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Monday, 9 November 1964

Senator ANDERSON (New South Wales) (Minister for Customs and Excise) . - in reply - This is a simple bill to give a State an additional member in the House of Representatives for any fraction of a quota in lieu of a member for a remainder greater than one-half of a quota. It will increase the number of members of the House of Representatives to 124. I think that, at the outset, it is appropriate for me to remind the Senate that following the 1961 census, the Chief Electoral Officer made certain determinations as to the entitlement of each State. In New South Wales, the entitlement was 45.13. Under the proposals in this Bill, the number of members for that State will rise from 45 to 46. In Victoria, the determination was 33.76 and the number of members will remain at 34. The entitlement of Queensland was 17.44, and the number of members will rise from 17 to 18. In South Australia, the determination was 11.17, and the number of members will rise from 11 to 12. In Western Australia, the entitlement was 8.47, and the membership will rise from 8 to 9. Tasmania, under a special provision of the Constitution, retains five members. Under the entitlement arrived at by the Chief Electoral Officer following the 1961 census, the number of members for the House of Representatives was 120. Under this Bill, the number will rise to 124.

The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) has moved an amendment to the motion that the Bill be now read a second time. The wording of his amendment is -

Leave out all words after " That ", insert:-" the Senate is of opinion that a decision on the proposal contained in the Bill should be deferred until the Government introduces other electoral legislation announced in the Governor-General's Opening Speech and until the people hare been given an opportunity to vote at a referendum on the Constitutional Review Committee's proposals on Commonwealth legislative machinery

I note that Senator McKenna, while putting forward the amendment, has in effect said that the Opposition will not press it to a division.

Senator McKenna - I did not say that. I said that we would not oppose the Bill if the amendment were not carried.

Senator ANDERSON - Very well. The whole debate has been conducted in a detached way as befits the Senate when considering matters of this nature. The Government is not prepared to accept the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition and I shall give the reasons for this decision. I want to make an analysis of the amendment, as I see it. Reference has been made to the Speech delivered by the Governor-General when he opened this Parliament. It was announced in His Excellency's Speech that there would be certain electoral reforms. This announcement had its genesis in the policy speech delivered by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) on 12th November 1963. The policy speech gives some background to the proposition which is encompassed in the amendment. The Prime Minister said -

The Statistician, in dividing the electorate) quota into the population of each State, to determine how many seats in the House of Representatives that State is to have, is at present bound to find that if the division leaves a fraction less than onehalf, the State does not get a seat for that fraction. This means, at present, that growing States, like Queensland and Western Australia, and even New South Wales, stand to lose a seat. This is, we think, wrong. We therefore propose to amend the Representation Act to provide that any surplus fraction will equal one seat. In consequence no State will lose a seat.

I point out to the Senate that, to that extent, this Bill does that very thing. It provides that a State shall obtain an additional member for any fraction of a quota. This provision has the effect of increasing the membership of the House of Representatives from 120 to 124. The Prime Minister went on to say -

Again, we will amend the Electoral Act by making it clear to the Redistribution Commissioners that, in exercising their discretion to vary tha normal electoral quota up or down, to allow for some variation between compact metropolitan seats and very much larger rural areas, they shall specifically take into account, community of economic, social and regional interests, difficulties of communication, remoteness or distance, tha trend of population changes, physical features, and the relative areas of the proposed Divisions.

I take it that this is What the Leader of the Opposition is referring to in his amendment when he says that this Bill should bc deferred until that provision is included in the legislation. But surely we can say that the most logical thing to do insofar as that aspect of the amendment is concerned is to take first things first, as we are doing. We are bringing into being the situation where the number of the members of the House of Representatives will be determined by the provisions of the Bill.

Senator McKennathen went on to refer to the proposals of the Constitutional Review Committee. I should like to make some reference to those proposals, because if we are to accept the submission in the amendment and wait until those proposals are carried out, we shall need to envisage a timetable which, I contend, is not within the realm of possibility, bearing in mind that the House of Representatives is elected triennially and already approximately 12 months of its life has elapsed. The Constitutional Review Committee recommends that the Constitution should be amended to provide as follows -

(1)   The number of members of the House of Representatives should be no longer tied to being as nearly as practical twice the number of senators.

Incidently, I understand that the only other country where there is this nexus between the numbers in the two Houses is Norway. The Committee further recommended -

(2)   The Parliament should have power to determine the number of senators, provided equal representation of the original States is maintained, but there should be not less than six nor more titan ten senators for each original State.

