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Wednesday, 31 July 1912

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I am sure that Senator Gardiner will have the sympathy of every honorable senator in the very painful circumstance ir* which he finds himself placed this evening. But I have no doubt that the result of this debate will console him very much, and help him to survive one of the ordeals of political life. This discussion serves once more to illustrate and bring home the fact that Parliament is not a satisfactory place in which to enter final judgment in regard to the distribution of a State into electoral divisions.

Senator Rae - It never is, unless you get things your own way.

Senator MILLEN - I have asked the honorable senator several times to make at least one effort to be serious. I do think that if honorable senators will forget for a moment the particular distribution under consideration, and recall situations in which we have been placed before, they must recognise, for reasons with which we are all familiar, that Parliament is not a satisfactory place in which final judgment can be entered up in regard to the work of Electoral Commissioners.

Senator Rae - I think it is.

Senator MILLEN - I do not want to suggest for a moment that Parliament should not be consulted in the matter, beause I think it should have the fullest opportunity it can secure to make its views known to the Commissioners. At the same time, I hold that there should be somebody to finally determine whether a scheme should be adopted or rejected. Otherwise, it must be quite obvious that it is possible to reject any scheme which is submitted, and by so doing to retain one which would lend itself to very questionable methods.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Why not have equal electorates?

Senator MILLEN - I want them. I am trying to show that by rejecting this scheme, and also another scheme, it is possible to force the next election to be held on the present basis, which would mean a distribution more unequal, or with less pretence to equality than that now before the Senate.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Were they nearly equal in the case of Victoria? There was no difference of opinion about that scheme.

Senator MILLEN - There were reasons other than equality which kept my honorable friend quiet then. The result of rejecting scheme after scheme would be that we should have to fall back on the electoral divisions as they exist to-day.

Senator Givens - Sir John Forrest, would still have his birthplace.

Senator MILLEN - Some persons seem to have Sir John Forrest on the brain. As we stand to-day, the difference in voting strength ranges from 18,000 voters in excess to 10,000 deficiency. In other words, there is a difference of 28,000 between the voting strength of one electorate and that of another. Senator Russell's expressed desire for equality justifies me in pointing out to him that when he votes to reject this proposal, as I am entitled to assume he intends to do, he has to bear in mind that one of the consequences will be the maintenance of a scheme with variations from 18,000 minus to 10,000 plus.

Senator Rae - Not necessarily.

Senator MILLEN - That is one of the possible consequences. There ought to be, I hold, some machinery by which finality can be assured somewhere and somehow.

Senator Needham - By better judgment on the part of the Commissioners.

Senator MILLEN - Suppose that the Commissioners did exercise the best judgment which they possess, and that the Senate, for reasons which may seem good to it - either good in the interests of the country, or good in the interests of somebody else - should decide to turn down the distribution, the next election must be taken on the present divisions. Every honorable senator will, I think, admit in private conversation that there should be some means of arriving at finality. In my opinion, circumstances will sooner or later force Parliament to de-. vise some machinery by which, after it has made its views known, perhaps two or three times, an effective distribution can be secured prior to an election being held. I do not think that anybody can dispute that contention.

Senator Rae - I do. I disagree absolutely with the honorable senator.

Senator MILLEN - I ought to have said " anybody except Senator Rae." I noticed in their report, the Commissioners express views as to the method of distribution. I am not at all certain that they are called upon to do that. I remember that some few years ago the Commissioners for New South Wales took it upon themselves to allot a larger representation, in proportion to numbers, to country districts than they did to town electorates. I am not going to argue whether that is right or wrong, but I deny that the Commissioners had a right to bring their personal views to bear in shaping our electoral law in that way.

Senator Rae - I agree with you.

Senator MILLEN - The question as to whether country districts should have more representation or not is a matter which I do not propose to discuss now, but a matter which ought to be determined in Parliament, and not left to Commissioners to give effect to in a distribution scheme. It seems to me that the Commissioners for Western Australia have not only committed somewhat the same error, but have also made the mistake of expressing their reasons. On that point I should like to quote one sentence from a paragraph to show how far they assumed that they were entitled to do that which I think the law does not allow them to do. They say -

The provision of allowing for enrolment above and below the quota has been deliberately made by the Commissioners.

