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Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 917


Mr Nixon - Then I will put up with the clown for a bit longer.

Mr GRASSBY - In any other circumstances 1 would take umbrage but when you have a discredited Minister who is even worse on the back bench, let him go; let us hear more of him. He discredits himself. But I do want to say that that is the state of affairs in the Parliament at the present time. I think that we should also draw attention to the fact that we have had a projection in the Parliament by the Leader of the Country Party, a projection of himself and his image as if he were some caretaker of half of the nation. He used a phrase that he was here to protect the rural half of the nation. I seem to remember that on 2nd December 1972 he went out of office after being in power for 24 years with the countryside in the worst situation it had been in since the depression of the 1930s.

Mr Daly - And now he wants to change the name.

Mr GRASSBY - I do not blame him. Would not you? Of course you would. He has my deepest sympathy because the sins of the past are weighing very heavily on his shoulders but I think that any sort of alibi that may be put forward in relation to the present legislation should be examined very carefully in relation to the facts of representation as they are. There is no place in an Australian democracy for a privileged few, for people who can draw on special privileges or for parties that can be enshrined in a special position. I might say that this is the view of the majority of the Parliament and I do not talk only of Government supporters. I think it was significant that only last night the present Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) sat in his place with no fewer than 100 members of the national Parliament sitting behind him; and it was very interesting to see that the only people who were on the Opposition side on that occasion were members of the Country Party sitting on an extraordinarily cold rump. They were a distinctive and selective minority on that occasion. They were claiming privileges in the national Parliament to which they are not entitled.

In democratic procedures the Government, now the Australian Labor Party, has contested many elections. It received on occasions the majority of the votes cast in the nation. It did not take office because the electoral system was such that it did not permit it to take office. I might say that there was concern about that by many people but no-one suggested that we should in fact be given office on those occasions. It was suggested instead that there should be a new look at the whole of the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act and the distribution of seats to represent properly the people of the nation.

The Leader of the Country Party referred just before dinner to Tasmania. I was very interested to hear his references to Tasmania and his concern that there has not been full democracy there. Mr Speaker, when you come to look at the entrenched feudalism that still survives in Tasmania you have to go to the Upper House of the State Parliament and there the restrictive provisions are such that it would be a disgrace to the emerging Republic of the Congo let alone a venerable State of the Commonwealth of Australia at this time. And then we go to some of the more dramatic conservative areas of Tasmania where they hold the city vote. We are not talking about the countryside. We are not talking about the city; we are talking about democracy. It is very interesting that in one of the areas in this State to which the Leader of the Country Party drew attention there is a mayor who sits with no fewer than 28 formal votes. Democracy in Australia in 1973! I did not hear any concern expressed about that. I did not hear any eruption of conscience from the Leader of the Country Party in relation to these matters, and they have been there for a long time.

Then we have the State of Queensland for which I have a deep and abiding affection, being a native son of that great city of Brisbane. In the State of Queensland we have the situation of a Premier who rules with that great mandate of 19 per cent of the vote. What a spectacle for Australian democracy. Here we are tonight in the national Parliament talking about democracy and we have somebody who wishes to enshrine privilege, not to spread democracy. And this is 72 years after Federation. There was a reference to the situation in the United Kingdom. I am very happy to refer to the situation in the United Kingdom because more than a century ago- nearly 200 years ago - they were very concerned about the existence of the rotten boroughs. You will remember them, Mr Speaker. The people of Britain addressed themselves to the problem of the rotten boroughs system more than a century ago. They righted it. They would not accept the proposition that was put up to us tonight by the leader of the third party, I think it is called. I do not think that the national Parliament can accept in any shape or form the entrenchment of privilege.

Mr King - What about telling us a bit about Riverina?


Mr GRASSBY - There was an interjection from that magnificent hangover from Wimmera. I was about to mention Riverina.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The Minister will make no personal reflection on another honourable member.

Mr GRASSBY - I am terribly sorry. If I have hurt the honourable member for Wimmera I really sincerely apologise. I am sorry.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! All interjections are out of order.

Mr GRASSBY - Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Let us examine the country electorates that we are discussing. Let us look at the situation that we are placed in. Of course, the largest country electorates of this nation are represented by the Government. The largest single electorate in the world is held by the Government. It is the seat of Kalgoorlie of an area of 1 million square miles. Some of the major electorates in New South Wales are held by the Government. Modesty forbids me to mention Riverina first, but I should mention Darling, for example. I should mention Hume.

Mr Cohen - Darling is the biggest electorate in New South Wales.

Mr GRASSBY - Of course it is. The honourable member is quite right. The Government holds that seat and has held it for some considerable time. References were made to other electorates.

Mr Cohen - Grey is the biggest electorate in South Australia.

Mr GRASSBY - That is also quite right. The rural representation in the Australian Labor Party is strong and enduring. This fact gives it such a firm voice on rural matters.

