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Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 932

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member shall not use the word 'lie'.

Mr COHEN - If people scream gerrymander often enough and cry sufficient crocodile tears they will have the people believing that what they say is true. 1 think members opposite are panicking too early. They assume that when we undertake a redistribution we will adopt the same approach as they would adopt, i can assure honourable members that if I have anything at all to do with the redistribution 1 will see that it is fair and on the basis of one vote, one value. (Honourable members interjecting) -

Mr COHEN - There is no doubt about them; they have 9 per cent of the vote, 1 per cent of the brains and 100 per cent of the cheek. Many alterations are required to the Electoral Act. However, the Government is attacking only one concept. Lt wants to enshrine the principle of one vote, one value. It seeks to reduce the allowable variation in each seat from 20 per cent to 10 per cent and to draw the boundaries with each electorate of approximately equal numbers. Members of the Country Party argue that because of the sparsity of population in country areas and the remoteness of many areas there should be a bias in favour of country seats. In examining that proposition 3 questions arise. Do country people live at a disadvantage compared with those who live in the cities? If they do, should this entitle them to a weighted advantage in electoral representation? If so, how is that disadvantage measured and transcribed into electoral terms? That, basically, is the proposition. The Country Party claims that country people are disadvantaged and, consequently, we have Country Party seats of 45,000 to 50,000 voters while the average city seat has between 60,000 and 65,000 voters.

To the first question about the disadvantage of living in the country, members opposite have a rather ambivalent attitude. On the one hand they will praise the virtues of country life - good, clean, pollution free air, healthy outdoor life and a far better way to bring up children - and on the other hand they will tell how disadvantaged they are by living out in the bush. I direct attention to television commercials in this regard. It does not matter whether it is a commercial for Marlboro cigarettes or for the products of General Motors-Holden Pty Ltd, we are told how wonderful it is to live in the country. However this is not the attitude of our friends opposite. They tell us that it is a miserable, dreadful existence and that they have to have a weighted electoral advantage.

Unquestionably some people in country areas suffer some deprivation. Surely they are also denied some of the less attractive aspects of city life. Imagine the lot of people living in some of the inner city suburbs of Sydney or Melbourne or in the electorate of Grayndler. They are confronted with thick, acrid smog, dirty depressing slums, decaying old schools with little or no recreation areas or playing space for children. Think of those who have been forced out into the new outer suburbs - to places in the electorates of Robertson, Casey, Diamond Valley and similar areas where there is a lack of water, telephones, decent roads and recreational and social amenities. It is a matter of opinion who has the worst end of the deal. I know of many people who happily would swap and go to live in the country, even though it would mean putting up with some member opposite as their representative.

One can legitimately ask the question: How does one compare life in Coober Pedy with life in Orange; Tibooburra with Wagga or Marble Bar with Coffs Harbour? The plain fact is that it is impossible to measure. Hundreds of thousands of people who now live in the major capital cities would willingly swap with people who live in country towns. Even if one agrees with the Country Party's proposition, how it is measured? Whence did the magic figure of 20 per cent come? What great inspiration suddenly decided that 20 per cent was the figure for variations between electoral numbers? Why not 30 per cent, 50 per cent or 100 per cent? What made 20 per cent the magic figure? This I cannot understand. Once one breaks with the principle that in a democratic society every man's vote should be of equal value one runs into all kinds of anomalies and contradictions. Of course, exact equality can never be achieved.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - That is what we thought.

Mr COHEN - I suggest that my honourable friend opens his ears and listens for a moment.

There is no way of monitoring changes in numbers in electorates. If there were, redistributions would take place hourly. Do we divide houses, families, streets and towns? Of course there must be some tolerance but it must be as minimal as it is humanly possible to get it. With unequal representation it is the growing outer urban areas that are suffering. The inner city areas are declining as are rural areas. If there must be a weighted advantage of 10 per cent it should go to the growth areas like those mentioned by the honourable member for McPherson and the outer urban areas to which I referred earlier in Sydney and Melbourne.

Mr Cooke - How did you fix 10 per cent? By what magic?

Mr COHEN - I would prefer it to be 5 per cent or 2 per cent. It should be as low as possible. I accept the proposition that it is impossible to get exactly equal numbers. I suggest that if there must be a weighted advantage of 10 per cent it should be in favour of the growth centres in the major cities. If Albury-Wodonga is to be an area of great growth let it have a weighted advantage. The same applies to Townsville, Gladstone, Gosford and Wyong. These are the areas where the weighted advantage should apply - where growth will take place.

