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Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 920

Mr LYNCH (Flinders) - One must feel very sympathetic for the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby). His brief, of course, has been a very difficult one and despite his inimitable antics I must say without any sense of offence that on this occasion he is very much hissing against the wind. In fact, some people might almost say of the Minister that it is not an unaccustomed or unfamiliar stance and I believe we have certainly seen it on this occasion. But the honourable gentleman's speech tonight is in fact a sellout of rural interests. It is also contrary to electoral justice, as I will make clear in the course of my speech. Certainly the Minister's speech was contrary to the needs of a rapidly developing Australia. The Bill is, as we realise from speeches by honourable gentlemen from the other side of the House, no more than an attempt to gerrymander the Australian electorate. I only hope that the terms of the speech put down by the Minister for Immigration receive very wide coverage throughout his electorate so that his position can be well judged.

Mr Grassby - I have ordered 60 copies.

Mr LYNCH - Well, I suggest that the Minister should order approximately 50,000. He might even consider going beyond that number, because it would be a salutary lesson for the electors of Riverina to understand full well the position that the Minister has taken in this debate. It is a sell-out, as I have mentioned, of rural interests. The Liberal Party supports the principle of one vote one value. In doing so we recognise that the effectiveness of policies relating to voter distribution can be measured by the degree to which the size of electorates tends towards this ideal.

We on this side of the House emphatically contend that the existing Act has a remarkable record when judged against this standard. It should be clearly understood that I refer to the same standard as that which has been espoused by the present Government. However, the Liberal Party totally rejects the Commonwealth Electoral Bill now before the House. We do so because the present Act has effectively ensured the practical adherence to the principle of one vote one value and in doing so it has produced electoral justice as judged by that criterion. It provides for a 20 per cent tolerance which remains the ideal tolerance level suited to the nature and direction of Australia's population development.

In essence, the Bill would reduce the permissible variation from the quota from onefifth to one-tenth, revise the factors to which the distribution commissioners are required to give due consideration and provide that a redistribution may be directed whenever in one-fourth of the divisions of a State the number of electors differs from a quota by one-tenth.

According to the Government the amendments proposed by this Bill will mysteriously ensure that all votes will have equal value. Of course, the proposed amendments will do nothing of the sort. The slogan that the Government and the Labor Party is using as a smokescreen on this issue is grossly misleading, it is a cynical attempt to confuse the Australian public by construing the Government as the champion of electoral justice. The Government's objective is to redraft what is a demonstrably fair and equitable electoral act so that it can be manipulated to give the party in power a long term advantage.

This Parliament is, of course, still unaware of the Government's full intentions with regard to the Act. We do know, however, that it wants to redraft the entire document. Tha Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) told us this much in his second reading speech when he quoted from a speech that he delivered in this House in 1971. He told the House that Labor regarded the Commonwealth Electoral Act as 'outdated and outmoded', and that, upon the election of a Labor government, immediate steps would be taken to redraft the Act. The present Act works fairly and equitably.

The present Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in his letter of 6th March 1968, to the Chairman of the Distribution Commissioners for New South Wales, said:

I submit that whatever variations you feel it desirable or necessary to make in the number of electors you propose for divisions, there is one overriding consideration you should bear in mind. No distribution should permit a situation where a party or coalition which secures a majority of votes does not secure a majority of members of the House of Representatives.

Never has the Prime Minister been more correct. This is the real test of the fairness of distribution: Not whether one seat is a few percentage points larger or smaller than another; but does the party or group of parties that is most preferred win the most seats? This, as the Prime Minister has said, is the overriding consideration.

Mr Cohen - What about the preferred vote?

Mr LYNCH - -If we look at the facts, in response to what the honourable member foi Robertson has said, we find, contrary undoubtedly to his misapprehension, that the existing Act has a remarkable record when judged against this standard. Only once since 1 949 has the party or group of parties with a majority of votes failed to win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives. The one exception, moreover, was in 1954 when the Labor Party and the parties supporting it managed to secure about 51.27 per cent of the vote but failed to capture government. It should be noted, however, that the election of 1954 was contested on the basis of the boundaries set in 1948 in the Calwell redistribution. Surely the members now on this side of the House cannot be held responsible for that redistribution.