That is an extraordinary thing to say. What would have been correct for them to say was that -

The provision allowing for enrolment above and below the quota has been deliberately availed of by the Commissioners.

Senator Rae - That is what they must have meant to say.

Senator MILLEN - They are men who ought to have known the meaning of words. I thought at first that they had ,fallen into an error in the selection of terms, but, after looking through other portions of their report, I am led to think that they accepted it as a duty to shape the policy in this regard, and sought to give effect to it. To that extent, I might be inclined to sympathize with some of the views expressed by honorable senators opposite. But we cannot shut our eyes to this fact - that the Commissioners have, in making these divisions, acted entirely in conformity with the Act as it stands. If they had not put in their report any reasons for what they have proposed, I doubt very much whether any one would have found fault with them. They have observed the requirements of the law, as far as the numerical strength of electorates is concerned. The Commissioners propose that the largest electorate shall have 34,030 electors, which is 3,640 above the quota. The alternative suggested by the Australian Labour Federation would give 3,026 in excess of the quota. That is to say, the objection to the present proposal rests mainly upon the fact that the Commissioners propose a district with 3,640 in excess of the quota, whilst the alternative presents us with an excess nearly as large. There must be some other reason than that of mere numbers, and I listened carefully to Senator Henderson to try to learn what it was. Whilst I cannot speak from personal knowledge as to what would be- the best scheme, I have not heard any argument which disposes of the statements made in this report. One of the chief objections is on the ground of numbers, and a second is the consideration! of equality of electoral strength in order that one vote should have the same value as any other. The alternative method does not meet either objection which may be' urged against the report. The next point is community of interest. There is a paragraph in the report, on pages 10 and n, which reads as follows : -

It will be observed that under the present distribution the Kalgoorlie division includesalso the Phillips River gold-field, which latter does not appear to the Commissioners to haveany more " community of interest " with theKalgoorlie gold-fields than have the Murchison gold-fields.

They appear to be within reasonable distance of one another.

Senator Needham - Reasonable ! What does the honorable senator call reasonable?

Senator Henderson - The honorable senator is quite out of his reckoning when he says that.

Senator MILLEN - It is of no use for the honorable senators to talk like that, for this reason. When you speak of distance in a State like Western Australia, having an enormous area and a comparatively small population, you must remember that there must be always some point in one electorate which will be nearer to another electorate than it is to the centre of the electorate in which it is placed.

Senator Needham - How long would it take to get from Cue to Kalgoorlie?

Senator MILLEN - That has nothing to do with the matter. I might ask the same question with regard to any other large State. How long would it take to . get from the north-west corner of New South Wales to the Darling? There must be large electoral districts to secure the necessary quota. Reading further on in the same paragraph of the report, I find! the following : -

The only direction in which such increasecould reasonably be effected was by adding tothat area further gold-fields in which a 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.

I should like to ask the Western Australiansenators, who understand the local conditions, whether the areas which have beer* n (thrown into this new electorate are goldfield areas?

Senator Pearce - They are gold-fields with some pastoral districts.

Senator Lynch - The pastoral industry was there before the gold-field started.

Senator MILLEN - So was the pastoral industry in existence in Western New South Wales before Broken Hill and Cobar started. These Commissioners say that they have taken gold-field areas, and in order to give the necessary numbers, have added them to other gold-field areas.

Senator Rae - To give a surplus, the honorable senator means.

Senator MILLEN - They have gone beyond the quota; I admit that. But what they have put into this area has community of interest with it. I have shown that the alternative position is as far from " -equality as the Commissioners' proposal. Now I am dealing with the mere matter of community of interest. Here is the answer to the statement that community of interest lias not been considered. These gentlemen put it in a few words - that to a gold-fields electorate they have added more goldfields.

Senator Henderson - That does not necessarily prove community of interest. It may be quite the reverse.

Senator MILLEN - Oh, I see ! To add one gold-field' on to another is to bring about diversity of interest?

Senator Henderson - That may be so. What are the interests?

