Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 927

Mr Eric Robinson (MCPHERSON, QUEENSLAND) - May I first of all Mr Speaker, congratulate you and the Chairman of Committees on achieving appointment to your important offices. May I, before addressing myself to this Bill, ask the indulgence of you and the House to refer very briefly to my 2 predecessors as members for Mcpherson. It is an honour to be the Liberal member for this fast-growing and changing electorate. It is an honour also to succeed such a respected Country Party member as C. E. Barnes, a conservative gentleman possessing stability and a natural dignity. Before him was Sir Arthur Fadden - earthy, capable and a shrewd judge of human nature, with qualities of fairness and friendliness. People of all political persuasions held them both in high regard. Whatever might be the length of my service in this House - a short period or, as I personally plan and hope, a more lengthy one - I will be more than content if it is marked with anything like the personal goodwill which I know these 2 men enjoyed.

The Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) in his second reading speech referred to the desirability of electoral justice and that is a pretty worthy principle. My attitude over the years, particularly during my 5 years as a Liberal Party State President in Queensland, has been quite consistent. I believe in electoral justice. I support the basic concept of electoral equality and wish to see its implementation as much as practicable. But there are very real problems associated with this and for very good reasons there is need for some tolerance and some flexibility in seeking its implementation as much as possible. The Government, through the Minister's second reading speech, has stated a desire to be 'fair, open, just and reasonable'. They were the Minister's words. It was with this approach in mind that the Liberal Party's attitude to the Bill has been stated by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch). The Government's genuineness needs to be probed.

I represent an electorate which very much reflects contemporary Australia. Fifteen per cent of the electors live in rural areas with all the problems associated with primary production, marketing and small towns. Twenty per cent of the electors live in the outer urban areas of Brisbane, part of the urban sprawl with all the challenges of the rapidly developing new community requiring services, amenities and facilities. Sixty-five per cent of the electors live in the second fastest growing city in Australia, the tourist city of the Gold Coast, in which many tens of thousands of people live and work and to which large numbers of, I think, very intelligent Australians, many from southern States, have chosen to retire. May I in passing make brief reference to the tens of thousands of people who as tourists come each year to enjoy the wonderful Gold Coast environment, including. I have noticed in recent years, with ever increasing regularity, members of the Federal Australian Labor Party Executive and Conference. I look forward to greeting them in July. Of course, I cannot accept any responsibility for their decisions. I am sure that the electors of Mcpherson - there are 75,000 on the roll - basically embrace the concept of voting equality but accept the need for some tolerance or variation from the quota to be allowed to the vast rural areas with special problems and to allow for growth factors in some areas and for divisions in which there is a decreasing population. I suggest that the overwhelming majority of Australians would share that view.

The real question is: What criteria should be included for the consideration of the Distribution Commissioners and what variation should be permitted which would be fair, open, just and reasonable? The Bill seeks to make substantial changes to the Electoral Act. It allows the Commissioners to give due consideration to community of interests including economic, social and regional interests, means ot communication and travel, the physical features of the divisions and trends of population changes in the States but deletes any reference to disabilities arising out of remoteness or distance, density or sparsity of population and area of the division. If they were not in the Act before 1965 in my view they should have been. They were more needed then and before then than they are now. We live in a vast continent. The problems these criteria identify are real and the great majority of Australians who live in cities would accept these as reasonable if they are applied in a proper manner to a small number of electorates, some of which are larger than many countries. In common sense terms this would not offend the basic concept of electoral justice. As disabilities from remoteness and distance are lessened as the years go by, and they will be, the need for these criteria to remain in the Act will be lessened. Govern ment action specifically to assist honourable members to service those sorts of electorates will assist this process.

The Bill leaves in the criteria the trend of population within the State. Some divisions have substantial increases in enrolments and the rate of growth has created imbalances between a number of divisions. My own electorate has been growing at the rate of 7,000 additional voters a year. Other electorates are static and some are declining in enrolments. Therefore, if we are to accept that we should strive to see that the great majority of electorates reach the quota by mid-term, just what variation is needed? A study of figures clearly demonstates that the 10 per cent permissible variation is not sufficient to allow adequately for growth factors. If restricted to 10 per cent, serious imbalances will occur within a relatively short period. To get as close to one vote equal value as possible a greater percentage is necessary. The variation of 20 per cent has been applicable for a long time. Professional advice to the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review advocated its retention and a study indicates that the maximum variation has been used only rarely. For myself, had the Government in its Bill indicated a variation of 15 per cent, its desire to achieve maximum voting equality would have been more credible.

