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Thursday, 24 February 1977
Page: 469


Mr HODGMAN (Denison) - I would like to commence my remarks by congratulating the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) on an extremely fair and a very good speech. I must concede that I do not agree with all of the specifics of his speech, but I completely concur with the sentiments he expressed. Not the least of the kind remarks he made was the comment that Tasmania is a truly democratic State. I take some pleasure in hearing that, because it does happen to be the truth. It is in the spirit, not only of being a Liberal but also as one who believes in the democratic process, that I congratulate the Government on the introduction of these electoral measures. They are, in my submission, good legislation, fair legislation and, above all, democratic legislation. I would not wish it to be thought by the public at large that these Bills come into the Parliament today only because of decisions taken by the High Court in McKinlay's case and in McKellar's case. Granted, it could be said that those decisions, particularly the latter, have perhaps prompted or speeded up the legislative process. But I hope that men of goodwill on both sides of this House will have come to the conclusion that the sorts of amendment proposals which are now before the chamber are fair and appropriate in the democratic parliamentary system that we have in this country in 1977.

It seems, with respect, that the question of electoral redistribution has always been, as was mentioned by the honourable member for Robertson, a matter of political controversy. Like the honourable member, I find it very sad that far too often the public believes that we fiddle with electoral boundaries for the purpose of electoral advantage. The sooner we can get electoral redistribution away from the political scene and out of the hands of politicians so that the public will see that it is not being done for the purpose of gerrymandering or arranging electoral advantage, but that it is for the purpose of achieving fair and democratic representation for all Australians, the sooner the standing of this Parliament will be greatly enhanced in the eyes of the community. In the past the procedures for redistribution of the House of Representatives boundaries have provided that, on the basis of the 5-yearly census population figures, The Chief Australian Electoral Officer determined, according to a set formula, the representation entitlements of each State.

In the 2 High Court decisions to which I have referred, and after consideration of section 24 of the Constitution, the Court expressed the view that the words 'whenever necessary' which appear in section 24 mean that the number of members to be chosen in the several States must be determined in time for each ordinary general election and that such election must be held in accordance with the entitlements so determined.

However, the Court recognised that that mandatory principle would not apply in the case of elections other than ordinary general elections.

What basically then does this legislation do? In my respectful submission, it contemporises population movements in Australia with the electorate and with the democratic process. It is proper that the determining of electoral redistribution should be done in time for the next ordinary general election. The effect of the High Court's decision embodied in this legislation is that in the twelth month of every Parliament- I put it in simple terms because I believe that if it is [nit in simple terms it is more likely that the pubic will accept this as a genuine measure or series of measures rather than as a politican exercisethe Chief Australian Electoral Officer, on the basis of the latest available population statistics, which he has to obtain from the Australian Statistician, will make a determination as to the number of members of the House of Representatives to be chosen for each State and forward that determination to the Minister. If that determination discloses that there should be an alteration to the number of members of the House of Representatives for any State, then the required redistribution will be proceeded with and on that redistribution the electors will cast their votes to choose those members who will form the Government in the next Parliament.

I want to say from the outset that anybody who has studied the Bills or the Constitution will readily appreciate that it is unlikely for a very long period of time that these provisions will have any direct effect on the State of Tasmania. I must, in fairness, concede that nobody in this Parliament has attacked the position of Tasmania. But there were whispers in the corridors of a conspiracy to suggest that Tasmanian representation should be reduced. But I draw attention to the fact that the founding fathers, in their wisdom, ensured that Tasmania which is, as the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) mentioned, an original State, would have 5 seats in the House of Representatives. Please God, nobody will ever be stupid enough to suggest that that representation should be reduced, let alone attempt to reduce it. Tasmania has enough problems of gravity without our adding to them by reducing the number of representatives it has in this Parliament- a mere 5 representatives out of the enormity of those who come from the major States of New South Wales and Victoria. Consequently, it is going to be many years before we will fit into the category of being subject to these legislative proposals.

Lest people who are listening to the broadcast of this debate believe that Tasmania is receiving some extremely unjust or unfair advantage, I refer briefly to the 10 per cent variant and to the situation as it at present pertains. I think the former Attorney-General, now Mr Justice Murphy, spoke very frankly on the 10 per cent variation when, in the Senate on 10 April 1973, he said:

Exact equality in the number of electors per division cannot be achieved, nor is it desirable. Some degree of variation from the quota or average must be allowed.

