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Thursday, 24 February 1977

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) -The Opposition opposes this clause because it will bring into the Act a provision which we believe is to the disadvantage of the Act and does not in any way reflect what it is purported to reflect. The proposal to require that no division- I repeat 'no division'- in a State not having an area of 5000 square kilometres may be smaller than any division which has more than 5000 square kilometres, the larger being deemed large electorates, is, I think, an ill-thought out compromise which creates conditions under which the independence of the Redistribution Commissioners to carry out their job is denied. It deems electorates to be large electorates and therefore entitled to special treatment when they are not large electorates by any criteria in a Commonwealth parliament. I point out to honourable members that we are talking about electorates of the order of 50 miles by 50 miles.

Mr Bungey - This is pretty big.

Mr SCHOLES -It may be big, but I thought that the honourable member would have understood what a large electorate was all about. In some instances the so called large electorates have a smaller effective area than some of the extremely small electorates where travel is difficult. On a Sunday afternoon I would prefer to travel 90 miles in the Wimmera electorate than 30 miles in the La Trobe electorate; I am certain I would do it more quickly. Distance itself is not a criterion.

I suggest that the proposal being put before the Committee by the Government would be honest if the figure were 20 000 to 50 000 square kilometres. That could be defended as a large electorate. This proposal places on the distribution commissioners an impossible condition. In New South Wales there are 14 seats which are deemed to be in the large electorate category. In Victoria there are 9. There is an equal number of seats in those States which would be looked at as rapid growth seats and which, at the time of a redistribution, would normally be below a quota. I refute what the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) said. He made much play about equal distribution but the proposals put by the Opposition have always been 10 per cent above and below. At least in theory the Government has indicated its support for that practice. A 7-year period is spelt out later in the legislation. Requirements are now being proposed to be put into section 19 of the Act. There are 14 seats in New South Wales and 10 in Victoria at the moment, but I think it would be 9, which must carry fewer electors than any other seat.

The Minister suggested by inference that some special treatment had been given to the Werriwa electorate. I do not cast that aspersion on distribution commissioners. I believe that they allocated quotas on the criteria which were in the Act. One of the expectancies of redistribution is that growth electorates would grow above a quota during the period in which the set boundaries were current and that electorates which would decline in population would fall below a quota. That sort of criterion has always been used. Only the extremely large electorates have usually been treated differently. If the Minister wants to talk about electorates being treated unfairly in a redistribution, I suggest that he look at the redistribution of 1968 and what was done in the Macquarie electorate. It was about twice the size of the Richmond electorate. It was given about 6000 voters over a quota at that stage, while adjoining Country Party and Liberal Party electorates were given a number below a quota. The Macquarie electorate has in that period grown to the order of 80 000 voters-82 000 voters at the last count- whereas Richmond, with substantially fewer electors at the time of the last redistribution, was given a number well below a quota for the State. Richmond is half the size of the Macquarie electorate. It has 63 000 electors. I suggest that the previous member for Macquarie, Mr Luchetti, was apparently not only able to look after a larger electorate but also was expected to be able to look after a larger enrolment in a larger electorate than were the Country Party members who represented electorates which bordered his seat in all directions.

The 5000 square kilometre proposal is nothing better than a compromise. It is an extraordinarily poor compromise. I believe that if the Government were genuinely seeking to look after the interests of members with difficulties in large seats- I say 'large seats', not what are deemed in this Act to be large- it would be looking at 20 000 or 50 000 square kilometres because they are the sorts of electorates which would have difficulties. It is no good for the Government to talk about the problems of the member for Riverina when it is inserting a provision in an Act which deals with electorates which are 60 miles long by 40 miles wide- 100 kilometres by 60 kilometres. That is not a very big electorate in this day and age. I do not think it would have been considered big even in 1900. 1 suggest that members of the Liberal Party who have accepted this proposition have fallen for the 3-card trick. They would have been better off accepting the original proposition which at least would have given them a chance of getting a fair distribution.

Mr Baillieu - No.

Mr SCHOLES - The honourable member for La Trobe says no. He will get an electorate which will approximate a quota. By the end of the 7-year mandatory period before the next redistribution it will be at least \Vi times a quota. He may think that is fair to his electors; I do not. I think his electors are entitled to a vote as nearly as possible equal in value to anybody else 's vote. I do not believe the Electoral Act should be amended to give false protection to large electorates when those electorates are not large geographically or in respect of communication or any other circumstance.

I think the Government would have done itself and the distribution commissioners a service if it had put in the Act a provision that the commissioners should take into account the geographic size of electorates and the geographic difficulties of electorates. Electorates do not have to be big to have geographic difficulties. The

Government has preferred to write in this provision which will ensure that within a very short period after the redistribution there will be a complete distortion of electorate sizes in each of the major States. The position may be even worse in the smaller States. The flexibility is taken away from the commissioners. It is not unlike the propositions that have been undertaken in some of the States where the commissioners have been given zones and quotas, and the only effective action which they have been able to take has been to draw the lines. The Opposition opposes this clause. I believe it does not reflect what I had hoped the Government intended to reflect.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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