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Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 900

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Leader of the Opposition) - The apparent purposes of this Bill are, firstly, to reduce the permissible variation from the quota specified from 20 per cent to 10 per cent; secondly, to revise the factors in a distribution by deleting reference to disabilities arising out of remoteness or distance, the density or sparsity of population of the division and the area of the division; and, thirdly, to provide that a redistribution may be directed whenever one-quarter of the electorates of a State differ from the quota by 10 per cent instead of by 20 per cent.

The Liberal Party has given the most penetrating and exhaustive examination to the proposals and the impact they will have upon the electoral boundaries for the Commonwealth

Parliament. That examination has been carried out by the Federal Secretariat, as the basic research element, supported by a committee of members from the Parliamentary Executive and the Parliamentary Party. In the examination they consulted all our organisational branches in the States. The report of that committee was considered by the full Opposition Executive, which made a recommendation that the Bill be opposed. The report of the executive was considered by the Parliamentary Party and we are resolved to oppose the legislation. I have set out this method of examination for I want it to be completely and absolutely clear that the views we have reached have been exclusively in the Liberal Party and based upon considerations which the Liberal Party believes ought to be taken into account. The decision we have reached has been unaffected by the attitudes of any other party. This is as it should be because the Liberal Party, having no sectional base, is, in fact, the only truly national party in the Australian political spectrum. As a national Party we owe a duty to all the Australian public, to our supporters and our members to act in Opposition to achieve the best legislative result which is possible. I shall come to the detailed considerations with factual material to support our conclusions shortly.

First, I wish to deal with what we have concluded is the real purpose of the legislation introduced by the Labor Government and the difficulties which we will have overturning the impressions put in the mind of commentators and the public generally by a most thorough propaganda exercise extending over some years by the Labor Party. There can be no doubt that the Labor Party's real purpose is to advantage its parliamentary Party and thereby to make it easier foi the Labor Party to forge a distribution of electoral boundaries which will have the result of making its stay in office easier to maintain. It would be happy to perpetuate itself in office.

The Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly), who is responsible for electoral matters, ought properly to be described as the Minister for Conservation of a Labor Government. Only the most naive person could believe that the motivation of the Labor Party is that of objectivity or commitment to the democratic process. Attributed to a former Labor Minister and Senator was the saying: 1 don't care who votes or how they vote so long as I count them'. That attitude has not been far distant from the reality of Labor Party thinking, committed as it is to the numbers game throughout its history. Another old saying attributed to a Labor Party leader of the past, was: 'Vote early and vote often'. Against this background I cannot bring myself to believe that the honourable member for Grayndler, members of the Cabinet and of the Labor Caucus have been transported by some sense of altruism in this legislation.

Mr Lynch - He is laughing.

Mr SNEDDEN - He is laughing; he acknowledges the truth of it. How could he do otherwise than acknowledge the truth of it? The argument advanced by the Government to support this measure is based on the slogan: 'One vote one value'. I do not reject that concept but I say quite specifically and unequivocally that there is no time at which that can be achieved in all its pristine purity. If every electorate on the 29th March had exactly the same number of electors, by 30th March they would have not had the exact same number of electors. They would no longer be exactly equal in numbers. Within a year there would be wide discrepancies in their numbers. It is therefore necessary to realise while it may be a fundamental objective to be sought it must be understood to be incapable of actual achievement at any time. Nevertheless the law should do what it can to as near as practicably achieve it. In relation to that objective there will be exceptions which must be acknowledged and will, upon examination, be a matter of degree. For example, can it really be argued that democracy will be subverted because we are unwilling to have the electorate of Kalgoorlie, already occupying most of the State of Western Australia, occupy even more of the State or that democracy is subverted because the electorate of Kennedy or of Darling is to occupy an even greater part of their States rather than be left as they are? The proposition that an electorate cannot be too big cannot be denied. It then becomes an issue of degree as to what lesser numbers for a noncity seat can be accepted without subverting the democratic process. I will give some figures to illustrate this point shortly.