On every other occasion until 1972 the Liberal and Country Parties, and the parties and individuals supporting them, outpolled the Labor Party and its supporters. In 1972, Labor polled less than 50 per cent of the votes but won 53.6 per cent of the seats - not a bad record for a Party competing against what is claimed to be, in terms of the assertions and the allegations put forward by the Government in this debate, an 'unfair' Electoral Act. The claim that the existing provisions of the Act are biased against the Labor Party is completely unsupportable and is based on no more than the mere assertions which have been put forward by the Government.

We must wonder why the Government repeats this charge so loudly and so frequently. Perhaps its objective is to condition the electorate for its serialised redrafting of the Electoral Act - which we might suspect will be biased heavily in Labor's favour. If Labor has its way - and remember that the present Bill is apparently only the initial instalment - the equity of the Commonwealth Electoral Act as established by the Act's provisions and the conscientious administration of those provisions by officials will be seriously jeopardised. Labor is determined to have a redistribution, and it is determined to base this redistribution on terms that militate very much to the advantage of the Labor Party. In words attributed recently to the Minister for Services and Property 'a redistribution of electoral boundaries will be carried out "come hell or high water" '.

The redistribution that the Government believes is so urgent is to be carried out, not because a redistribution is due but because the Labor Party wants to tip the electoral balance - and it is a balance - directly in its own favour. There is no need at this time for a redistribution except in Western Australia, where there has been very rapid population growth. If there is any urgency in having a redistribution at this time it is purely to serve and to service the cynical political motivations of the Labor Party which is seeking perpetuity in office because of the fruits that it is now enjoying. The fact that a general redistribution is not required at this time is itself a tribute to the Act as it stands. The current boundaries were drawn in 1968. Since then we have had 2 Federal elections, but still a redistribution is not required. The reason that it is not required is that the Act has worked efficiently. It has provided the distribution commissioners with sufficient tolerance and flexibility to draw boundaries that can survive a reasonable period of time and thus ensure some stability of representation in this national Parliament.

Under the Act, for example, the distribution commissioners are able to give due consideration to population changes. If a proposed electoral division is increasing in size, the boundaries can be drawn in such a way that realistic scope can be given to the accommodation of that growth. Similarly, if a proposed division is experiencing a decline in voter enrolments, its boundaries can be drawn in such a way that over a period of time it will approximate to a quota and not be so small that it will be unfairly over-represented. To enable the Commissioners to give due consideration to increases and decreases in voter enrolments, a realistic tolerance from the quota is essential. Emphatically, a 10 per cent tolerance is not realistic. The Minister for Services and Property would know this from the experience of his own division of Grayndler alone. As he told the House in his second reading speech, Grayndler was drawn in 1968 with an enrolled voter population 14.01 per cent above the quota. Since 1968, however, Grayndler has experienced a decrease of 12.13 per cent in voter enrolments, with the result that on the basis of the figures at the time of the December election it was almost 8 per cent below quota.

The same is true, Mr Speaker, of your division of Sydney. This matter would not have been lost on you. At the time of the 1968 redistribution Sydney was 13.56 per cent above the quota. The enrolled voter population of that division subsequently declined by about 13.4 per cent. By late 1972 the division of Sydney would have been almost 10 per cent below quota. It takes no sophisticated calculation in this House to realise that if these divisions had been drawn in 1968 within a tolerance of 10 per cent, as the Government now proposes, they would have been grossly below quota and seriously over-represented by 1972. It is for this and other reasons we say the 10 per cent quota proposed by the Government is inadequate and unrealistic. In the period of little more than a year between the 1968 redistribution and the 1969 election, for example, a number of electoral divisions experienced population changes of more than 10 per cent. Between 1968 and 1972, some 49 divisions had population increases or decreases in excess of 10 per cent, and many of these experienced changes of 20, 30, 40 and even 50 per cent. Clearly, a margin of 10 per cent would not enable the Distribution Commissioners to give adequate consideration to population changes. The result of the inclusion of this provision in the Act would be that a distribution would remain equitable for only two or three years before a further redistribution would be necessary. Boundaries would be satisfactory for about the term of one Parliament.