Senator MILLEN - I do not hope to convince Senator Henderson, but I am giving the reasons which induce me to cast the vote which I am required to give. The -statement made by the Commissioners is a very strong one, and is not to be brushed lightly on one side by merely saying that by adding one gold-field to another goldfield is to bring about diversity of interest.

Senator Needham - It takes three days to go from one part of the proposed electorate to another.

Senator MILLEN - It might take four days to go from one part of an electorate in New South Wales to another. A place may be so far from the centre of an electorate that it may be nearer to another electorate. These divisions may be nearer "to the electorate from which they are taken than to the centre of the electorate to which they are to be added. That is quite pos.sible; but does not that apply to dozens of -electorates ?

Senator Lynch - Community of interest does not mean similarity of industries only.

Senator MILLEN - It may mean that. It may mean anything; but I do venture to say that similarity of industry does represent what the average man will regard as community of interests. When you say that a gOld-field is added to a gold-field, there is much more community of interest than was the case when it was proposed, for instance, to put in the settlers to which Senator Lynch referred just now. Let me remind honorable senators of circumstances which I am sure, as they will acknowledge, exist in every State. Take Broken Hill, in my own State. Within a few miles of it a portion of an electorate has to go right away to the chief centre - either Bourke or Cobar, I forget which. The people there might say, "Look at the distance; we have no community of interest with Bourke or Cobar; our community of interest is with Broken Hill." But the requirement of our law - which requires equality of numbers, as far as possible - simply shows that they cannot get to the town to which they feel attached. For these two reasons - the fact that the alternative suggested is only a little better from the stand-point of numbers than the proposal of the Commissioners ; and secondly, that the Commissioners show that all that they have done is to add one goldfield to others - it seems to me that unless some stronger reason can be given than any that has yet been adduced, we ought not to depart from the report of the Commissioners. If a further reason is required, we have it in the action of the Government itself. Senator Pearce may be supposed to understand the conditions of his own State as well as any senator from Western Australia. He may also be supposed to be quite as anxious as they are that the interests of Western Australia shall be conserved. Having looked at the objections which we have heard to-day - and probably having had to meet others which we have not heard - the honorable senator is quite. satisfied to adopt the report.

Senator de Largie - It is the Cabinet Caucus that is forcing him to do that.

Senator MILLEN - Senator Pearce, in spite of all that, tells us that he does not think it desirable to dissent from the Commissioners' recommendation. Under those circumstances, I do say that we cannot ,do better than act on the report and support the motion. Some jocularity was indulged in just now in regard to the idea that the

Commissioners had followed up their recommendations by prophesying. I do not know that they have done anything of the kind. They have conformed with the law in the first place. They have not gone outside the law in any way.

Senator de Largie - Mr. Duffy, K.C., does not say so.

Senator MILLEN - I do not know what Mr. Duffy, K.C., has to do with the matter at all. If he has had anything to say concerning this matter, I do not know why his observations were not presented to the Senate in time for us to consider them.

Senator Vardon - Is he a prophet?

Senator Rae - No; he is a lawyer who makes profit.

Senator MILLEN - The fact is that the Commissioners have conformed to the law, and have not exceeded the legal percentage above or below which the number of an electorate is permitted to go. But the curious thing about this matter of prophecy is that those who have taken such strong exception to what they say the Commissioners have done, have indulged in the practice themselves. Both Senator Henderson and Senator Lynch, while speaking on this matter and finding fault with the Commissioners for looking ahead, treated us to prophecies of their own. Senator Lynch painted in rosy colours a. picture of the great population which is about to gather in certain districts in Western Australia.

Senator Henderson - Be careful and be correct. What I said was that I was quite as justified in entering into the realms of prophecy as the Commissioners, to show our side of the picture.

Senator MILLEN - We have to take the two sets of prophecies and see which is the more reasonable. We have two schemes before us, one showing an excess above the quota of 3,600, and the other 3,000. Both of these are in excess of the quota, but not in excess of the legal margin.

Senator Rae - Of two evils, choose the lesser.

Senator MILLEN - -Would not honorable senators rather accept a scheme which, based upon experience, shows that the population in this district is likely to come down, rather than take a scheme which, disregarding the facts of the past and of the present, shows that the population is likely to go up?

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