The Liberal Party believes that our purpose in shaking this legislation should be commenced by 4 basic principles. Firstly, that parliamentary democracy must be preserved and be seen to be preserved; secondly, electorates should as near as practicable, be equal in numbers through the expected lifetime of the distribution; thirdly, to prevent excessive sectional representation in the Parliament and, fourthly, to prevent the gerrymandering of electoral boundaries. This whole question is as complex as it is important. Debate on it must be rational, considered and objective. Instead of mounting slogans and emotive rhetoric we ought to be dispassionate in our examination of the facts, realities and practical problems. The Liberal Party has not been blinded by slogans of the Minister for Services and Property in his second reading speech. He will be distressed to learn this. We believe that Australians will see through the motives and will accept our view that the Bill should be defeated in order to preserve that very thing which the Minister has been using as his slogan - equality of treatment and, as near as possible, one vote one value. On examination of the Minister's speech it is seen to be empty of reasoned argument. It leaves the impression of political demagoguery and rhetorical distraction for which the Minister has become known. The Minister alleges a gerrymander in the current arrangements. If there is a gerrymander in the current arrangements how is it that the Labor Party is in Government?

Mr Daly - Massive support.

Mr SNEDDEN - Massive support! The Minister believes the propagandas of election night when it was said to be a landslide. The Government was very lucky to get the majority it now has. Not even the honourable gentleman's leader, the Prime Minister, who is superb at political exaggeration has been prepared to call the present Commonwealth law on distribution a gerrymander. On the contrary, the Prime Minister has specifically refused to so call it. This is not so of the Minister for Services and Property with his Goebbels-like propaganda. The Prime Minister specifically said that a gerrymander was a gross distortion of electoral boundaries for blatant political purposes. That is what the Opposition fears in this Bill. The Prime Minister said in 1968, when in Opposition, that this was not the case with the present arrangements. Yet, of that very same arrangement his Minister responsible for electoral matters is carried away. The Minister is attempting to create the myth that opposition to his amendments will paint the Opposition as dedicated to gerrymander. This is a gross distortion of Goebbel-like character. It is untrue and it will not weaken our resolve to protect the parliamentary democracy of Australia as we see it and we are committed to keep it.

Our purpose is to maintain, as far as is practicable and fair, the principle of one vote one value. We wish to ensure that electoral results will reflect the opinion of the majority. If the electoral processes are manipulated to serve the political interests of persons or parties it would be a denial of democracy and a travesty of the electoral process. But we are hindered, not served, by the Bill, as I propose to demonstrate. The charitable view of the attitude of the Minister and his Party is that they are in error, and please pray let us be charitable. It is an error. But as an error we still have to reject it totally. I wish we could believe it were charitable. They have not looked past the superficialities to find the best way to ensure equity and one vote one value. The Liberal Party believes that the electoral commissioners when drawing up a distribution, should have sufficient tolerance above or below the average to enable them to judge population movements to achieve equality about mid-term.

The Bill proposes to reduce the margin above or below from 20 per cent to 10 per cent. At the same time - this is the most extraordinarily illogical attitude towards it - the Bill does not remove the instruction to the electoral commissioners that in drawing boundaries they must have regard to changes in population. That provision went in in 1965 specifically directing the commissioners to look at population changes. The 20 per cent tolerance has been there since 1902. Now there is a proposal to change the 20 per cent tolerance down to 10 per cent, but there is no withdrawal of the direction to the commissioners to take into account population changes. In other words, they direct the commissioners to do something they cannot adequately do. The 20 per cent provision, which is a permission and not a requirement, has existed for 70 years. How is it that it has suddenly become undemocratic?

The potential movement of population is fundamental to the proper establishment of electorates. In Australia population movement is extremely dynamic. It is constantly changing very significantly. Who does not know of a new suburb? What city or town of Australia is the same today as it was 5 or 10 years ago? Is there any member of this House who can say that he knows of no new suburbs which have changed the size of the electorate greatly? Is there any town that can be mentioned which is the same today as it was in the past? But that is what we would be lea to believe. The Labor Party cannot change that fact but it wishes to ignore it in this legislation limiting the margin of tolerance to 10 per cent. If it succeeded in this Bill it would injure fair treatment and damage one vote one value. Any objective observer knows that. We can change legislation but we cannot plan people or alter their freedom to choose where they will live. There is no problem with electorates of static enrolment. However, elec-torates of shifting populations should have an adequate tolerance above or below the quota depending on whether they are declining or growing in relative size to allow for the quota to be approximated in the mid-term of the period of years in which the boundaries are expected to operate. Without sufficient tolerance the arbitrary rigidity and constraint will reduce the franchise of one individual and improperly increase the franchise of another, and that will be a specific abandonment of the principle of one vote one value.