The rural malapportionment has led to the neglect of the problems of the cities and the outer urban areas - the problems of slum clearance, of sewerage and of urban transport. In the United States it is recognised that such neglect has forced groups to by-pass the State legislatures and to look to the Federal Government for assistance. The last election results prove that Australian voters are doing the same sort of thing. Any system of representation other than one based on population must be seen as a plan for denying or deflecting majority rule. What value is an election if one party or coalition is guaranteed control of the legislature? We have seen this happen in Queensland where the situation has become farcical. For many years it happened in South Australia. Unrepresentative assemblies undermine the public confidence in the legislative process and as confidence declines cynicism grows.

Surely honourable members are aware of the cynicism that occurred in South Australia as a result of the gerrymandering - the malapportionment - that existed there for many years. I think this is one of the reasons for the present great strength of the Australian Labor Party in South Australia. I have been studying the situation with respect to gerrymandering in other countries. One gerrymander that fascinated me particularly was one that occurred in the United States of America in the State of Vermont. In that State each town was given a representative. Ope would think that that was a fairly reasonable proposition. The town of Victory, with 46 inhabitants, had one representative as did the town of Burlington with 35,000 inhabitants. That was equality. It was equality of towns which simply did not happen to have equal numbers of people.

Unfortunately this Parliament suffers from a Senate which is basically undemocratic or which has unequal representation. This arose as a result of a compromise at the time of Federation. Federation could never have been achieved without the smaller States being granted equal representation so that they would not be neglected at the expense of the bigger States. This is all the more reason for the House of Representatives to bend over backwards to have equal representation. [ refer now to what was said by the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) in September 1968. He said:

I believe the strengthening of the rural interests in this Parliament is against the national interests of this country.

This was a Liberal member, not a Labor member. I will summarise his remarks. He said that Country Party members exercised power above and beyond their responsibility in the community because they had limited and material objectives and did not worry about the community's interest. The honourable member for Bradfield said:

What this redistribution does, following upon the

Act. is to strengthen the rural voice. Is the rural voice weak? Obviously it is powerful and has been used to the disadvantage of the nation.

Let us look at another point that was raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden). Prior to 1965 although the 20 per cent allowance was there, the wording of the section of the Act placed emphasis on the quota and as a result it was rare for commissioners to use a margin of allowance of more than 10 per cent. This point has been constantly stressed tonight - the fact that it did not exist before 1965. But over the past 30 or 40 years that 20 per cent tolerance - that one-fifth - had not been used, with one exception. In the 1934 redistribution every seat was within 10 per cent. In 1948 only the seat of Darling was above or below - in this case below - 10 per cent quota. In 1955 it was again only Darling. The obvious intention of the 1965 Act was to force the commissioners to use the 20 per cent that had been available but which was largely unused. So over Australia basically only 3 seats have been below that quota - Darling, Kennedy and Kalgoorlie. That is the position over many years almost since Federation. I may be marginally incorrect here but 1 have had a good look at the figures and they are the only 3 seats which have been below the quota. 1 think I am right in saying that probably if the legislation had been left as it was and we had kept up the previous practice we may not have bothered to do this but it was a fact that the then Government deliberately set out in 1965 to weight the advantage weir way and the Labor Party has to bring it back to what it was before. We are restoring the position to almost exactly what it was prior to 1965, in practice not only in theory. In the 1968 redistribution the following seats were 10 per cent below the quota of 52,805- Calare, Cowper, Darling, Gwydir, Hume, Lyne, Paterson and Riverina of which 6 were held by Country Party members or Liberals. Ten per cent were above the quota - Bennelong, Evans, Grayndler, Parramatta, Phillip, St George, Sydney and Wentworth.

I want finally to quote a few figures. In the 1969 elections the total number of country voters was 572,623, including the seats of Calare, Cowper, Darling, Eden-Monaro, Farrer, Gwydir, Hume, Lyne, New England, Paterson, Richmond and Riverina, an average of 47,718. There are 4 seats which I put in a category which I call mixed city-rural. These are in New South Wales, of course. They are: Hunter, Macarthur, Macquarie and Robertson. There were 218,000 voters which is an average of 54,510. All other city seats - Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong - totalled 1,647^973 voters, an average of 56,826. There was a difference in 1969 of 9,108 between wholly city and wholly rural electorates, an average of 16 per cent bias between city and country areas. I have similar figures which are the latest available - those for 26 January 1973 - showing that in those same city seats there has been a rise of an average of 3,433. In the same country seats there has been a rise of 2,708 and in those 4 mixed seats an average rise of 10,414. So that the longer it goes the more this bias continues to grow.

I suppose we are going to have to listen to more and more crocodile tears, but I repeat what I said at the beginning and that is this. 1 ask the people of Australia to study and look closely at the Bill which the Labor Party has introduced. I accept the proposition and 1 believe that if we tell the people of Australia, as we are doing, about it they will accept this proposition that one man, one vote, one value is the only principle that any democratic society possibly can accommodate.

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