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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr FORBES (Barker) .- I was not going to speak on this bill at this stage, but I have been emboldened to do so by some of the statements made by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) about the remarks of the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull). Whatever my distinguished predecessor, the late Archie Cameron, may have said about the honorable member for Mallee on the particular matter which was being discussed at the time, Archie Cameron was, above all, a person who stood up in this House for the interests of the people who live in the rural areas. If he were here to-day he would thoroughly approve the stand taken by the honorable member for Mallee in the interests of the rural areas.

The main point being made by the honorable member for Mallee, as I understood it, was that the Labour Party intends to move amendments to the bill which would deny country people the rights to which they are entitled under the act. In particular there is the amendment which will seek to shorten the time available for polling by reducing it from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., as it is now, to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. It was to that amendment that the honorable member for Mallee objected strongly. Not only the honorable member for Mallee objects to such a proposal, Sir, I object to it very strongly also. This is an attempt by the Labour Party to make it more difficult for the people in the country areas to vote. As has been explained many times in this House, many people on the land have to make time in order to be able to vote, even though general elections are held on Saturdays. They are not like the people in the metropolitan areas, practically all of whom these days spend their Saturdays watching sport. No, Sir, the average farmer has to make a special effort to find the time to vote in an election, if it occurs at the time of the year in which his agricultural operations take place, because he needs, and uses to the maximum effect, the hours of daylight. The result is that a farmer may not be able to get to a polling booth before 6 o'clock in the evening.

Mr Bird - What about Queensland, where the polls close at 6 p.m.?

Mr FORBES - I am not interested in what is done in Queensland. I am talking about the situation which exists in the southern part of Australia. Even the Opposition should realize that there is a very great difference between climatic conditions in the north of Australia and those in the south of Australia. I .have enough belief in my friends on the Government side of the House who come from Queensland to know that farmers in Queensland would not be affected in this way by the closing of polling booths at 6 p.m. or they would have said so. Therefore honorable members on this side have stated their views on this in good faith, thinking of the situation in their own States. But there are other people in Australia besides the people in Queensland, and what I have to say about the farmers in the southern parts of Australia, and their need to use all the hours of daylight for their agricultural operations, is beyond dispute. 1 believe that, by moving an amendment designed to prevent farmers in the south from taking the maximum advantage of the hours of daylight, the Labour Party is acting reprehensibly. Many people in the country have to travel up to 20 or 30 miles in order to vote. I wonder what some of the constituents of the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Russell) will think about his party endorsing this proposal. At least most of the people in my electorate have to travel 20 or 30 miles in order to vote. In the electorate of Grey many people have to travel up to 100 miles in order to vote. Yet, presumably, since he has not said otherwise, the honorable member for Grey is supporting this proposal by the Labour Party. The point I want to make is that the proposal will affect not only agricultural operations. Because many people in the country have to travel great distances to vote they do not want to make two trips during the day.

The normal habit of many people in the country is to go to the pictures or to a social function in the nearest town on a Saturday evening, and over many years the widespread practice has been for country voters to go to town after finishing their milking or their other work on the farm on polling day, vote, and then go to the pictures. The amendment proposed by members of the Australian Labour Party in this House would require country people to make two trips to their local town in the one day if they have to vote and if they want to go to the pictures or to a social function on the evening of the same day. The amendment would make it impossible for the country man to combine the discharge of his voting responsibilities with the enjoyment of any of the few amenities which are available to country people. The constituents of Labour members, most of whom represent metropolitan electorates, are all right; they have television. But many of my constituents do not have television, and if they want to see moving pictures, they have to travel perhaps 20 or 30 miles to the nearest town. Attending picture shows is still a habit in country areas. Not having television is something which I regard as intolerable anywhere. Yet the Opposition wishes to place a further burden on country people by making impossible for them the enjoyment of one of the few amenities and pleasures which are available to them - attending the pictures or a social function in the evening after voting.

This sort of thing is typical of the hypocrisy of members of the Australian Labour Party who comprise the Opposition in this Parliament. Just recently, Opposition members suggested in this House that they had the interests of country people at heart. Yet, at their first opportunity subsequently to demonstrate in practice that they have the interests of those people at heart, what did they do? They certainly did not indicate positively that they have the interests of the people in the rural areas of Australia at heart. Instead, the Opposition foreshadowed an amendment to this bill which would definitely deprive country people of some of their rights. And the proposed amendment which I have been discussing is not the only one which would have this effect. The other amendment, which was mentioned by the honorable member for Mallee, also, would work against the interests of people in the rural areas. That is the amendment relating to the percentage margin above or below the quota of electors within which the Distribution Commissioners are allowed to work in determining electoral boundaries.

Although Labour subscribes to the principle, " One vote, one value ", Opposition members would support an amendment which would deprive country people of one of the advantages which they have been given in order to compensate them for many of the disabilities to which they are subject. As the honorable member for Mallee so rightly said, if the Australian Labour Party has its way, the exercise of principles like those on which these proposed amendments are founded will mean that the country areas of Australia will never develop but will always remain in their present condition. That will be the inevitable result if country people have to rely on parliamentary representation based solely on this abstract and academic principle, " One vote, one value ". I agree entirely with the honorable member for Mallee that this country can be developed only it we abandon abstract principles such as this, realize the practicalities of the situation and ensure that country areas are represented by more members of Parliament. From the practical standpoint, that is the only way in which this country will be developed in the end. Country people realize this, and therefore they understand that the Opposition's proposed amendment with respect to the margin above or below the electoral quota, as well as that designed to close polling booths at 6 p.m., will militate against country interests. People in the rural areas realize that the principles on which amendments such as these are based are typical of members of the Australian Labour Party who comprise the Opposition in this Parliament.

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