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Wednesday, 31 July 1912


Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) . - I move -

That the Senate approves of the distribution of the State of Western Australia into Electoral Divisions as proposed by Messrs. E. G. Stenberg, H. F. Johnston, and A. W. Piesse, the Commissioners for the purpose of distributing the said State into divisions, in their report laid before Parliament on the 19th day of June, 1912; and that the divisions referred to in the report and indicated on the map as A, B, C, D, and E, be named as follows : -

 

This motion is not brought forward for the reasons for which I submitted a motion in connexion with the Victorian electoral division, because there is no necessity for a change in the number of members to represent Western Australia. In common with Tasmania, Western Australia is entitled to five members in the House of Representatives, irrespective of population. At present Western Australia has one member in the House of Representatives for every 56,423 electors, as compared with one member for every58,265 electors in the neighbouring State of South Australia. So that Western Australia is rapidly approaching the position of States in which the quota is based upon the population, and in perhaps another year it will be actually on a level with those States. With respect to the causes which have made an alteration in the distribution of Western Australia necessary, I may be allowed to quote from a memorandum, as it contains references to a number of figures -

An alteration in the number of members to which a State is entitled is not the only ground on which the redistribution of a State may be undertaken. Section 23 of the Electoral Act, which deals with the matter, provides, in addition, for two other cases in which the redistribution may be undertaken -

1.   Whenever in one-fourth of the division in the State the number of electors differs from a quota ascertained in the manner provided in that part of the Act by a greater extent than one-fifth more or one-fifth less; and

2.   Whenever the Governor-General thinks fit. The urgent need for redistribution of Western Australia has long been recognised.

The last approved redistribution was made in 1906, when the number of electors in each division was as under : -

I direct the special attention of honorable senators to these figures, because they show the urgency of the redistribution -

 

By 1909 considerable fluctuation of population had taken place between the various divisions, as the following table will show : -

 

As the variation in three out of the five divisions exceeded the margin allowed by the Act, the Government of the day, on 1st April, 1909, issued a proclamation directing that a new distribution of the State be made. That distribution was duly made, presented to Parliament on 15th October, 1909, and rejected by the House of Representatives on 23rd November, 1909, by 26 votes to18. The election for 1910 accordingly took place on the divisions laid down in the 1906 distribution.

So that, at the time of the 1910 election, there was that disproportion in the number of electors in the various divisions. The responsibility for that state of affairs rested with the Government of the day, because, when the redistribution was submitted, we had the singular spectacle of the Minister moving the adoption of a scheme entirely deserted by his fellow Ministers, who crossed the Chamber to vote against him.


Senator Millen - What is going to happen to-day?


Senator PEARCE - Nothing of that kind is going to happen to-day; and nothing of that kind happened in another place when the motion for the adoption of the scheme now submitted was proposed. Ministers will vote for this motion.


Senator Millen - Knowing that the numbers are right,


Senator PEARCE - Knowing nothing of the kind. The honorable senator may know something about the matter; but I say advisedly that I do not know whether there is a majority of the members of the Senate opposed to this motion. I think the majority will be in favour of it, and I hope that that will be found to be the case. At any rate, so far as this Government are concerned, they accept responsibility as a whole for the divisions proposed, and do not leave the responsibility to any individual Minister.

In November last the present Government issued a proclamation directing a fresh distribution of the State to be made. The state of the rolls on the 19th December last disclosed the following state of affairs : -

 

This will show how necessary it is that there should be a redistribution of Western Australia before the next election. To honorable senators who attach any importance to the principle of onevoteonevalue these figures disclose a disparity that is almost grotesque. If this proposed redistribution is rejected, and another is not made and accepted before Parliament rises, it is upon these figures that the next election will have to be contested. That is a point I ask honorable senators to consider.


Senator Givens - Does the honorable senator think that a good reason for accepting a bad distribution?


Senator PEARCE - The decision may lie between two evils. Honorable senators may have to decide whether the figures quoted represent a worse state of affairs in the distribution of Western Australia than is presented by the scheme submitted for approval.


Senator Rae - Does the Minister contend that there is no time for the amendment of this scheme?


Senator PEARCE - No, I have not contended that ; but I have mentioned a contingency which must be taken into consideration. I wish to put the case fairly before honorable senators, in order that they may vote for or against the motion with a knowledge of the facts.

The limit of variation from the quota allowed by the Act being 6,078, it will be seen that in three out of the five divisions that limit was exceeded.

The Commissioners, who were appointed in November last, have now proposed a fresh distribution, as follows : -

 


Senator de Largie - Does the honorable senator think that any redistribution woum compel Sir John Forrest to forsake the sacred place of his birth?


