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Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 911

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) (Leader of the Australian Country Party) - Mr Speaker, I thank the House. In replying to the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) I would like to comment on two of his remarks. It was a rather highly charged speech that he made, and I would not endeavour to divert and answer all his arguments. One argument he used referred to a decision by Judge Warren of a United States court in 1964. That decision has already been overruled by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1973, so it is not a good example to use. The second accusation I want to challenge is that the Country Party was responsible for the rejection of the redistribution in 1963. Certainly the Country Party opposed it, but why was it rejected? It was rejected because the Country Party was supported by the Australian Labor Party. That is a very shallow argument for him to use.

This Bill proposes changes in our electoral laws which will have serious and drastic effects. The criteria which have existed since Federation and which have been accepted by all governments in the interests of truly representative government are to be changed. There is no justification for the changes proposed by the Australian Labor Party. The margin of allowance in enrolment between electorates is to be reduced from 20 per cent to 10 per cent. Certain factors relating to disability of rural representation and which the distribution commissioners are required to have in mind are to be struck out of the Electoral Act, and the. degree of imbalance in enrolments requiring redistribution is to be narrowed.

The Labor Party's motives are based purely and simply on its desire to entrench itself in office. The Government is acting with an eye to the possibility of an early election. This is the reason for giving this Bill top priority in its legislative program. But before chancing its fortunes it wants to change the electoral boundaries in its own favour. As the law stands, there is no requirement for a general redistribution. The. Government is entitled, indeed obliged, to hold a redistribution in Western Australia; but the Government wants a general redistribution on a basis that would reduce the rural voice in this Parliament and maximise the power of the Labor vote in the cities. There is little that is noble in the Government's motives. Its self-righteous claims of concern for democratic principles are so much eyewash. Its motives are sheer political skullduggery aimed at depriving rural people of fair representation and at trying to divide the anti-Labor parties - in which it has failed. This Bill has very little to do with the democratic right of every Australian to be equally represented in this House. What we are seeing is an attack by the Labor Party on that right, a tampering with the electoral law aimed at consolidating and strengthening the Labor Party's hold on office.

Before I come to the substance of the matter before us I must say that the second reading speech of the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) was an affront to the House and a travesty of the standards and traditions that have been established for the content of second reading speeches. Second reading speeches are intended to help explain to the Parliament and the public the contents of a Bill. They are, by tradition, semi-official in character and free from party political propaganda. The Minister has so violated those standards that no one can now accept his speech as an unbiased, impassionate guide to the spirit and interpretation of the proposed amendments. The Minister's speech was an insult to the officials of the Commonwealth Electoral Office, and I hope that the Minister will take an appropriate opportunity to assure the House that the officers of the Electoral Office were not required by him to have any part in the preparation of the blatantly political material which accounted for a large part of his speech.

We will be subject in this debate to a welter of words about the so-called democratic principle of one vote one value. It will be revered in hollow terms as being absolute. It is theory and far removed from what is practicable. If it is correct, why allow even 10 per cent tolerance? The fact is that there can never be mathematical equality of voting numbers. Nor can there be equality of representation with that principle. The best the Government can do is to lay down criteria that will help the Electoral Commission take into account factors which would cause inequalities of representation. There will be very little said by the Government about the right of every voter to enjoy real equality of representation in this Parliament.

In his second reading speech the Minister spoke about the equality of representation but what he was really talking about was equality of voting power. The Minister said that the Labor Party did not 'accept the proposition that the relative value of a person's vote should depend upon his geographical location'. The Country Party says that the relative value of a person's representation is affected to a significant degree by his geographical location. The Minister said:

There can be no doubt whatever that a man is entitled to equal representation whether he lives in the city or the country.

The Country Party agrees with that. But what the Minister is asking the House to agree to will not achieve that objective. It will take us further away from that objective. The Minister said: we intend to amend the law so that, as far as may be practical, the value of the vote of one citizen shall be equivalent to the vote of another.