There really is no virtue in starting off equal, well knowing that equality will be destroyed with the passing of a short time. To do so is just pretence. The 10 per cent tolerance does not allow sufficiently for movements through the quota to maintain the best approximation to one vote one value. A number of seats had a population shift of as much as 40 per cent between the last distributions. Even with a margin of 20 per cent this led to gross under-representation within a very short period of time. The seat of Grayndler - well known to the Minister for Services and Property who represents it - had a population shift of 14 per cent. For Sydney it was 13 per cent; Melbourne 10 per cent, Wills 12 per cent and Griffith, represented by my friend and colleague Mr Donald Cameron, had a shift of 16 per cent. They were all drawn well in excess of 10 per cent over quota in 1968 yet they were all below quota by 1972. From in excess of 10 per cent above quota they went through the quota to be below it in a period of 4 years. The seat of Grayndler fell to nearly 8 per cent below quota. Sydney fell to 9i per cent below quota.

If all divisions could be drawn so that their votes were equal they would be greatly less than equal within months. This is the magnificent Orwellian concept that the Minister has got, that some electorates should be more equal than others. For example, a number of seats between 1968 and 1969 changed their enrolments by more than 10 per cent in only one year. The 10 per cent tolerance clearly would frustrate the efforts of distribution commissioners in their responsibility of taking population into account and attempting to achieve, on an average through a reasonable period, the best approximation to one vote one value. It may be argued that this means we should have a redistribution every 3 years. Perhaps we should. But again let us be real about it. The process of redistribution is complicated and it is slow. It enrages some members always. The honourable member for Grayndler has twice had to fight off a host of contenders for a seat in a new distribution when his own had been eliminated. He did so successfully but the third time may be unlucky.

The process of redistribution enrages some members always. It disconcerts and bores the public always. It leaves wounds in all political parties and it occupies endless time and expense of the Electoral Office. People find it hard enough to know what electorate they are in now without worrying about changing electoral boundaries every 3 years. Half of the members in this House are elected by people who do not even know the names of the members and if they saw them they surely would not vote for them. The most sensible time for redistribution is following a census, that is, each 7 years because the number of seats is determined by population, not by electors. Yet there is no reliable means of determining population except by a census. This the Minister for Services and Property discovered when he had to abandon his grand design for redistribution according to population instead of enrolment because there is no way in which you can reliably determine population in between censuses.

Having disposed of the myth that the Labor Party is alone in seeking electoral justice we can turn to and destroy some of the other political myths that the Labor Party is throwing as propaganda in relation to this

Bill. The Minister made strong insinuations that the Opposition has attempted in the past to manipulate boundaries for the sake of cynical political advantage. This is his constant propaganda repeated ad nauseam. Australian Federal election results have been as close as could realistically be expected to reflecting the will of the Australian voters. Wc have a great record in this achievement. Only once since 1949 has the party or group of parties with the highest percentage of vote* failed to capture government. This exception was in 1954 when office was won by the coalition parties in government at that time. Curiously, that election was contested on boundaries set by the Labor Party in 1948. After the 1948 redistribution the Labor Party lost office because what it did was to make sure that every sitting member in the smaller House got a safe seat and Labor left it open to us to come in and win an election. After that redistribution Labor said: 'We made a mistake. We will never do it again'. Labor is now in government and one of the first Bills it brings in is an amendment to the Electoral Act. Can we regard Labor as being transported bv objectivity and altruism in the name of democracy?

The Minister claims that the Act manipulates a gigantic rural gerrymander. Certainly non-metropolitan divisions are smaller than those in major cities. But this does not work necessarily for the Liberal Party or the Country Party alone. It also works for the Labor Party in such areas as the divisions of Darling and Riverina. Indeed, in introducing the Bill the Minister in his second reading speech claimed that the Labor Party was the biggest country party. Nor is it necessarily wrong for rural seats to have fewer electors than metropolitan seats. The difference between metropolitan and non-metropolitan electorate numbers, that has been alleged to be so wide by the Minister in his propaganda, is much less than he would have us believe.

One non-metropolitan voter in New South Wales, for instance - and there «s little difference in this respect between New South Wales and other States - has a vote value equal to 1.06 compared with metropolitan voters or 1 .04 if Darling is excluded from the calculations. These figures are derived as follows: 17 extra-metropolitan divisions in New South Wales, including Darling, cast 875,069 formal votes. That is an average of 51,475 formal votes per division, including Darling. Excluding that division's votes, there were 834,369 formal votes cast in the other 16 divisions, giving an average of 52,148 votes per division. Twenty-eight metropolitan divisions cast 1,531,877 formal votes or 54,709 per division. Therefore, 51,475 extrametropolitan voters equalled 54,709 metropolitan voters. Expressed another way, one extrametropolitan voter has a vote value equal to 1.06 metropolitan voters or 1.04 if Darling is excluded.

