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Monday, 11 December 1905

Mr BATCHELOR (Boothby) - If I cannot secure a lesser degree of discrepancy than will be provided by one-fourth, I shall certainly accept the suggestion of the Minister. I point out that it will provide for a very wide discrepancy, and we shall be still a long way from having anything like equal voting power in the different constituencies.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The clause does not provide that the redistribution shall take place only when the discrepancy mentioned is reached.

Mr BATCHELOR - It will be evident that, as a matter of practice, there will not be any redistribution until the maximum of discrepancy allowed by the Act is reached. Under the existing Act, the number of electors in a constituency may be one-fifth above or below the quota, so that we may have a difference of 10,000 between the number of electors in two ad- joining constituencies. In some cases there is a far greater discrepancy, but unless that state of affairs exists in one-third of the divisions in a State, this automatic provision for a redistribution will not come into operation. I hold that whenever so great a discrepancy is shown, a redistribution ought to take place. In New South Wales, for instance, the number of electors in eight constituencies, might be altogether beyond the margin allowed, and still this provision as it stands would not apply. That being so, I fail to see that we shall effect any improvement if we allow the clause to pass as, proposed. I would call the special attention of those honorable members who plead for equality of representation to this provision, because it will allow a much greater departure from the quota than honorable members contemplate to remain unremedied. I would seriously ask the Minister whether he considers it necessary that opportunities should be afforded for such gross inequalities before the automatic provision can be applied.

Mr. GROOM(Darling Downs - Minister of Home Affairs). - If in administering the Act I found that the number of electors in one constituency was so grossly out of proportion to 'those of others as almost to shock the conscience, I -should consider that a distribution ought to take place. At the same time, we cannot escape from the fact that we are laying down rules of general application to the whole Commonwealth. The desire is to indicate to the person administering the Act the general principles upon which Parliament considers it ought to be carried out.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - This indicates the limit to which the Minister may allow the inequality to go.

Mr GROOM - Quite so. We say that we think that, at the very least, as, soon as the state of affairs referred to in this paragraph arises,, a redistribution should take place.

Mr Batchelor - There is great danger of this provision being taken to indicate the only case in which a redistribution- should be made.

Mr GROOM - I do not think so. There is great difficulty in framing a general rule to apply to all the States. A rule that would apply to Queensland might not be good for New South Wales ; and a rule that could be satisfactorily applied to New South Wales might be ridiculous in the case of Tasmania.

Mr Batchelor - Will the Minister tell me what is one-fourth of seven?

Mr GROOM - Perhaps the honorable member will tell me what is one-fifth of seven. All that we are seeking to do here is to lay down a guiding principle, instead of leaving the matter, as at present, to the discretion of the Minister. I think it would be safer to allow the clause to pass in its present form, as it would enable the measure to be so administered as to do justice to all the States.

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