If the Government holds this principle so sacred why is it not moving to do something about Tasmania? Why does the Labor Party tolerate a gross violation of the principle of one vote one value in that State where the average enrolment is under 44,000 voters per electorate, between 10,000, 12,000 or 15,000 fewer than the average in other States. Labor tolerates this violation of this so-called principle because it knows that it would lose a seat in Tasmania if it did anything else. If the Labor Party is so attached to the principle, let it ask the people to change the Constitution to get rid of this aberration of one vote one value in Tasmania. Let us see Labor ask the people to change the Constitution to give Tasmania only the limited number of senators it would be entitled to under a one vote one value principle. Why should Tasmania with 220,000 voters have 10 senators while New South Wales with 2,581,000 voters also has 10 senators? Where is there evidence of Labor's inviolate principle in that?

May I remind the House of the deliberate deception employed by the Minister in his second reading speech in his efforts to cloud and confuse this issue. He said that section 24 of the Constitution ensures that representation of the States in the House of Representatives shall be in proportion to their respective populations and therefore the vote of an elector in any one State shall be no more or no less valuable than the vote of electors in other

States. The Constitution does not provide for equal value of votes. It prevents this from happening by saying that there must be at least 5 members elected in each State. The Labor Party and the Minister, with a complete lack of regard for the truth in this matter, are prepared to mislead the Parliament and the people to achieve their objective of entrenching themselves in office. The Minister in such an important matter as the second reading speech makes untrue statements and ignores the situation in Tasmania where a wide departure from the one vote one value principle is condoned and accepted and not even questioned by the Labor Party.

The Minister's absurd claim that the Labor Party is the largest country party in the House is another example of his distortions. He justifies his claim by including in his list of Labor seats those taking in city areas and so inflating the total. The fact is, of course, that in Victoria, for example, the Labor Party holds not one country seat. The Labor Party has been utterly rejected by country voters in Victoria and therein lies the explanation of Labor's determination to force through these proposals. Labor knows it is unacceptable to the majority of country people; so it is going about the task of holding office by electoral manipulation aimed at tightening its grip on city seats. But is it the mathematical value of a person's vote that should be the be all and end all or is it the value of representation he is able to receive in this Parliament? Equality of representation should be seen to be far more important than mere mathematical equality of votes. The changes the Minister is asking us to approve will do nothing to bt ing about greater equality of representation. They will have precisely the opposite effect.

One of the great objectives of the new Government we are told is the elimination from the Australian community of division and inequality. The proposals now before us will do nothing to achieve those objectives so far as political representation is concerned. We are being asked to approve changes in the Act which will further reduce the opportunity for country people to enjoy equality of representation in a real sense, and which will further increase the inequality of representation which already exists between city and country electorates.

There are several points which should be established.

The first is that, except in Western Australia, there is no need for a redistribution of boundaries under the electoral law as it stands. The redistribution in Western Australia should now be the subject of the Government's interest rather than the present Bill. But the objective of the Government is to change the law so that a general redistribution will be justified. The law is to be changed so that the Labor Party can perpetuate itself in office at the cost of the democratic right of every elector to enjoy equality of representation. The second point is that under the law as proposed, redistributions of boundaries will become much more frequent - frequent to the point of absurdity. There will be a redistribution within the life of every Parliament, a redistribution before each election. There will be confusion; there will be gross instability of electorates; there will be a serious lack of continuity of representation.

In Britain, the Parliament regarded this type of instability as being so undesirable that it passed an Act after the 1954-55 redistribution to reduce the frequency of redistributions to between 10 and 15 years. The Australian Labor Government wants to change boundaries on which only 2 elections have been held. Five elections were held on the boundaries established in 1922, 5 on the 1934 boundaries, 3 on the 1948 boundaries and 5 on the 1955 boundaries. Under the present law we could have at least one and possibly 2 more elections, depending on when they are held without a redistribution. From now on the Labor Party wants only one election on a set of boundaries, and then a new set. The Minister said recently that this Bill would not lead to more frequent redistributions. He said redistributions are to be held only after a census. That is not so. A redistribution can be held at any time, and in fact is virtually required to be held, according to the present law, when certain situations arise.