I emphasise the following words because I believe they are true:

At the same time, equality of political rights is inherent in a truly democratic State . . .

Equality of political rights may mean that strictly and mathematically there is a variation which will upset the purists, that the Parliament will be better and stronger because representation is given to those areas and, indeed, to those States which are entitled to a base representation which should not, under any formula, be subject to reduction. Let us compare the remarks of the former Attorney-General, the then Senator Murphy, later Mr Justice Murphy, with the reported comments attributed to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam). I hope he made these comments in jest. Nevertheless, for the record, he made the following statement in Sydney:

By derivation civilised men are those who live in cities; pagans are those who live in the country.

I have the honour to represent a metropolitan electorate. I previously had the honour to represent a country electorate. I believe that anybody who is representing a country electorate in any Parliament, State or Commonwealth, would resent the proposition that those who put them into office were pagans, let alone uncivilised.

I come to a point which I believe, as a democrat, is a matter of considerable principle. I say, on the one hand, how delighted I am that the 10 per cent variant has been retained. I believe that despite the undoubted problems which may befall some sections of the political community in this country, whom in passing I commend for their capacity to conciliate and to compromise on a very difficult electoral matter, I do not believe that we as Australians could have held our heads high in a situation in which we had 115 or 118 electorates with a 10 per cent variant and 7 or 8 electorates with a 20 per cent variant. I want to make it quite clear that I believe that this debate has been much better because it has not been a political debate. I do not wish it to be thought that I am throwing stones or casting aspersions in any directions. I commend certain political sections for being fair and for being prepared to compromise on this basis.


Mr Kelly - Very statesmanlike.


Mr HODGMAN - I think the honourable member for Wakefield is correct- those persons adopted a statesmanlike approach. I think that in fairness one should record that it was the previous Government which brought to this nation the 10 per cent variant. It is one of the few good things which it did with respect to electoral reform. Some people in the electorate, for a multitude of reasons, would condemn anything the Whitlam Government did on electoral reform or anything else. I believe that the Whitlam Government took proper and reasonable action in this respect. I am glad that the 10 percent variant has now been written into our electoral system and will become a permanent feature of it.

I want to put on record the situation which applies in relation to quotas so that people who may not know the situation as it applies to Tasmania will not run away with the idea that we are one section of Australia which is receiving special favoured treatment which makes a mockery of democracy. I draw to the attention of this chamber that the Tasmania quota, as it stood at December 1976, was 52 103 persons per electorate. That is only 7000 persons fewer than the quota for the 2 House of Representatives seats in the Australian Capital Territory. It is 12 000 persons more than the quota for the one seat in this House for the Northern Territory. Using a rough rule of thumb, I do not believe that that variation from the quota is so bad that people could say that Tasmania received such fair or preferential treatment that it distorts the democratic process.

I am particularly proud of the fact that in Tasmania at present- indeed this has been the case for some time- our electorates are all below the 10 per cent variant. So even if we were in a situation population-wise that would qualify us for the provisions of this legislation the 10 per cent or 20 per cent variant would have no effect whatsoever. Indeed, looking at the official figures for 1974-75 with respect to this very House, of the 126 seats, as at 1974-75, 121 of the divisions were inside the 10 per cent variant margin. Two seats were between a 10 per cent and a 15 per cent variation and one seat was between a 15 per cent and a 20 per cent variation. That was prior to the amendment to a 10 per cent variant by the Whitlam Government. In Tasmania in 1 948 all 5 seats were inside the 10 per cent margin. In 1955 the electoral redistribution had the effect of putting two of those 5 seats between the 10 per cent and 15 percent bracket. The 1962 redistribution proposals lapsed. The 1968 proposals, which were effected, had all 5 Tasmanian seats below the 10 per cent variant. Under 1975 proposals, which were rejected, we would still have retained all the Tasmanian seats within the 10 per cent variant.

The mean deviation from the quota in metropolitan and non-metropolitan divisions as proposed by the distribution commissioners in 1955, 1962, 1968, and 1974-75 is made very easy to understand by a table which, in fact, was presented in the Senate and incorporated in the Hansard for that House on Wednesday 23 February 1977 at page 319.I seek your ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker, as to whether it is possible for that table to appear in our Hansard. I regret I have not had an opportunity to obtain leave, but as it does appear in the Hansard for the Senate -

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!Is the honourable member seeking leave to incorporate the table in Hansard?