Senator PEARCE - I think that the electors will very probably make the right honorable gentleman forsake his birth-place at the next election. It may be remarked here that the reason for the inclusion of the name " Dampier " is that the town of Coolgardie, from which the existing electorate of Coolgardie took its name, is, under the distribution now proposed, included in the Kalgoorlie electorate. Coolgardie would not, therefore, be a suitable name for the new electorate now proposed, and the name " Dampier " has been adopted because it has historic association with Australia generally, and particularly with Western Australia, and with the particular part of the coast line of that State included in the new division. After this redistribution was made, in compliance with the law, copies of it were posted at the various post-offices throughout Western Australia, and objections to it were invited. The following objection was lodged by the Australian Labour Federation -

Trades Hall, Beaufort-street,

Perth, 9th April, 1912,

Gentlemen,

I have instructions from the State Executive of the Australian Labour Federation to submit the following comments on your suggestions for the redistribution of the Federal electorates : -

(a)   My executive cannot understand why the Mount Magnet and Cue electorates have been placed in the same division as the Eastern Gold-fields. These districts have never in any way been associated with that portion of the State. All their means of communication and interests, both commercial and otherwise, have been with the Geraldton districts. Further, both the Mount Magnet and Cue divisions have a fairly large percentage of persons engaged in the pastoral industry within their borders, and their number is increasing, and must in the future comprise a greater proportion, consequently it is all the more difficult to understand why they should be cut off from their immediate surrounding districts, and grouped with others some hundreds of miles distant.

(b)   We are given to understand that the reasons which prompted the Commissioners to arrive at their conclusions were that the agricultural industry is growing while the mining is decreasing. I am instructed to respectfully submit that the law or the instructions given to the Commissioners does not give them power to take this into account at all. The instructions were to frame boundaries for the next Federal elections, and no more.

(c)   My executive desire me to submit that the Commissioners have no power or right to assume what may be the position four or five years hence. As a matter of fact, this State may be entitled to another representative by that period, and where would be the fairness of the Commissioners' proposals then ?

(d)   In protesting against the extraordinary number over the quota given to the new Kalgoorlie Division, I have instructions to point out that by the date of the next Federal elections approximately 1,000 men will be employed in that division on the Trans-Australian railway, and that their employment will last fully threeyears. This will add to the already overplus which the Commissioners have allotted this district. It is idle to argue that they will come from within the district, because any person who knows our gold- fields knows full well that they cannot carry any large number of unemployed.

(e)   My executive suggest that the electorates of Cue and Mount Magnet be taken from Kalgoorlie and added to " E."

The figures would be -

"A" - 29,320; "B "-29,563; "C" -29,800; "D "-29,833; "E"33,417.

These are only a few of the objections which my executive put forward, and in order to more fully explain their attitude, I am instructed to respectfully suggest that the Commissioners meet a deputation of my executive to discuss the matter.

I would be glad to have your reply at an early date.

Faithfully yours,

Alex. McCallum,

General Secretary.

That protest was taken into consideration by the Commissioners, who dealt with the various objections raised in it. In reply to them they say -

In connexion with the objections and suggestions therein made, the Commissioners offer the following remarks, viz. : -

(a)   The considerations which actuated the Commissioners in including the Cue and Mr Magnet State Electoral Districts in the proposed Division " D " are already set out in full in paragraph 23 of this Report, and, therefore, require no further amplification.

Before proceeding further, I would like to read paragraph 23 of their report, which is as follows -

It will be observed that the division, as now proposed, includes all the Eastern Gold-fields' and most of the Murchison Gold-fields' State Electoral Districts; in fact, the only such district excluded from Ihe division is the Murchison Stale Electoral District. By this combination, a division has been created which contained on the 19th of December, 191 1, an electoral enrolment of 34,031 based upon the Commonwealth Electoral Department's official figures. The apparent electoral strength of the division on that date is, therefore, as already staled, 3,640 in excess of quota. The Commissioners fully appreciated the nature of the " community of interest " existing between the Murchison Gold-fields and the coastal districts round Geraldton, and have given due consideration to these before including the Cue and Mr Magnet Electoral Districts in the proposed Division "D." It has also been noted that no means of communication by rail exist between the Eastern and Murchison Gold-fields, and that presumably, therefore, these arguments might be used in favour of including theMutchison Goldfields with Division " E " principally on account of what may be alleged to be " community of interest." The Commissioners, however, are of the opinion that " communitv of interest," when applied to a large industry like the gold-mining industry of Western Australia, would not be. correctly interpreted if based upon geographical considerations only. Whilst admitting that the geographical position should be given all the consideration which is due to it, the Commissioners hold the view that a much wider interpretation should be given to the term.

