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Wednesday, 14 September 1983
Page: 752

Mr HUNT —Has the Special Minister of State seen in the media criticism of the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform for an enlarged parliament on the ground that we already have a high number of politicians per capita in Australia? Is it fair to compare the United States of America and the United Kingdom with Australia, in view of the much greater powers and responsibilities of local authorities in those countries? Does the Minister agree that the Committee's proposal for a modest increase in the number of House of Representatives electorates is consistent with the Government's one vote one value policy?

Mr BEAZLEY —I preface my answer by congratulating the honourable member and all the others who served on the Committee for producing what will be in the history of democratic practice in this country a seminal work, an extraordinarily successful tour of the entire electoral map in all its aspects in this country, and one which will be of very considerable assistance to this Government and the Parliament. I have seen some of the reports to which the honourable gentleman referred, and I will refer first to the last part of his question. An increase or otherwise in the size of the Parliament would have absolutely no impact one way or another on the question of one vote one value legislation. It would be perfectly consistent with it and there would be no problem in that regard.

I have also seen the reports with regard to whether the proposition that has come forward is appropriate. I take this occasion to refer to a number of figures in order to look at this matter on a comparative basis. In the case of the United Kingdom, 650 representatives have an average of 65,692 electors in their constituencies. Canada's Parliament, which has 282 representatives in the lower House-I am looking at equivalents, as the honourable member's remarks were directed towards the House of Representatives-has an average number of voters per constituency of 56,349. In New Zealand, with 92 representatives, the average number per constituency is 22,117. In Australia, with 125 representatives, the average is 74,989. So in each of those instances Australia comes out well ahead. Indeed, were we to implement the suggestions put forward by the Committee, all that would happen is that we would come in a couple of thousand below the British average instead of being 9,000 above it, as we are now.

It is quite understandable why the Committee would put forward those propositions. Since the Parliament was restructured in 1949 the size of the average House of Representatives constituency has almost doubled from about 39, 900 to 74,000-plus. As the Committee pointed out, in that period there has been about a 70 per cent increase in the size of the Ministry. The increase in responsibilities assigned to individual members of parliament since that point has been almost geometric and there is considerable pressure, well supported on both sides of the House, for the creation of effective committee systems. When I was in the United Kingdom recently I noted that since 1979 the United Kingdom House of Commons has set up a committee system which effectively shadows every department of state, which, given the current size of the Parliament, we would not have the numbers to do.

I am convinced on that matter, as I am on most of the matters in the Committee' s report, that the bases on which the Committee arrived at its decisions have been balanced, sensible, well motivated and in the interests of better democratic practice in this country. As I said yesterday when comment on the matter was invited from me by representatives of the Press, all items in the Committee's report, including that one, will subsequently need to be the subject of government decision and the introduction of legislation in the House. So, my comments here are made without prejudice, but I am satisfied with the basis on which the Committee arrived at that decision. I conclude by again congratulating the members of the Committee on the very deliberate and sensible way in which they went about their business.