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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (12:49 PM) . - I move) -

That the following new clause be inserted in the bill:- " 3a. Section nineteen of the Principal Act is amended by omitting the word ' one-fifth ' (wherever occurring) and inserting in its stead the word one-tenth'.".

The proposed amendment will affect section 19 of the act, which lists the matters to which distribution commissioners must give due consideration in any proposed distribution of a State. I regret that no opportunity has been taken to enable distribution commissioners to take into account the number of voteless persons including aborigines, infants and immigrants in electorates. As we know, there are three times as many human beings in some electorates as there are in others.

The amendment deals with the margin which the commissioners are allowed to permit above or below the quota determined under the Constitution. The amendment will give effect to the unanimous recommendation made to this Parliament two and a half years ago by the Constitutional Review Committee and fully reasoned in a further report to the Parliament eighteen months ago. I would anticipate that the committee's recommendation would be endorsed by the Parliament. It is one recommendation which may be given effect by statute and which does not require a referendum. It is a recommendation that was supported not only by the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) and Deputy Leader of the Opposition in this chamber, the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) and Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Kennelly) in the Senate, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) and the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who comprised the six Opposition members on the committee, but also by the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer), by Mr. Justice Joske as he. now is, by the former AttorneyGeneral, by Senator Wright of the Liberal Party, by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) and by the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton). Last week, during the secondreading debate, the honorable member for New England reiterated his support for the proposal. In my second-reading speech two weeks ago I quoted the matters of principle upon which the committee relied. The committee pointed out that a gerrymander might be perpetrated quite legally under the present statute in that one seat might have half as many more voters in it than a neighbouring seat. If the quota is 40,000 there may be neighbouring seats each with a one-fifth tolerance - 32,000 voters in one and 48,000 in the. other. It has hardly ever been necessary for the commissioners to diverge from the quota to that extent, and the committee was unanimously and strongly of the opinion that it was quite possible and altogether desirable that the margin be reduced to one-tenth.

Mr Stokes - Would your suggestion not have the effect of creating new seats?

Mr WHITLAM - No, no amendment is proposed that would affect the number of seats. The committee did recommend that there should be no longer a link between the number of senators and the number of members of this House and that the number of members for each State should not exceed on the average one member for every 80,000 persons. If that amendment were made to the Constitution it would be possible for seats to be reduced slightly below their present number of electors and there would be fewer difficulties in drawing the boundaries of the larger seats.

During the debate on the second reading this afternoon, some members of the Country Party suggested that it was to the advantage of persons who live in the country for the margin to be one-fifth. There is, in fact, no guarantee that the margin would not be operated against the interests of persons in the country and in the interests of persons in the cities. In actual fact, that is how the matter now stands. The electorates in New South Wales that have the smallest populations are East Sydney and West Sydney. The electorate with the smallest population in Victoria is Melbourne; in South Australia, it is Adelaide; in Western Australia it is Perth. In Queensland the electorate of Brisbane has only 100 voters more than ' Dawson and 400 voters more than Kennedy. Those figures have been supplied to me by the electoral authorities and are the figures as at 31st March this year.

Mr Freeth - Kalgoorlie has fewer voters than Perth.

Mr WHITLAM - Thank you. I had overlooked that Perth has 400 more voters than Kalgoorlie. In general the inner city electorates are the ones that have the smallest populations.

Mr Thompson - That is because of the drift.

Mr WHITLAM - Yes, it is because of the declining population. In New South Wales there are more non-rural seats than rural seats with less than the quota. The drop in population in the inner city areas in every State is even greater than in the provincial cities and country districts. It is not correct to say that the present margin has operated in the interests of country areas. It has operated to the detriment of people in the country. The electorates that are growing quickest are those in the outer suburbs of the State capitals. Those electorates happen to be the electorates that have the greatest number of voteless persons - infants and migrants. Objections were taken during the second-reading stage, largely by interjection, that it would be very difficult to cater for seats such as Kalgoorlie, Kennedy and Darling. In actual fact there is no division in the House that now has anywhere near the population or covers anywhere near the area that a very great number of electorates had and covered before 1949. Furthermore, those electorates are now more readily reached than they were in 1949 because not only are they smaller but also communications, whether by telephone, radio, aircraft, road or even rail, have in every case greatly improved. It is easier now to reach any electorate than it was formerly.

These objections were specifically dealt with by the Constitutional Review Committee, which unanimously stated -

But, in the opinion of the Committee, it is quite unrealistic to imagine that in electorates covering more than 100,000 square miles, the reduction of the permissible margin from one-fifth to one-tenth will produce any vastly different results.

It is the Committee's view that each large division can be fitted into a marginal allowance of one-tenth without frustration of the purposes of section 19. The same legal considerations have applied to the last three redistributions, but the assessed enrolment of Kalgoorlie, Darling and Kennedy, for purposes of the redistribution in 1937, was, in each case, considerably greater than the quota determined for each of the States concerned for purposes of the redistributions in 1948 and 1955.

The committee then referred to the fact that if the Constitution were altered in the two ways recommended - that aborigines be counted in assessing the quota for each seat and that it be permissible for a seat to be created for every 80,000 or more inhabitants - it would be still easier to comply with a one-tenth margin.

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