Mr HODGMAN - I do seek leave to incorporate the table in Hansard because I believe it puts the position very clearly.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Is leave granted? I should mention to the leader of the House for the Opposition that the table appears in another Hansard.


Mr Scholes - Leave is granted.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Leave is granted.

The document read as follows-

 


Mr HODGMAN - I am obliged, Mr Deputy Speaker. Might I just say to the leader of the House for the Opposition that the table was only handed to me a few minutes ago. I regret I did not have the opportunity to show it to him.


Mr Scholes - The honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) incorporated the table in Hansard also and he did not show me it either.


Mr HODGMAN - I see. It just shows our minds are operating along the same track. I deal specifically with the section of the table dealing with the metropolitan seats in Tasmania. As at 1974-75 the variant was 0.95 per cent in 2 seats, which is less than a one per cent variant. In the non-metropolitan 3 seats, the variant was minus 0.64 per cent- less than one per cent. I do not intend to speculate in my remarks as to the possible redistribution that may or may not occur in Tasmania. I simply say that the Tasmania electorate is a somewhat skinny animal and there is not going to be much opportunity to vary the boundaries anyway. I should not think that there would be any great political advantage for any political party in any minor variation to the Tasmanian boundaries. It may well be that the distribution commissioners in their wisdom will take the view that the boundaries should remain as they are. I do not intend to proffer any comment or advice. Quite frankly I do not believe it is the role of a member of Parliament to speculate publicly or to urge a particular course with respect to the boundaries of his own electorate. I have the honour to be the member for Denison for the time being. I will face the electors of Denison at the next election on whatever boundaries are fixed. As a democrat I will accept their decision.


Mr Les McMahon (SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But you have no choice.


Mr HODGMAN -Of course I have no choice. I want the honourable member for Sydney to know that I welcome the democratic process. I say to the honourable member for Sydney that I am not frightened of the democratic process and I will not directly involve myself in what boundaries are applicable when the House of Representatives next goes to the people.

Some extraordinary comments were made in another place. The Standing Orders do not permit me to debate what went on in the other place. Those who would like to see how a debate can get completely and absolutely interrupted by political considerations ought to look at some of the speeches made by senators which appear in yesterday's Senate Hansard. Fortunately the debate in this place has been kept above politics. I believe this has produced a better debate.

The only other matter to which I want to refer is proposed new sub-sections (2) and (3) of section 19 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. They deal with guidelines to be laid down on the question of distribution. The matter which is undoubtedly exercising the minds of honourable members opposite for some reason I do not understand, is the provision relating to electorates which are in excess of 5000 square kilometres. I believe that the honourable member for Wimmera put the case very fairly and very well in his remarks earlier today. I am absolutely staggered that the Opposition is prepared to contend that in some way this provision is unjust or even undemocratic. This seems to me to be a total failure on the part of the Opposition to recognise the problems which confront those who represent rural electorates. When one thinks of it, 500 square kilometres is not really a very large area but it is big enough to involve perhaps one and a half times the activity that is required of a member in a metropolitan seat. I am not saying that country members work one and a half times harder than city members but I point out that they have a higher proportion of dead timenamely, travelling, waiting, making arrangement for transportation etc.- that metropolitan members as a rule do not have to suffer. All this proposal provides, and I believe fairly, is that no situation will occur whereby a member representing an electorate which is in excess of 5000 square kilometres shall have more electors than the smallest electorate below 5000 square kilometres. It is bad enough in some cases for a member to have a large electorate- an electorate which is so immense in size that he is preoccupied with travelling and distance- without inflicting upon that member the burden of having larger numbers of electors to look after than his city counterparts.

I believe the provision is fair. I cannot for the life of me understand the objection of the Opposition to it particularly in view of the fact that the Opposition from time to time in recent years has represented rural electorates. The honourable member for Wimmera made the point that Labor Party members have not represented enough rural electorates for so long a period of time that they have forgotten the problems that face rural electorates. In Tasmania the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr) has one of the most difficult electorates to handle. The honourable member for Braddon (Mr Groom) has an electorate which extends right down the west coast of Tasmania and takes in King Island. The honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) has to travel long distances. The new provision will affect two of those electorates. It is a fair proposition. I commend the Government for it. Overall the 3 Bills are fair, just and, above all, democratic. I believe that they deserve the support of all honourable members in this chamber.

Mr KING(Wimmera)- I wish to make a personal explanation.







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