Be that as it may, if the Minister is saying that the Bill will not lead to more frequent redistributions, then he is arguing against his own philosophy. On the one hand he says electorates should be as nearly equal as possible, yet on the other he is proposing to let electorates get out of balance much further - under the amended Act - and much more quickly. He is saying there should be one vote one value, yet he is taking action that will speed up the creation of imbalance between electorates - a situation which then, he says, will not be rectified by more frequent redistributions. The grounds for redistribution will arise much more frequently, but redistributions apparently will not be held any more frequently. One cannot help having one's suspicions aroused as to the real reason for these proposed changes. Of course, the real reason is the Labor Party's determination to alter the law to its own advantage.

My Party, in contrast to the Labor Party, does not accept that unbalanced political representation is good for a nation. We do not accept that it is wrong to take actions which can mitigate against the effects of unbalanced representation. We most emphatically do not accept that actions should be taken which, like the actions proposed by this Bill, will accelerate the imbalance of political representation. The Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) talks of decentralisation of industry while the Minister for Property and Services acts to centralise political power. Despite the fact that country people make a disproportionate contribution to the export effort, the Country Party does not cite this as a reason for country people being given special consideration in the area of equality of political representation. What we do say, and say strongly, is that it would be quite wrong if the political voice of these people were to be swamped by the political voice of the cities. We do say that the rural industries which are a major part of the nation's economy must have strong advocates in this Parliament because they are in the minority in terms of people involved in them.

The principle of limited over-representation on a mathematical basis for minority groups is an accepted principle. The Labor Party accepts it without question as far as Tasmania is concerned. In the States, all governments - Labor and non-Labor - have accepted the principle of lower enrolments in nonmetropolitan electorates. In Britain, the minority areas of Scotland and Wales have considerably smaller electoral enrolments than England. The Rules of Redistribution of Seats in Britain require that, subject to several factors, the numbers of voters in electorates are to be as nearly equal as practicable. A departure from the rules is permissible if special geographical considerations make it desirable. Yet, working under these rules, the commissioners in their report presented to the

British Parliament in June 1969 had this to say:

The 196S electoral quota for England . . . was 38,759. We decided that the limits of 40,000 and 80,000 used by the Commission in 1954 could reasonably be applied in this review.

The commissioners went on to say that, because the new quota was higher, it was their aim to concentrate electorate enrolments between 50,000 and 70,000 compared with a variation between 45,000 and 65,000 in 1954 in 80 per cent of electorates. So here we have a situation in which the law calls for the one vote one value principle to be followed, yet the commissioners regard a variation between 40,000 and 80,000 voters as being an acceptable practical application of that principle. In their reports in 1947 and 1954, the commissioners in Britain took the view that, in general terms, urban electorates could more conveniently support large numbers of voters than could rural electorates. They recommended an upper limit for urban constituencies about one and a half times the quota. This recommendation was modified by Parliament, but the commissioners held to their view. The actual weighting in favour of rural electorates was increased as a result of the 1954 report. Nearly all governments throughout the world make allowances for regions or areas and a degree of balance between population groupings. If the Labor Party accepts without question - as it does - the over-representation in this Parliament of Tasmania, why does it claim to find the principle so abhorrent in other places?

The Country Party says that the political voice of the rural people and rural industries must be heard - no matter through which party that voice is heard. We say that people and industries whose contribution to the nation's wellbeing is vital should not be deprived by their geographic isolation of the right to adequate and equal representation in this Parliament. We say that it is wrong that political power should be concentrated in a few great cities, swamping rural expression. We say that it is right that the political voice of the country areas should be protected from measures aimed deliberately at hastening its diminution. In the normal course of events it has already been significantly reduced. We believe that good government for all the people comes from a reasonably balanced Parliament organised so that it can pay regard to the wellbeing of all the nation's interests. At Federation, approximately two-thirds of the representatives in this Parliament came from country electorates. Now two-thirds come from city electorates.