I return to the status quo which the Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony) particularly wants to keep. He is very keen and enthusiastic to keep everything just as it is, to preserve the status quo. Let us look at what this means. It means an electorate of 1 million square miles in Western Australia. It means some electorates in New South Wales will remain as some of the largest electorates in Australia. The honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) of course is concerned with his electorate of 35,000 square miles. I am concerned with my electorate of 50,000 square miles. But let us look at the system which the Country Party wants to keep - a system which it has maintained for 24 years. It is based on a system which enshrines sterility. In the inner city areas live people who are elderly and people who are retired. In these areas there are not many lambs at foot - and thank goodness, in Gippsland there are not many fools at foot either. There are not many people in these areas who do not qualify as electors. So the whole of the present electoral system is weighed in favour of sterile inner city areas. I mean that very sincerely. It has been our dedication to see that the system is changed. Our policy is that the system should be changed. The Government will enact legislation which will bring electorates into line on the basis of population. This is justice. This is practised by our brothers in New Zealand and in many other parts of the world. The principle is more democratic and more sound. This should have been done years ago here. It is the Government's dedication to do it now.

Let us see what such action will mean in terms of the countryside. It will mean that in southern New South Wales there will be one more rural seat. I represent 47,000 electors but I represent nearly 100,000 people because I have a fertile electorate - and I might say that I am not making any personal claims because I cannot. But the Riverina is a fertile area. It is an area of young people and young families. It is an area which has attracted a large number of migrants. So it is underrepresented, let us be clear, in terms of the number of people in the electorate. They should be represented by more than one member in the national Parliament. This is the situation in all the areas where there is some growth and development. The present system mitigates against it. The Government's aim and objective is to balance up the nation's electorates so that they are properly represented. If honourable members feel that this is a very radical and revolutionary proposition to put before the Parliament tonight, I refer to the statement made by the present Leader of the Country Party in this Parliament on 26th May 1965. He said:

The population of a division includes 'the children, migrants and everybody in the area.

He did not mention that tonight. He was making a plea then for some semblance of justice for growing areas of this nation. He did not make that plea tonight. He made a plea for sectional party interests and that is all. I say very seriously that nothing is worse than to have a situation in which members do not in fact have to face the judgment of the electors in a proper electoral system but can continue to hold office on the basis of rigged boundaries, almost as .tribal chieftains, with no real responsibility to the whole of the electorate. This is a situation that cannot be tolerated in the national Parliament. The Government does not intend to put up with that enshrined form of privilege. Members on both sides of the Parliament must face the electors, must fight to be elected as a representative and must struggle to be elected to this place. I respect each and every honourable member who has to do that. But when the boundaries of an electorate are artificially drawn and it is held through this artificial system or carries with it an artificial privilege this is a negation of democracy. That is what we are talking about tonight. We are not talking tonight about individuals being represented. We are talking about the enshrined privilege of political groups.

I want to see the developing areas of our nation properly represented. I believe that the present system is inequitable and unjust. The Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly), my distinguished colleague, who came from the countryside and who now lives in the city, who has, so to speak, a foot in both camps in a way which emulates Hercules, is well aware that if we are to achieve proper representation for a young and developing population in the country as well as in the city, we must change the present electoral system.

What was the situation when this Government was elected? The situation was that preparations had not been made to achieve the sort of objective that the present Leader of the Country Party was talking about in 1965. He did nothing about it. He said that it was a good principle. He referred to it but he did nothing about it. In 23 years of power and enshrined privilege in government, the former Government did nothing in this respect. So we come to 100-odd days in which the new Government has held office. We have to make a start. Of course, this measure is only an interim step. It is only a start. The Australian people will not put up with a gerrymander. They will not put up with tribal chieftains living in their fiefdoms. They want their votes to be of equal value. If we achieve this on a population basis we will strengthen the rural representation which the Government has already - if we win the seat. Of course we may not, and I accept that. But at least we will have strengthened the proper balance of the Parliament. It is unbalanced at present. I make a plea to all honourable members of the Parliament to think carefully not only about this measure. I know that they will be considering their own positions. I would like to see a further debate at some future time on the philosophy of democracy in relation to representation.

Mr Cohen - One is enough.

Mr GRASSBY - Well, I fear sometimes that leaders do not lead, and they have been misleading honest men who have not thought out what this measure is about. I think that this is the trap that some honourable members have been led into. I would commend to them this thought: We are going to correct the imbalance in the representation of the Australian nation. Australia is the most lopsided country electorally in the world. We have an over-concentration of people in certain areas. This leads to that situation. We are going to try to correct that position. We are going to do our best in this biennium. I want to see these new developments properly represented in the Parliament. I make a plea for the new areas and the new regional developments or, if you like, the new cities. We must provide for them to be properly represented. lt is not good enough to leave the situation as it has remained for 24 years. That has led us to a situation in which 9 per cent of the people sometimes control 20 per cent of the Government. It is not good enough in the democracy of Australia. I feel that the Australian people will want to see the imbalance redressed.

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