There are many interests of paramount importance to all gold-fields, such as the general trend of mining legislation governing the conduct of mining operations, the statutory regulation of labour on mines, the inspection of machinery, the railway rates for gold-fields' supplies, and other important items of consideration which the Commissioners claim should receive prior consideration to purely geographical pointl of advantage or disadvantage. This view, no doubt, has also in the past actuated Commissioners when defining the boundaries of goldfields' divisions, as it will be observed that under the present distribution the " Kalgoorlie " Division includes also the " Phillips River " goldfield, which latter does not appear to the Commissioners to have any more " community of interest " with the " Kalgoorlie " gold-field than have the Murchison gold-fields. Turning again to the existing " Coolgardie " Division, it will be observed that the "Coolgardie" and "Yilgarn " Gold-fields are included in this division, together with the " Murchison " gold-fields, and it, therefore, appears that even under present distribution the " Murchison " fields are included in a division containing the " Coolgardie " and " Yilgarn " gold-fields, which distribution has been suggested and approved under statutory obligation on the part of previous Commissioners to consider " community of interest." On these grounds, the Commissioners considered it their duty to include in Division " D " also the larger portion of the " Murchison " gold-fields, and indeed no option was open to them, as the present "Kalgoorlie" Division was short of the quota to the extent of 10,136 electors on the 19th December, 191 1, and, therefore, an increase was compulsory under the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. The only direction in which such increase could reasonably be effected was by adding to that area further gold-fields in which . 1 sufficient number of electors were included to satisfy the views of the Commissioners that the intention of the Legislature had been given due effect to.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.


Senator PEARCE - When the sitting was suspended, I had just quoted the paragraph of the Commissioners' report, in which they dealt with objection (a) as set forth in the letter of objection by the Australian Labour Federation. They then' proceed to deal with the second objection, which relates to the geographical difficulties experienced under the new redistribution scheme. They refer to them in these terms -

(i)   The Commissioners are of opinion that their first and foremost duty is to submit such recommendations as will secure in each of the proposed divisions the nearest approach to the quota of enrolment at the time of the impending general elections in 1912. The Commissioners also consider themselves justified in assuming that the provision contained in "The Commonwealth Electoral Act" for the creation of divisions of equal electoral strength - or as near thereto as circumstances will admit - indicates an underlying prin- ciple and a desire on the part of the

Legislature of giving to all votes,so far as possible, an equal value, an object that, in the opinion of the Commissioners, can only be effectively achieved by securing to each division at the time of an impending election an enrolment as near to the quota as is practicable, after due consideration has been given to the provisions of section 16 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act.

(c)   Commenting upon paragraph (c) of the

Labour Federation's letter, the Commissioners are not aware of having in. their present redistribution proposals attempted anything beyond providing for the exigencies connected with the next general election.

(d)   The probability of a considerable num ber of men being employed upon the construction of the Trans-Australian railway at the time of the next general election has already been taken into account by the Commissioners, as set out in paragraph 31 of this Report.


Senator Gardiner - Does the Minister think they are justified in anticipating population?


Senator PEARCE - They are justified in taking the figures as they find them, and in considering those figures they should attach due importance to the trend of population which the figures between 1906 and 1 9 10 have disclosed.


Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Cameron. - There is no certainty that that trend will continue.


Senator PEARCE - They have to take into consideration not merely the probabilities, but all the circumstances.


Senator Lynch - The present rush to Kurnalpi will serve to send up the population of the Kalgoorlie division.


Senator PEARCE - It may, or it may not. I was in a rush to Kurnalpi. I was one of a thousand who rushed there, and we were very glad to rush back.


Senator Givens - Because these men have been appointed Commissioners, does that circumstance constitute them prophets?


Senator PEARCE - Let us look at paragraph 31 of their report, with a view to seeing how far they have entered into the region of prophecy. In that paragraph they say -

Looking at the recent population statistics of this State, it will be observed that in the year 1910 the population increased numerically by 11,496, and in the year1911 by 17,301. For the first three months of 1912, for which preliminary returns are available, the population of the State increased by 3,095, the rate per month by which the population increased in 1910 being 950, in rgn, by 1,450, as against 1,032 during the first three months of 1912. At the time when the new Commonwealth rolls are likely to be put into practical use, viz., about April, 1912, the population of this State must have considerably increased, and in order not to over-estimate such growth, the Commissioners have calculated on an average monthly increase in the total population of about 1,000, which would mean a monthly increase in the enrolment of about 500. During the fifteen months, therefore, between the iqth December, igii, for which the Commonwealth Electoral Department's figures have been used in this Report, and the time of the next general election, there will be an estimated increased enrolment of, approximately, 7,500, which will raise the present quota by 1,500, bringing that figure up to 31,891.

