country Party- I have heard its supporters say this previously- seems to be a little bit crook on Tasmania. Could it perhaps be that it does not hold any seats in that State? Country Party supporters always raise the matter of only 5 members of the Parliament coming from Tasmania. It was not Labor Premiers who sat around the table and drafted that document called the Constitution; it was conservative Premiers. It is not so very many years ago that Tasmania was not the only State that had only 5 representatives in this place. It did not have the population to enable it to have greater representation. I well remember when South Australia and Western Australia were in that position. However, the population in those 2 States has grown and they nave advanced from that situation. It was anticipated by those who drafted the Constitution that that would happen for a variety of reasons. I do not wish to cast any slurs on the people who live on that beautiful island south of Australia. It just has not developed to the stage at which its population warrants even the 5 representatives that it has. After the next election it will have five even better representatives. I think it is almost an impossibility for the population of the island State to develop to the stage where it will have more than 5 representatives.

Mr King - What about the Northern Territory? Why do you not give the people there their rights too?

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) -I do wish the honourable member would read the Constitution. It is not a very difficult document to read. It makes mention of the original States being represented by 5 members. If a new State were to be created, it would not automatically get 5 representatives. The Parliament will determine the representation of Territories and any new States that are created. So I do wish that the honourable member would read the Constitution. I would like him to propose to the people a referendum question which seeks to reduce Tasmania's representation in this Parliament. I do not think he has that sort of courage.

I want to answer one other matter raised by the honourable member for Wimmera. He criticised me for interjecting when he said that the last major increase in the size of this House was in 1949. As I understand it, 2 additional members entered this place in 1949. The number of representatives increased from 123 to 125.

Mr Scholes -No, 75 to 125.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) -I beg your pardon; 75 to 125. Changes have been made in the number of representatives even since I have been in this place. Since 1969 we have seen the addition of the electorates of Fraser and Tangney so there are two more seats. When I entered the Parliament there were 125 seats and now there are 127 seats. I do not think anybody is good enough a prophet to predict how many seats there will be in this place when I leave it. There are 2 ways- probably three- of coming to the position of having a House of Representatives which is, as nearly as practicable, twice the size of the Senate. That position must be achieved following the recent High Court decision. However, I doubt that the third one would work in view of the fact that the High Court does not recognise the 300 000 people who live in the Territories as people of Australia. But I suppose we could count the senators from the Territories. Certainly a referendum could be put to the people, as was put in 1976, to break the nexus. This would permit the House of Representatives to increase its size without it being bound to being, as nearly as practicable, twice the size of the Senate. Alternatively, we could increase the Senate. I should like to meet the parliamentarian who would have enough courage to say that the Senate should be increased.

Mr Graham - I say so.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) -The honourable member for North Sydney says this. I do not think he quite realises that to increase the size of the Senate would mean the appointment of a further 24 senators.

Mr Graham - That is right.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) -If the honourable member is prepared to tell the people of

Australia that he is prepared to increase the size of the Senate by almost 50 per cent he must be on his last legs in this Parliament.

Mr King -Do you suggest that the Senate should remain as it is?

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - I suggest that the Senate should remain as it is or that it should be reduced- in fact, it should be abolished. It has served no useful purpose in the years that it has been there. Rather than increase its size, I think it should be diminished. Certainly its powers ought to be greatly curtailed.

The clauses in the Bill to which the Opposition raises objection have been very eloquently dealt with by the Leader of the Opposition-the Leader of the Labor Party- the honourable Gough Whitlam. Clause 7 of the Bill is a matter of great concern to us in the Labor Party because it is another attempt by the National Country Party to get its own way. It could not get its way by having the Electoral Act changed to return the variation to 20 per cent above and below the quota. Honourable members will recall that that was changed during the Joint Sitting. The Act was then amended to provide for a variation of only 10 per cent.

The National Country Party could not get its way. It then came up with the proposition that no electorate in the country should be larger in size than the smallest division in a city. On the face of it, that sounds very plausible. But I can use as an example my electorate, which has a high built in growth factor. This lines up with clause 10 of the Bill also. In 1968 when this division of Burke was created it had a voting population of 48 000 electors. Now, in 1977, which is almost 9 years later, it has very nearly 100 000 electors. In other words, it has doubled in size in almost 9 years. Clause 10 of the Bill almost prohibits a redistribution other than every 7 years.

Taking as an example the electoral division of Mallee, which has over 50 000 electors, as my electoral division virtually had in 1968, that division now has 52 000 or 54 000 electors, whereas I now have 100 000 electors. This is the way in which divisions within a State can become completely out of balance, not through action by anybody but because the outer areas of Sydney and Melbourne- indeed, of all the capital citiesare the only places to which the increasing population can go to live. For various reasons these people do not want to go to live in the country areas and even those who live in the country areas go into the city to live. Therefore, the proposition put in clause 7 would perpetrate that sort of inequality.

In 1968 the Distribution Commissioners were able to consider the division of Burke. It was known that the population within that division was going to increase rather dramatically so they were able to place it some thousands of voters below the quota, knowing that even by the time of the next election, which was some year and a half later, the division would very nearly be back to the quota. In fact, they were right. But they would not be able to do that under this legislation. They would have to place the federal division of Burke, or any other division that had a high in-built growth factor, on the quota. Otherwise, if they were able to bring down the size of the rapidly growing divisions to a particular figure, it would immediately set the size for every country division in the district. These divisions would then very soon, because of the growth factor effect, have numbers so far below those in the metropolitan areas that the whole thing would immediately become lopsided and distorted.