For a nation which needs greater dispersal of population, inland development and less overcrowding of cities, it seems crazy to accentuate the drift of political power and dominance. Labor argues that it is wrong for a country vote to have more mathematical value than a city vote. But it is just as wrong for a city vote to have more practical value than a country vote. It does now, and Labor wants to carry this distinction even further. Ignoring the real disabilities of representing people and their organisations and their industries spread over vast areas, Labor wants to give city people higher standards of representation than country people. It is all very well for the Minister to talk about giving country members the use of charter aircraft and so on. All the aeroplanes in the world will not compensate a country member for the difficulties he faces in giving his constituents proper representation. These are difficulties which city Labor members have never experienced, which they do not understand and which they are prepared to ignore to give their Party a tighter grip on the electorate. The city member is able to devote far more time to his constituents and give them far more personal attention, and therefore a higher proportion of representation in a practical sense than can the country member.

I believe that there is a strong case for giving more consideration to the representational difficulties of electorates such as Gwydir, Riverina, Eden-Monaro, Hume, Calare, Wimmera, Mallee and Maranoa than to huge electorates such as Kalgoorlie. This is not for one minute to ignore the difficulties of that gigantic electorate. It is obvious that some electorates, while of immense size, contain relatively few significant centres of population. It is, of course, difficult for the members in these immense electorates to give adequate attention to each centre of population because of the tremendous distances between them. But wc must accept that the disadvantages of distance are offset to some extent by the limited number of centres. On the other hand, there are many country electorates which, while not covering the huge areas of some others, nevertheless present special representational problems because of the large number of significant population centres spread over a considerable area.

I believe that these electorates offer much more difficulty in the representational sense than either the small, compact, city electorates or the wide, scattered, remote electorates. For example, instead of the relatively small number of big schools which the city electorate might have, the country electorate has a very large number of small schools. This kind of thing is multiplied over and over all through the area that a country member represents and throughout community life and its activities. Does the Minister really suggest that it is possible for a member representing an electorate like Gwydir, with 32,000 square miles, to be able to give the same service as the member representing Grayndler, which occupies 3.95 square miles? Can the people of Gwydir possibly have anything remotely approaching equality of representation with the people of Grayndler under the conditions proposed by the Government? Does he realise that Gwydir is 8,000 times bigger in size than Grayndler and is equal to the size of Austria? Can the Minister or any honourable member say that such a difference does not create difficulties of a magnitude which additional facilities, however generous, cannot possibly eliminate? In the ringing climax to his politically loaded propaganda speech on this Bill the Minister said:

Electoral laws should provide equality, not privilege.

Members of the Country Party agree with that statement. We say that the electoral laws should provide, as far as is humanly possible, every Australian with equal opportunities for representation in this Parliament. We say that the law, even as it stands, does not do this. We say that the changes now proposed will further reduce the opportunities for country people to enjoy equality of representation while increasing the privilege of city people who already enjoy easy access to all that political representation means. We say that even without any alteration to our present law there is growing a heavy imbalance of political representation concentrating more and more power in city areas.

This Bill will further aggravate the problem of a parliamentary voice for country people. Representation means far more than the right to mark a ballot paper. It means the right to be able adequately and fully to consult with one's fellows so that views can be discussed and views marshalled. It means the right to be able, without undue difficulty, to talk with one's member - the right to proper communication with those who sit in this Parliament. That right is, in large measure, denied to many Australians because of their isolation. It is a right which is easily and readily available to city electors. It is a right which for many country people is protected to a degree, but only a limited degree, by the existing law.

The Country Party does not have, as the Minister suggests, a guilty conscience on electoral matters. To the contrary its members would be failing in their duty if they did not fight with all their power to protect the limited rights of country people and to give them, to the maximum possible degree, something at least approaching equality of representation to which they, as Australian citizens are entitled. Labor's electoral self-interest and electoral greed discredits this legislation. In the interests of continuing high standards of Australian tradition and behaviour this Bill must be denounced.

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