Up to that point no exception can be taken to their conclusions, because they have not differentiated between one division and another. They have taken into consideration the general increase in the population of the State in order to ascertain what would be the quota at the time of the elections. The contentious part of their case is contained in the subsequent portion of that paragraph, which reads -

The increasing enrolment, however, is not expected to materially affect Division " D," where for the last few yeaTs, as already stated, a constant decrease in enrolment has been recorded, and in the opinion of the Commissioners such enrolment will at best remain stationary for the next twelve months. The reason why the Commissioners expect such comparative improvement in the conditions of electoral enrolment in Division " D " is based upon the assumption that the steady decrease recently experienced may possibly get a check on account of the fact that the commencement of the construction of the Trans-Australian railway will prevent further depletion of electors. It is, of course, impossible for the Commissioners to give an estimate of the proportion of the increase that will be attracted to each of the four Divisions " A," "B," "C," and "E," but it is considered probable that the figures which will be available showing the actual enrolment for the forthcoming elections next year will prove that in no case will there be more than a slight variation from the quota, either above or below.

In the closing part of that paragraph, therefore, it will be seen that they did actually take into consideration the point raised by the Australian Labour Federation before it was raised.


Senator Rae - But they gave no effect to it.


Senator PEARCE - Oh, yes. They say that the tendency is towards a general decrease, but that, taking into consideration the construction of the railway from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta, they have estimated that that general increase may be checked. They had already considered the point which was raised as to the probable increase of population in the Kalgoorlie division.


Senator Rae - But they did not allow for it in their figures.


Senator PEARCE - Paragraph (c) of their reply to the objections raised by the Australian Labour Federation reads -

(e)   The Commissioners, after most careful consideration of all the circumstances connected with the case, cannot indorse the suggestion that the Cue and Mr Magnet State Electoral Districts should under existing conditions be added to the proposed Division " E." Such transfer, if made, would provide the following enrolment for Divisions " D " and " E " respectively, on the 19th of December,1911, viz. : -

 

The effect of such transfer would, therefore, be to fix a diminishing division at only 372 enrolments in excess of present quota, whilst one of the divisions rapidly increasing, already a year and a half prior to the general election, would be allotted an enrolment of 2,116 in excess of quota. The result of such arrangements wou'd not, in the opinion of the Commissioners, give a satisfactory result at the time of the election.

They also add -

In conclusion, the Commissioners desire to state that they have given some weight to their special personal knowledge of the general condition of the electoral rolls at periods between elections, and it is on that account that thev have proposed the formation of Division " D f' in such manner as to contain, on the19th of December last, an apparent excess of quota of 3,640.

Although ft would appear on the figures available, and on the basis of the estimates made, that the enrolment in the proposed Division " D " will at the time of the election be about 2,100 in excess of the then existing quota, the Commissioners are satisfied that, unless some entirely unforeseen circumstances arise, Division " D " as proposed will show no excess of the new quota.

That report is signed by the three Commissioners.


Senator Rae - It is the unexpected that happens.


Senator PEARCE - In conclusion, I have merely to add that the Government gave consideration to the Commissioners' report, and thought that the circumstances would not justify them in asking Parliament to reject the scheme.


Senator Givens - Does the Minister think it is a really good redistribution?


Senator PEARCE - The Government are prepared to ask Parliament to indorse the scheme. We take up the attitude that, whilst it may not be an entirely satisfactory one, there is not sufficient reason to justify us in asking Parliament to reject it. This is, of course, and I think should be, a non-party question. In my opinion,it would be a bad thing if the distribution of a State into electoral divisions were made a party question. Those who usually support the Government are quite free to take whatever attitude they think fit, and to vote in accordance with their judgment.


Senator Givens - We will take it whether we are free or not.


Senator PEARCE - Furthermore - and this is an answer to those who say that the Caucus binds members of the Labour party - the division in another place has shown that on this question the Caucus has neither bound the Government nor the members of the party.


Senator Lynch - But it has bound the Opposition, apparently.


Senator PEARCE - I am not in the confidence of the Opposition.


Senator Millen - The Minister will see that it will bind his party.


Senator PEARCE - In view of all the circumstances, the Government ask the Senate to accept the distribution as put forward by the Commissioners.







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