In addition, the proposed change to section 25 of the Act to allow a 10 per cent variation will create the need for almost constant redistributions which would be costly and would create undesirable difficulties for the electorate at large and the Parliament. The record of redistributions for Federal purposes has been free from charges of gerrymandering The fairness of recent redistributions has been demonstrated by election results where, in elections since 1949 with the exception of one - although one honourable member has challenged this - the Party or parties which gained the highest percentage of votes throughout Australia formed the Government. The results of the last election where Labor won 49.6 per cent of the votes and 53.6 per cent of the electorates would seem to underline the fairness of the 1968 redistribution. Electoral justice has not, however, always been the guiding principle in State redistributions.

The Minister in his second reading speech made reference to the last redistribution of electoral boundaries in Queensland and, in criticising the Queensland Government and the Country Party in particular, attributed a statement to me that 1 regarded the redistribution as electoral injustice at Country Party insistence, lt should be made quite clear that my comment was with reference to the Bill which was introduced by the Premier and which was defeated by 8 Liberal Party members voting against it. Had the Bill been passed, it would have created a substantial number of electorates with large imbalance. I therefore understood the reasons for the Liberal Party members' action at that time.

However, after further discussions, a new Bill was introduced by the Premier which was substantially different from the first and, although some imbalances still occurred because the commission did not take sufficiently into account growth factors, the present Act gives a rauch greater degree of electoral equality in Queensland. The Australian Labor Party would be very unwise to seek to have its record on electoral matters in Queensland compared with the present Act introduced by the Country-Liberal State Government. But it would not be satisfying or rewarding for any political party to have an in-depth analysis of its record in State redistributions throughout Australia. All parties can, with validity, have criticism levelled at them. When compared with overseas redistributions, however, Federal redistributions in Australia appear remarkably fair. Britain has constituencies varying from 40,000 to 80,000. In France there are enormous variations. In Canada a variation of 25 per cent is allowed. In the United States a variation of 15 per cent is regarded as acceptable.

I was intrigued by the remark of the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) in his second reading speech that the Government has a mandate for this Bill. Apparently the Government believes that as long as something was included in the Labor Party policy speech - even in the broadest of terms - its detailed interpretation of that can be put forward now as having a mandate from the people. This is a strange, illogical and erroneous argument to develop. It is completely unsustainable, and the Labor Party knows it. The electorate will not be fooled by that sort of approach.

The Government will discover that I will not be an Opposition member who will be constantly on his feet criticising everything the Government does. Indeed, some of the legislation introduced and decisions taken by the Government, such as increased social security and repatriation payments and the provision of the vote to 18-year-olds, are worthy of support; while some decisions on unilateral currency revaluation, foreign policy and industrial matters have concerned the nation, including many people who voted for the Labor Party at the last election. But, when a Bill such as this comes up under the guise of a so-called mandate from the people and under the guise of seeking electoral justice, it needs to be exposed for the sham that it is. It is nothing more than an attempt by the Labor Party to have a complete redistribution so that it can draw boundaries in its own favour.

If the Government forces this Bill through the House, it will run the undesirable risk of showing contempt for the intelligence and, more importantly, the common sense of the Australian community. I recommend that the Government deeply consider the implications of that action, because it will be judged by the electorate as an attempt by Labor to entrench itself by means which are not fair, not open, not just and not reasonable. If the Government is to proceed with a redistribution, it should do so under the provisions of the present Act or substantially alter its Bill to ensure that it is not seen to be setting up machinery to reflect its own selfish political interests by denying real and sustainable electoral justice. But, if the Government is determined to set a collision course with this Bill, it will find the Liberal Party prepared to take up the challenge and we will take it up with confidence.

Suggest corrections