The principle of one vote one value is designed to prevent a geographical area or a sectional group being given a representation in the national Parliament which would enable its interests to achieve a greater influence in the mix of political decisions than is appropriate to their size. Can a vote value of .06 above their city cousins be seriously regarded as a gross democratic distortion? Are the services of a member to scattered electors, having in mind the concern for decentralisation of this most metropolitan nation, too dearly bought at a cost of .06? The Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) should support the Opposition if he is to be true to his own oftexpressed visions. He will not, though. But if he were true to what he is saying in public he would oppose the Bill.

The Minister for Services and Property relies on a report of the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review, which, in 1959, recommended a tolerance of 10 per cent in the number of electors in electoral divisions. What the Minister did not say was that in this recommendation the Committee departed from the best objective professional advice which it had assembled and received. I quote part of paragraph 353 and all of paragraph 345 of the report. Paragraph 353 states in part:

A merit of allowing divisions to be fixed within one-fifth limits of the quota for a State is the latitude it allows the distribution commissioners in taking account of likely population changes.

Paragraph 345:

The Committee considered the extent of the problems which would arise from inserting in the Constitution a requirement that no division in a State should depart from the quota for that State to a greater extent than one-tenth more or one-tenth less. The Committee was assisted in its task by the then Chief Electoral Officer for the Commonwealth, Mr L. Ainsworth-

Does anybody suggest that he, a distinguished Commonwealth public servant, ever presided over a gerrymander? Paragraph 345 continues: . . who also obtained the views of the Commonwealth Electoral Officer and the Surveyor-General for each of the States. The preponderance of that opinion was clearly in favour retaining the marginal allowance at the existing one-fifth fraction.

The Committee in fact disregarded that objective professional advice.

I have more recent support for my view. I hesitate to use it because the author is wellknown to be a most agile gymnast on political principles. However, I will quote what he has said for what it is worth:

I wish to comment on the population factors, since these have been responsible for the distortion of divisions over the last 2 decades. On 18th May 1962 I wrote to you as Chairman of the Commissioners appointed for New South Wales in that year in the following terms: "The 2 post-war groups of Distribution Commissioners have failed to anticipate the growth of population in the far western and southern suburbs. In each distribution they have recommended divisions with enrolments only slightly smaller than the quota; but the maximum permissible number at each distribution has been exceeded before half the time has elapsed for the next distribution; and by the time of the next distribution the enrolment has been grossly in excess of the new quota and the permissible margin of allowance'.

The permissible margin of allowance in these terms being 20 per cent. He goes on:

In 1962 I submitted that you 'should ensure that the number of electors in the far western and southern metropolitan divisions should be now set as far below the quota for the State as the number of electors in those divisions can be expected to exceed the quota 5 years from now'. My view was corroborated by Mr Anthony who said, again on 26th May 1965 (Hansard, page 2095), 'It is up to the Distribution Commissioners to try to determine what the mean number of electors will be during a 5 year period and to try to ensure that it remains at about the same level as the quota'. The force of Mr Anthony's and my arguments is strengthened by the fact that section 19 (2) (c) deliberately uses the words 'the trend of enrolment changes'. Commissioners therefore seem to be obliged to determine divisions in the light of the mean population of those divisions over the 5 year period.

This letter which I said I hesitated to use to support my case was written by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) when he was Leader of the Opposition. I hesitated to use it because he is a well known political gymnast on political principles. But at least that was his view when he wrote the letter. Now he presides over a Cabinet which proposes this legislation which is the direct antithesis of what he was expressing in this public letter to the Chairman of the Distribution Commissioners for New South Wales.

The Minister for Services and Property quotes with reverence Chief Justice Warren of the Supreme Court of the United States in support of his position. It is true that in the same court it has been established that a margin of 15 per cent is quite acceptable. I agree totally with Chief Justice Warren that as nearly as practicable one man's vote should be worth as much as another's. That is why, in fact, I am rejecting this Bill. In referring to overseas practice to support its attitude, the Government falls into serious problems. Apparently a terrible, undemocratic gerrymander operates in the United States where under the fiat of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States there is a tolerance of 15 per cent and slightly above.

Mr McLeay - Who said this?

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