Even the Prime Minister realises that this i.s undesirable. In 1968, Mr Whitlam, as Leader of the Opposition, wrote to the Chairman of the Distribution Commissioners for New South Wales reiterating a view that he had expressed in 1962, that the Commissioners should ensure that the number of electors in certain divisions:

Should now be 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.

If we are to apply the formula advocated by the present Prime Minister in 1962 and in 1968, and if electoral boundaries are to be valid 5 years and more after a distribution, we must reject the Government's proposal for an unrealistic tolerance of 10 per cent.

The present Prime Minister was not a lone voice in Labor's wilderness in those years. The 1968 submission to the Distribution Commissioners from the State President and the State Secretary of the Labor Party in South Australia, for example, also argued that one effect of redistribution must be to arrive at divisions which will establish a mean number of electors to ensure over a period of say 5 years the same level as the quota'. Apparently there was a rare element of reason in the Labor Party in 1968. It is a pity that this reason did not survive. There is a sad decline in the logic of a party that in 1968 could call for electoral divisions capable of surviving for 5 years, and in 1973 support the Bill now before the House.

We must concede, as the Minister pointed out, that the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review in 1959 saw some merit in a one-tenth or 10 per cent tolerance. But it must also be viewed and examined in the context of other sections of the report of that Committee. In section 345. for example, we find this comment:

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, 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 of retaining the marginal allowance at the existing one-fifth fraction.

In other words, while the Committee recommended a one-tenth margin, this recommendation was contrary to the preponderance of professional advice sought by the Committee at the time. Why did these expert witnesses give the advice that was ultimately rejected by the Committee? Clearly, it was because they recognised the administrative impossibilities and the representational absurdities of having a redistribution before every general election.

Some hint of this is contained in other sections of the Joint Committee's report. In section 300(3), for example, it is recommended that electoral divisions should be reviewed at least once in every .10 years - and certainly not once in every 3 years as Labor now appears to want. In section 353 of the report, we find a far more explicit comment:

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.

In its attempts to discredit the Act, the Government has referred to the electoral provisions and judicial decisions of a number of other countries. But the fact is that by comparison with almost any other country in the Western world, our electoral divisions are almost impeccable and equal. We appear to be one of the few countries that stipulate a degree of tolerance within which the people drawing electoral boundaries must act. Most countries simply require constituencies to be as nearly as practicably equal, or words to that effect, and almost any one of these countries would be amazed at the degree of equality that our Distribution Commissioners have been able to attain. At the recent elections in France, for example, constituencies ranged in population from 25,000 to 150,000. In Britain they range from about 40,000 to 80,000. At no distribution in Australia has there been a variation in the size of electoral divisions approaching these proportions - even if we include the regions with peculiar problems or difficulties! which all parties in Australia have hitherto accepted as special cases.

One could refer to the particular case of the electorate of Bass which is held by the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Barnard). This is the smallest electorate from any State in this Parliament. Would the Deputy Prime Minister argue that Tasmania is not a special case and that every electoral division in Australia should be of equal size? The Opposition certainly would not support that and neither would the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie) who has just interjected. Would the Minister for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr Enderby) argue that the Capital Territory is not a special case? The same applies to the electorate of Kalgoorlie. Under the Bill before the House the problems faced by the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard) and the difficulties faced by his constituents in contacting their Federal member will, of course, be ignored. The same is true of electors in the other large rural electoral divisions with their very special problems and difficulties. These difficulties mean nothing to the present Government - the Australian Labor Party. The Government's only real interest is in undermining the soundness and the equity of the Commonwealth Electoral Act so that over a period of years it can gerrymander the Australian electorate by stealth. This Bill is a cynical piece of chicanery. In the interest of electoral justice and responsibility to the Australian community the Bill must be rejected. We totally oppose it.

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