I have always regarded it as being immoral for politicians to determine electoral boundaries and for them to talk about electoral matters. I think it is fair enough that they should express views on the matter because they are professionals in the field, but I think the decision-making process should not be theirs alone. I would support very strongly any move to utilise part of the High Court as an electoral commission to have exclusive responsibility for the setting of boundaries and for the determining, in line with our Constitution, such matters as are covered in the very clause which we are debating now, that is, clause 7, relating to the above and below quota variation. I do not think the determination of these issues should be the prerogative of parliamentarians. I think the community looks at the present situation with a jaundiced eye. The present situation certainly is open to misuse, as has happened over the years in various States. The latest example occurred again in Queensland.

South Australia had the Liberal-Country League- Sir Thomas Playford 's Governmentruling for something like 30 years with a minority of votes. That sort of situation exists in Victoria. It is impossible for the Labor Party to go ahead because the boundaries are drawn up by a parliament in which the Labor Party does not have a majority. That situation is immoral. It is a wonder that it has been tolerated for so long.

My suggestion about the removal of responsibility for the setting of boundaries from politicians is not unique. It happens now in South Australia. Appeals against divisions in South

Australia are not determined by the South Australian Parliament; they are determined by the Supreme Court of South Australia. The Labor Government presented to the Parliament a redistribution proposal which was prepared by fair and reasonable people- I know that immediately excludes members of the National Country Party- who considered it to be a fair and reasonable redistribution. For about the first time it involved the principle of one vote one value, so that each of the voting citizens of our country, as nearly as was humanly possible, were fairly and equitably represented in the Parliament. It disadvantaged one of the major political parties- the National Country Party. I really do not think it disadvantaged the Liberal Party. Certainly, it did not advantage or disadvantage the Labor Party. Had the National Country Party been disadvantaged by it, it would not have been to the advantage of the Labor Party but to the advantage of the Liberal Party. So I do not think the Liberal Party was terribly displeased with the redistribution that came forward. But because of the rump that lives with it- these boundary bushrangers from the National Country Party- it was obliged to vote against the acceptance of that redistribution. In my view that was tragic and quite immoral. If there was objection to that redistribution proposal after it had been perused by the Parliament- I do not think the issues should have been decided by the Parliament because there are impediments- any objection to it should have been made to people who are above being accused of political bias, such as the judiciary. In our case I imagine we would be talking about the High Court, or a section of it, as an appropriate body to hear appeals and finally to determine the boundaries. I think the same should apply to this Commonwealth Electoral Act.

The whole Bill tightens up a few nuts and bolts in line with the latest decision of the High Court. It is unfortunate that the Government bowed to the pressure of the National Country Party and introduced clause 7 into the Bill. I do not think it does anything to the Bill at all. It certainly does not improve it. It creates difficulties in an already difficult area. It certainly does not do what the National Country Party seems to be looking for all the time. Members of the Party seem to be always seeking smaller numbers of electors on the rather specious grounds in my view because their electorates are more difficult to service because of the area involved.

Kalgoorlie is the largest electorate in Australia. I would not say that Kalgoorlie is the most difficult electorate in Australia to service. I believe that metropolitan electorates such as Wills or Grayndler, which are not very large electorates, would create greater difficulties in servicing than would the very large electorate of Kalgoorlie. I say that because people do not live in every nook and cranny in the electorate of Kalgoorlie. They live in centres which are connected by commercial airlines. There is no need for the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Cotter) to charter an aircraft even. All the community centres in his electorate are served by commercial airlines. Yet members of the National Country Party put the proposition that that is a very good reason why country electorates should contain fewer people than city electorates. It is not the Labor Party that is drawing the distinction between city and country people. We look upon all people of Australia as citizens of this nation. Every one of them hopefully will be treated fairly and equally in all of the institutions of this country, and Parliament is an institution.

It is members of the National Country Party who, for cheap political gain, put forward the proposition that they need to have fewer people in their electorates than are in the city electorates. This does not necessarily affect the electorate. I repeat that I will never vote in this Parliament or anywhere else against a proposition that allows people with large areas to cover facilities that, in a relatively small electorate of some 1 500 square kilometres, do not need and do not want. That does not mean that I believe that facilities should not be provided for electorates which are above the benchmark. If the benchmark is to be 5000 square kilometres then so be it. I will not argue whether it should be 5000, 10 000, 15 000 or 20 000 square kilometres. The Remuneration Tribunal's report set the benchmark at 5000 square kilometres. If that is to be the benchmark the Government should make a submission to the Remuneration Tribunal to ensure that greater facilities are made available to the people who represent those areas. The Government should ensure that the majority of people in Australia are not disadvantaged by having their votes downgraded, with my vote being worth only half the vote of people in the seats of Wimmera or Mallee. That sort of situation in a democratic country such as Australia should not be tolerated. We are having it strapped upon us by clause 7 of the Bill which will perpetuate that sort of situation and even worse perpetuate it for at least 7 years at a time.

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