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Monday, 11 December 1905

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am very strongly in favour of what is proposed by this clause. In some of the States and elsewhere it is not unusual to have a permanent Commissioner or Commissioners, or to appoint them by Act of Parliament when the necessity arises, to redistribute the electorates, and for Parliament to accept the distribution so made.

Mr Chanter - In New South Wales, the scheme of the Commissioners is subject to revision by Parliament.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The decision of the Commissioners is final, I believe, in New Zealand, and, speaking from memory, I think the position is the same in the case of the British Parliament. It is undoubtedly desirable that Parliament should remit a matter affecting itself to the consideration of independent authorities. We know that members, and it may be parties, to some extent, are affected by a redistribution, and it is highly undesirable that those members or parties personally affected should be the judges of a matter affecting themselves. I have never known any good to result from a Parliament having power to accept or reject a redistribution scheme.

Mr Chanter - The first Federal Parliament accepted some distributions and rejected others.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In the :ase of two States, which had not been previously divided into electorates for this House, we accepted distributions, but we rejected all the other redistribution schemes. I do not propose to discuss the rights or wrongs of that decision ; but what has been the result of it? The Minister said that there ought to be a dissolution after a redistribution. There is some force in such a contention, although, of course, everything would depend upon the extent and the effect of the redistribution that had taken place. If, for instance, only two or three electorates were affected, there might be no good reason for a dissolution immediately following it. But if the Minister's contention be correct, I should like him to say whether, after the number of Federal voters Wad been increased by about 100 per cent., and that increase had been distributed unequally amongst the electorates, there ought not to have been a general election on the new rolls. We know, however, that after these changes had occurred no election took place on new rolls, for the reason that the redistribution schemes were not accepted bv the Parliament. I do not propose to discuss the reasons for the rejection of those schemes, but I hold that we have been continuing our parliamentary representation on lines entirely foreign to the spirit of the Constitution, p.nd tol that of the electoral law of Australia. The Federal electorates are absolutely unequal. Surely that is an undesirable state of affairs, the continuation of which ought not to be encouraged. Owing to the rejection of the redistribution schemes, the people have been deprived of their constitutional right to equal representation, and such a position may again arise at any time. My experience makes me think it very desirable that this power should be taken from the Legislature.

Mr Chanter - Too much power is taken from the Parliament.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is too much power taken from the Parliament in matters affecting the whole community ; but it would certainly be wise to take from it the power of dealing with a matter largely affecting the interests of honorable members themselves. The law provides for equality of distribution and1 representation, so that, in this case, it is not so much the people, as members themselves, who are affected. I think, therefore, that we should take a higher stand if we deter mined to hand over to disinterested judges matters in which all honorable members are personally interested. Those disinterested judges would act in conformity with the law, but the personal considerations of members, which must always weigh with a Parliament when it has such proposals before it, would not weigh with them. If Parliament were a body which could reframe a redistribution, the position would be different ; but we know that it cannot.

Mr Chanter - We can send back a scheme for revision.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Once a Parliament makes an alteration in the boundaries of one electorate, it is committed, perhaps, to an alteration of the whole of them. Parliament cannot undertake such work; the considerations involved are too personal.

Mr Chanter - That power is not sought bv the Bill.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is already recognised by our Jaws. We should remember, as I have said, that in considering a redistribution scheme, Parliament must be influenced largely by the personal considerations of members, and that it is better that such work should be handed over to others, who, from their positions and the experience gained in those positions, are well fitted to carry out the work satisfactorily. It would be preferable to adopt that) course, even at the risk of minor objections arising, when we know that it would rid us of the infinitely greater objection that can be taken to members dealing with matters which are of such close personal interest to all of them that they cannot give them that judicial consideration which they would receive from others not directly concerned.

Mr Fisher - Does, not the honorable member think that the electors would pen a;lize any honorable member who violated the principle?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the Parliament as a whole abused it, ' it is doubtful whether they would.

Mr McWilliams - Some of the electors themselves do not desire to be transferred from one electorate to another.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Perhapsthat is so; but it is highly undesirable that this Parliament, founded, as it is, upon the principleof equality of representation, should be returned by electorates which, because of the reasons I have stated, are so unequal that in some of them the voting power of two electors is equal only to the voting power of one in others. Is it desirable that this, state of affairs, which has been the result of the present system, and, in all probability, will occur again, should continue for' years? Under the Minister's proposal,, a redistribution scheme could be placed before Parliament, and, if rejected, might or might not be' returned either to the Commissioner responsible for it, or to a new Commissioner appointed for the purpose. On the last occasion the schemes to which objection was taken were not returned to the Commissioner. We were satisfied to allow the inequalities to continue. I quite agree that officers, such as are proposed! to be appointed under this clause, may sometimes make errors, but those errors are not likely to be nearly so hurtful as are those which a Parliament commits when it attempts to correct supposed anomalies in a redistribution scheme. Errors that might be committed by the Commissioners could not be nearly so dangerous as is the system of allowing Parliament to reject redistribution schemes with or without good reason, and thus postponing for months, or, perhaps, for years, the adjustment of electoral equality.

Mr Fisher - I take it that the present Ministry are pledged to a redistribution.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Certainly, but we are not legislating in relation only to the present Ministry. The Minister of Home Affairs has taken the valid objection that it would not do to delay the coming redistribution by making this clause apply to it. If this clause be adopted, the proper course to pursue will be to insert a further provision that it shall not apply to the forthcoming redistribution. A redistribution has actually been prepared, and if it were entirely abandoned it would involve a sacrifice of time and money. The delay which would thus occur might difficult to have the new scheme ready for next session ; but that, however, could be avoided bv providing that the appointment of the three Commissioners for each State should not apply to the forthcoming redistribution. The reason for proposing the appointment of, three Commissioners is that it is thought that there should be more than one man to bring his intelligence to bear upon the questions to be submitted, because there will be no appeal. Reference has been made to the cost of having three Commissioners, but it should not be 'anything like so great as the expense of making a redistribution, which, as in the case of some of the first redistribution, which was rejected, is entirely wasted. Any expense incurred under this clause will give a return. My experience leads me to regard it as. highly undesirable, and likely to lower the dignity of Parliament, that we should each be judges in our own cause. Other Parliaments have been content to hand over this work to trusted authorities, and I think that we should do likewise.

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