That is germane here. The third recommendation was -

The Parliament should continue to have power to make laws for increasing or diminishing the number of members of the House of Representatives, and the number of members chosen in the several States should remain in proportion to population. However, the power of the Parliament to determine the number of members of the House of Representatives should be subject to the qualification that the number of members to be chosen in any Slate should be determined by dividing the population of the State by a figure determined by the Parliament which is the same for each State and is not less than 80,000, thus providing that there should be on average at least 80,000 people for every member. Where, upon a division, there is a remainder greater than one-half of the divisor, there should be an additional member to be chosen in the State concerned. (4). The power of the Parliament referred to in sub-paragraph (3) above should be subject to the present constitutional provision that there should be no less than five members chosen in each original State. 1 shall come back to that in a moment. Paragraph 111, which deals with draft constitutional alterations, reads -

Several amendments would be necessary to implement the Committee's recommendations.

Paragraph 113, which deals with the number of members of the House of Representatives, reads - lt is convenient, in translating the Committee's proposals affecting the House of Representatives into draft alterations, to repeal sections 24-27 inclusive of the Constitution and to replace them by a new section. A draft alteration to this end is as follows: - 24. (1.) The House of Representatives shall be composed of members directly chosen by the people of the Commonwealth. (2.) The numbers of members of the House of Representatives to be chosen in the several Slates shall be declared by the Parliament from time to time in accordance with this section. The numbers of members for all the States shall be declared at the one time. (3.) The number of members to be so declared in respect of a State shall be the number ascertained by dividing the number of the people of the State by a number prescribed by the Parliament from time to time, being not less than eighty thousand and being the same number for each State. If, on such a division, there is a remainder greater than one-half of the divisor, the number of members shall be increased by one, but otherwise any remainder shall be disregarded. (4.) In the application of the last preceding sub-section in relation to a law declaring the numbers of members to be chosen in the several States, the respective numbers of the people of the States shall be taken to be the numbers declared by that law to have been those numbers, according to statistics of the Commonwealth, at a specified date, not being earlier than the date at which the latest census of the people of the Commonwealth was taken under the law of the Commonwealth. (5.) Notwithstanding anything contained in this section, the number of members of the House of Representatives to be chosen in an original State shall be not less than five.

I draw special attention to that sub-section, because if affords a clue to the constitutional probabilities of this Bill. It is significant to note that the Constitutional Review Committee wrote that provision into the draft alteration. The remainder of the draft reads as follows - (6.) Where an alteration is made to the number of members to be chosen in a State, the alteration does not apply in relation to any election before the first general election takes place after the GovernorGeneral in Council has by Proclamation declared that there is an appropriate number of electoral divisions for the purpose of the election of the altered number of members. (7.) The Parliament may make laws for carrying this section into effect.

The purpose of the amendment moved by the Leader of Opposition is to defer the proposal contained in the Bill until complementary legislation is introduced. The honorable senator's main argument was based on a proposal for constitutional review which would have to be submitted to a referendum before it could be submitted to the Parliament.

The Government would have to consider any proposal for a referendum as a matter of policy. I am not competent to comment on that aspect of the matter at this stage. The Government has stated that it is still examining the vast implications of the report of the Constitutional Review Committee. Even if the matter of electoral reform were submitted to a referendum, there is still grave doubt about the end result. The history of referendums in the Commonwealth of Australia has not been one of great success. Senator McKenna would be much more competent than I to outline the referendums that have been held since Federation and the degree of success that has been achieved. Indeed, Senator McKenna would agree that there has been some difference in the viewpoints expressed this afternoon about the status of the smaller States. We know that the founding fathers, at a series of conventions held for the purpose of drafting the Constitution, had to try to evolve a system which would meet the wishes of certain States that felt they might be swallowed up by the larger States. I repeat that, if the proposals contained in the report of the Constitutional Review Committee were submitted to the electorate, there is no certainty about the outcome.

Let us think of the suggestion in terms of time. The holding of a referendum takes a lot of time. If we were to follow the normal pattern, the holding of a referendum on constitutional reform could be a long process. If the result was a degree of success and a degree of failure, the Government would then have to make a proper analysis of the result and translate it into legislative form. The final proposal would still have to run the gauntlet in the Parliament. The great length of time involved in dealing with the matter in this way would quite clearly prejudice adherence to the normal triennium between the holding of elections, the next of which is some two years away.

The Leader of the Opposition has raised the constitutional validity of the proposal contained in the Bill. The Government, which does not make its decisions lightly, holds the view that the Bill is constitutionally sound. The fact that the Government has introduced the measure indicates its confidence in that respect. Senator Prowse got right on to the target when he pointed out that section 24 of the Constitution makes provision for a variation.

The Government believes that this is a good piece of legislation and that it will meet the objections that have been raised to the previous proposal. The validity of the objections has been considered in the drafting of the present legislation. I have no doubt that the Leader of the Opposition has moved his amendment in good faith, but it does not warrant support, as I have sought to show by reference to the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Committee. The amendment would hardly be practical at the present stage of the triennial electoral period of the House of Representatives.

Question put -

That the words proposed to be left out (Senator McKeima's amendment) be left out.

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