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Thursday, 24 February 1977

Mr ABEL (Evans) -I support the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill and the amendments which have been brought forward. Contrary to what the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) has just said, they are necessary. It would appear that possibly the honourable member for Corio and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) are in conflict again. It has become apparent in this debate that the honourable member for Corio believes the Bill is not necessary. Yet the Leader of the Opposition in his opening remarks suggested that we had waited too long. He suggested that the McKellar case was such that we should have brought in legislation earlier. I thought the legislation was introduced as the result of the High Court decision in the McKellar case.

Let me refer to a few remarks of the Leader of the Opposition. He, and all honourable members opposite who have spoken thus far, seem to have great concern and fear about the proposed amendment to section 19 purely and simply because of its reference to 5000 square kilometres. Suggestions have been made throughout this debate that the legislation of Labor's Minister for Administrative Services, Mr Daly, was fair and just and that it gave representation on the basis of one vote one value. Surely the basis of the legislation as it was proposed was that electoral divisions should be considered on the basis of people, be they eligible to vote, be they babies, or be they aliens. I do not see how members of the Opposition can stand here today and justify that as being equality, and on the other hand suggest that an electorate like Kalgoorlie, which is 2.2 million square kilometres, does not have some true representation in this House as against an electorate like Grayndler, to which reference has been made. I represent an inner city electorate of Sydney, the electorate of Evans. There are 63 000 persons enrolled in my division but there are 101 000 residents. I represent the 101 000, whether they are shown on the electoral roll or not. But I do not for one moment suggest that I would like to move out of that area into 2.2 million square kilometres and find I had the same opportunity. I am sure that the people in Kalgoorlie would not get the same service from my office or indeed from me.

Mr Cohen - Neither does the other one.

Mr ABEL - I think that the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Cotter), my colleague, is a fine hard working member. He has proved that he will be a member of this House for a long time to come. The basis of this electoral legislation is the heart of the democratic process. It can be effective and democratic only if it ensures a fair, open and representative system which translates the genuine wishes of electors into parliamentary voices. Right here and now, I state clearly that the amendments proposed in this Bill are such that the process will be democratic. I think it is necessary to remind honourable members opposite of the meaning of the word 'democratic'. I should like to quote an interpretation of democracy':

A system of government in which political power is exercised by the people.

That means individualism, liberty, equality. Perhaps we could go a step further and listen to what people over the years have had to say about democracy. Going back to the 4th Century BC:

Democracy is the form of government in which the free are rulers.

That was Aristotle.

Democracy is a superior form of government, because it is based on a respect for man as a reasonable being.

That was John F. Kennedy in 1 940.

The people's government made for the people, made by the people and answerable to the people.

That was Daniel Webster in 1795. Surely this legislation which has been brought forth is in fact democratic.

Democracy is the healthful life-blood which circulates through the veins and arteries, which supports the system, but which ought never to appear externally, and as the mere blood itself.

That was Coleridge in 1830. Perhaps I could go now to the most famous quotation of all in respect of democracy:

Government of the people, by the people, ibr the people.

That was Abraham Lincoln.

Mr Cohen - Gee, I didn't know.

Mr ABEL - You did not know. That just proves that the Opposition has members in this House who represent their electors and who do not really know that that was said by Abraham Lincoln, one of the finest statesmen of the last few hundred years.

Mr Cohen - Thanks for the elementary history lesson.

Mr ABEL - We always like Opposition members to be here at odd times to give them a bit of elementary history. Some people would argue that our system is not representative because it does not embody for this House proportional or other forms of representation. All I can say to that is that our system is democratic and, in this Jubilee year, might I say that I hope it will endure as a system of consititutional monarchy for a long time. But it will survive only if we maintain and enhance its democratic values at a time when democratic values and the things which accompany them such as human rights and civil liberties are disappearing extremely quickly around the globe. From memory, only about 25 of the 140-odd individual independent nations of the world are exceptionally democratic with independent parliaments and with judiciaries. There are 115 or so regimes which need a strong democratic example such as we have in Australia. This Bill helps to give to this country a strong democratic representation in this place. Essentially, our system is a blend of the single constituency preferential 2-party system in the House of Representatives and of proportional representation in the Senate. That gives the people of this country the opportunity to have two bites at the cherry, or rather to enjoy the whole cherry.

The other aspect which is subject to controversy is the question of preferential voting, which thankfully is still embodied in the main Act. My attitude to it is that such a scheme maximises opportunities in the selection of candidates. The simplest way of explaining it is to say that under preferential voting, where the choice is wide, the scaling of priorities among candidates by citizens is a most natural selection, like everything else we do. For the benefit of Opposition members, I point out that in the morning we get up and choose our clothes. Some members might have the opportunity to go to their stores to pick out some bright clothes in which to come to this House. But we have a choice. It has been said about this legislation that there is going to be a 7 year lapse between redistributions. Surely the legislation itself ensures that there will be a review each year based upon population. In his second reading speech the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) said:

In the twelfth month of every Parliament, the Chief Australian Electoral Officer, on the basis of the latest available population statistics which he is 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.

