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Monday, 11 December 1905

Mr LONSDALE (New England) - I think that safeguards might be added to the clause, because Parliament should have some control over the distribution of the divisions. We should, I think, be able to refer back to the Commissioners any distribution which we thought contained gross inequalities. I understand, however, from the honorable member for Boothby that, in the case to which he referred, Parliament refused to remedy the Inequalities complained of. That is evidence of the ineffectiveness of the present system. The House agreed to that distribution, and rejected the New South Wales distribution. Could there be a stronger indictment against the present system? I do not think that his argument is worth much to the side which he takes, but it is worth a great deal to the side which is taken by the honorable member for North Sydney. It proves that, for some reason or other honorable members vote very often just as may suit themselves, and it is of no use to shut our eyes to that fact. The present distribution of New South Wales may not be the best which could be made. But what can be done with the plan, except to refer it back to the Commissioner ? When it is clearly demonstratedthat a distribution ought to be made,it should be undertaken and be approved by the House. But if the House will not give its approval to a scheme what are we to do? In my opinion the House should retain the power to refer back a scheme to the Commissioners, but it ought not to be in a position to reject a scheme. No doubt this is a very drastic step to take. But. judging from our past experience, it would be far better for the House tohave only the right to refer back a scheme with the suggestions of honorable members, in the hope that it might lead to an alteration which would meet various cases of inequality.

Mr Fisher - I think that the power of rejection is better and safer than the power of referring a plan back to the Commissioner.

Mr LONSDALE - We are elected to a national Parliament; but we act too much on provincial lines. The present distribution of New South Wales, so far as my district is concerned, is not one which suits me; but I would not say a word in the direction of getting it altered. If I were invested with the right to fix the boundaries of my electorate, I should alter the present boundaries; but why should I be allowed to have a voice in making that alteration ? In these cases, we are not the proper persons to judge as to what is best and right. I am not the proper person to fix the boundaries of my electorate, because I should act, not in the interests of the people, but in my own interests.

Mr Fisher - But Buggins representing the adjoining electorate would take care that the honorable member would not get an advantage of him.

Mr LONSDALE - The representative of the adjoining electorate would be quite satisfied with the boundary that I should adopt. But, supposing that the two of us could agree on that point, what right should we have to fix the boundaries? When the boundaries of the twenty-six electorates of New South Wales are submitted to the House, can we possibly alter them, and if it were possible, how long would it take us to come to an agreement upon new boundaries? If it is absolutely impossible for honorable members to alter the boundaries laid down in a scheme, why should we go through the absurd process of requiring the Commissioner to submit his proposal to the House ? Surely we can select men who would' be able to distribute the seats without being governed very much by party feeling ! Since the House contains three parties, each party might be allowed to have one representative, and three Commissioners so selected might be left to settle questions of boundaries. It must be clear to every honorable member that the House cannot effect the distribution of seats.

Mr Batchelor - It can veto a scheme.

Mr LONSDALE - Yes, but it cannot do the work of redistribution. The only way in which we can insure finality is by intrusting this work to Commissioners. The House ought to reserve to itself the right to refer a plan back to the Commissioners if, in its opinion, it be not satisfactory. But it ought not to retain the power of rejection, and to do as it has done on one occasion, and that is to allow the inequalities to remain.

Mr Bamford - Does not the honorable member think it a great impertinence for the Senate to interfere in this matter?

Mr LONSDALE - No. We can tell the Senate that they have been grossly impertinent, but that as their suggestion is a good one, it has been accepted. If the House were to make a good suggestion to the Senate, I do not think that the latter would say that we were grossly imper tinent. What we ought to do is to act in the best interests of the people. The honorable member for Boothby has pointed out that even under the present law we shall never get absolute equality, that if we were to have equality to-day in. that sense, we should have inequality to-morrow.

Mr Batchelor - But we ought to be able to get a reasonable approximation to equality.

Mr LONSDALE - If we were to raise the minimum, and lower the maximum, it might accomplish the object which the honorable member has in view. I do not know that it is necessary to discuss this question at great length. Although sheaves of amendments have been circulated by the Minister and others, yet we are expected to pass the Bill in the twinkling of an eye, simply because Christmas is coming.

Mr Groom - The Bill was circulated a long time ago.

Mr LONSDALE - That fact will not justify us in dealing with the amendments without discussion. I shall support the clause.

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