How can it be argued, as the Opposition has done constantly in the debate thus far, that there will be a redistribution only every 7 years? I do not see for one moment how any member of this House or any member of the public, for that matter, could understand that. Surely it is within the Act itself. Each and every year, based upon population, the Chief Australian Electoral Officer will look at the situation. That does not necessarily guarantee that there will be a distribution, and I am sure I would not like to be subjected to that. However, if there is substantial movement within the population in that 12 months period there will be a redistribution. That will then make this House contemporary and in tune with population shifts. In regard to population shifts, the Borrie report, which was published recently, indicates a slowing down in our population growth, and therefore the number of electors, excluding migrants, will be reduced. There will still be significant population shifts, of course. The Borrie report and the latest census do not mean less need for regular redistributions because of urban shifts within cities. As evidence of that we have to look only at the inner city of Sydney, the far western suburbs and other growth areas, although that process is now in doubt because the trend is to return to urban areas. I know that in my own electorate there is a changing pattern, with people coming in and going out. Each and every year there would be a change, with some 10 000 to 15 000 people coming in and going out.

Following the McKinlay and McKellar cases, a new provision has been inserted in this legislation, and again I wish to quote the Minister's words: if a State has not been divided into the appropriate number of divisions which accords with the determined representation entitlement, that ordinary general election Wu be conducted 'at large' for that State.

This means that the State will be regarded as one division and the members, to the number as determined, will be elected for that one division.

I have presumed that as the words 'at large' do not apply in extraordinary or double dissolution elections, elections cannot be contrived to take advantage of proportional representation but I do believe the 'at large' provision ought now to be more clearly denned.

The Minister in introducing the legislation indicated that there should be a review of the guidelines which the Distribution Commissioners are required to take into account in their consideration of proposed distributions. I would like to suggest to the Minister that during this inquiry examination should be made of the question of making it mandatory for the position of Distribution Commissioner to be held by persons from the judiciary. Although it is not necessarily comparing like with like there is similarity between this idea and the way parliamentarians' salaries are now determined by an independent tribunal. That is one case. There can then be a sense of complete independence about it. Similarly, with judicial appointments, complete independence would seem to have been achieved.

The charge levelled by the Opposition throughout this debate basically has been that the amendments have been designed for the benefit of the National Country Party and that the legislation is politically inspired. That is complete and utter rot.

Mr Bryant

Mr ABEL - I do not know about the honourable member. He is probably concerned about his own pre-selection and I would not blame him for that because the seat of Wills is one that a few people would like to get their hands on.

Mr Bryant -That is right. Nobody would want yours after you have ruined it.

Mr ABEL -I take issue with the honourable member for Wills at least. The members of my Party are not trying to take my seat from me but nevertheless I am sure that as the honourable member has survived for a long time in his own Party he can survive a bit longer. In regard to the introduction of the Bill and the claim that it has been politically inspired, the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) went back through history to illustrate that the number of redistributions over the years has been rather small. So the proposal by the Opposition in its Bill to have a redistribution every 3 years- under our Bill there will be a redistribution every 7 years- would have forced on the Australian people unnecessary wasteful redistributions. The honourable member for Griffith said that as a member he would not know where he was going. He said that his constituents would not know from year to year who their member was. Consequently the Opposition's proposals would have had only political implications because they sought to have boundary changes to give them some political advantage.

I would like to refer again to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. Basically he said that in 1974 the Labor Party had proposed a Bill which provided that all people should have equal representation by the creation of a division that had a tolerance of no more or less than 10 per cent of the quota. Where has our Bill gone wrong in that respect? Surely that is the very provision that the Leader of the Opposition wanted to have incorporated in the Act in 1975. This Bill before the House does provide for a tolerance of no more or less than 10 per cent of the quota. So much for his argument. Is it that the intention of the Opposition in opposing this Bill is purely and simply one of political motivation to try to drive a wedge between the National Country Party and the Liberal Party? Is that the reason for opposing the Bill? I believe that the Opposition has no more concern for the people of Australia and their representation by members in this House than for putting the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) out of this House without a job.

The previous speaker the honourable member for Burke said that the electorate of Kalgoorlie is not a difficult area to service. He compared it with the seat of Grayndler. I would like just to go back and compare the electorate of Evans with the electorate of Kalgoorlie. Each and every year in my electorate there are something like 5000 naturalisations. They spread out of my electorate. I have some 600 social engagements. My correspondence runs into tens of thousands of letters. I am able to service my area from 2 offices situated in my electorate which encompasses roughly 25 square miles. How could the honourable member for Burke suggest that I could move out of my area into Kalgoorlie and service it in the same manner as I do now? The electorate of Kalgoorlie would have the same population as the electorate of Evans, not necessarily the same number of enrolled electors but the same population. There are problems there but not because of a bowing to pressure as charged by the honourable member for Burke and, I think, the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes). There is no bowing to pressure from the National Country Party. It is a matter of reality and sanity that we must give representation to the people of Australia.

This Bill is urgently needed. It is urgently needed to ensure that the people are given proper and correct representation. It is urgently needed to ensure that there are not wanton redistributions for political purposes each and every 3 years. This Bill is badly needed to correct the matters that were recently found to be invalid by the High Court. I support the Bill and I commend it to the House.

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