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Thursday, 15 November 1973
Page: 3412

Mr RIORDAN (Phillip) - The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) can be seen to be not opposed to this proposition from any deep principle. At least one would gather that from listening to his speech this afternoon. His criticism of the use of the word 'people' rather than 'electors' is indeed a very shallow criticism. He would know if he had read the Australian Constitution that section 24 already provides that in determining the number of members from each State the quota shall be determined by the number of people, not electors. So if such an amendment were to be made, the Bill would be inconsistent with section 24. I will return to that point a little later. The Leader of the Opposition criticised the Bill on another ground. He said that it would establish authoritarianism in Canberra. He seeks to deny this Parliament the right to ask the Australian people to determine whether individual citizens' rights should be guaranteed in respect of the election of members of all parliaments throughout Australia. In my view, the people will have their say and they will make the ultimate decision.

This Bill is a further example of the Whitlam Government's determination to ensure that the will of the people is supreme. On no occasion since Federation have the Australian people been given such a clear opportunity to gain effective and permanent control of the Australian Parliament. It will also give the Australian people the first opportunity since colonial days to end the cynical manipulation of political power in certain of the States. It is a basic, fundamental principle of democracy that all people must be regarded as equal and must be treated as equal. The concept of equality is the distinguishing feature of a democratic society. To allow for discrimination against citizens on the basis of their wealth, colour, creed or race would outrage the ethical standards of our community. In my view, it is equally outrageous to discriminate against citizens on the basis of having more or less representation depending on their place of residence. Electoral boundaries should be drawn to suit the convenience and to guarantee the rights of citizens, not to allow the manipulation of political power that we have seen in this country in the past.

The present position is a serious abuse of what was intended by those who drafted the Australian Constitution. It was clearly intended that, as far as practicable, electorates should have equal numbers of people resident within the respective boundaries. The variation allowed by the original Electoral Act was intended to meet quite exceptional circumstances. It was intended to cater for those who lived in isolated places. An examination of the reported debates in the Parliament discloses that a clear distinction was drawn between the population living in true rural circumstances and those living in country towns. The argument in support of there being a variation in the quota was related to the lack of capacity of those living in isolated places adequately to communicate with one another and indeed to exercise the right to vote at all.

In speaking in support of the Electoral Bill on 5 June 1902 Sir William Lyne said:

The principle of the Bill is equal representation. If the number of electors exceeds 1,000 more or less, the reason for not adhering to the quota must be stated.

That is the position that was envisaged at the start. In Opposition the then honourable member for Gippsland, Mr McLean, complained that citizens in country areas had to travel long distances in order to vote. He claimed that one of the consequences was that many citizens in country areas were unable to exercise their right to vote. He also claimed as another consequence that one person scarcely knew the views of his next neighbour. It can therefore be seen that the advocates of electoral inequality have been present since the first days of the Australian nation. The speeches are the same; only the names of the personnel have been changed.

It is an argument consistent with the horse and buggy era. It is a relic of the days when communications were either poor or nonexistent, when there was no radio or television, when the mails were slow and irregular and when means of transport were expensive, irregular or unavailable. None of these factors exists today. The excuse or alleged justification for maintaining the inequality in electoral boundaries no longer exists. The only reason for a continuation of the present discrimination in respect of electoral representation is the cynical wish to obtain -and retain improper minority control of certain electorates. The Australian Constitution is at present severely lacking in respect of control by the people over Parliament. So many of those who speak about outside control by faceless men and so on are now resisting putting the control of this Parliament into the hands of the people themselves.

Section 24 of the Constitution really intends that, subject to each State of the Commonwealth having a minimum of 5 members, the members elected from each State shall be in proportion to the number of persons resident in the particular State. In other words, it provides for equality of the value of votes as between the States. One vote one value was clearly intended. It is my argument that the concept as between State representation in this Parliament is on the basis of one vote one value. Yet the apologists - particularly the Australian Country Party - argue consistently that, that having been laid down by the Australian Constitution, they can justify having inequality of voting within those State boundaries. The present system with the 20 per cent variation above or below in electoral quotas makes a farce of the concept of equality of voting as between the various States.

The shameful manipulation, the cynical gerrymander, arose because it was left to the Parliament to work out the electoral divisions within each State. In other words, the drafters of the Constitution trusted politicians. What this Government seeks to do is put future gerrymander beyond the reach of cynical politicians who may from time to time, by electoral accident, have the majority in this House. It is a denial of logic to suggest that, having determined that the number of members elected from each State should be determined by equal value of votes, the electoral divisions within the States should be determined on a different basis. There are many examples of gerrymander in certain States. New South Wales and Queensland are outstanding examples. Indeed, New South Wales has a redistribution before every election; at least that has been the pattern in recent years.

In June this year the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) made a statement which was reported in the Brisbane Courier-Mail' in which he agreed with a suggestion that State governments had jockeyed the electoral laws. The newspaper article states:

Speaking in an open-line radio program, he said it had been done in all States over the last 50 years. I don't approve of it', he said.

Let us see whether the Leader of the Country Party is now prepared to back up his earlier statement and support this proposition to give the Australian people the opportunity to express their views. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), in introducing this legislation, showed many discrepancies in State electoral populations. The people have a right to have a say on this matter. They have a right to be heard. They have a right to decide.

Unscrupulous opportunism by certain politicians determined to maintain minority rule must be subject to the scrutiny of the people. Unprincipled political misdealings must be terminated. Some apportionments of electorates are insidious and infamous. No amount of cunning or attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the Australian electorate will succeed in deceiving the Australian people on this occasion. Fair play is the cornerstone of the concept of the Australian way of life. The pettifogging arguments that have been advanced so far against this far-reaching and basic proposition will not convince the Australian people that they should not take the steps which will put the gerrymandering of electorates beyond the reach of those who seek a political advantage. The Australian people are tired of being manipulated. One vote one value is a principle which must be upheld.

It has often been said by Opposition spokesmen over the years that the party which has received the majority vote has always been in government in Australia. On 3 occasions in the last decade the Australian Labor Party has received substantially more votes than the Liberal-Country Party candidates but did not have a majority of seats in this House. In 1954 the Australian Labor Party received just over 50 per cent of the votes. The LiberalCountry Parties received 47 per cent but they formed the government. In 1961 the Australian Labor Party received about 48 per cent of the vote. The Liberal-Country Parties received less than 42 per cent of the vote, but they formed the government. In 1969 the Australian Labor Party received 47 per cent of the vote. The Liberal-Country Parties received 43 per cent and again formed the government. Is it any wonder that they oppose giving to the Australian people the right to have a say as to whether there should be equal representation, whether there should be upheld in this country the concept of one vote having equal value to another. There is no room for electoral discrimination in this country.

There is also a provision in this Bill which seeks to give to the High Court of Australia power of original jurisdiction, power to exercise a control over manipulation of Australian electorates, a power which will be a safeguard, a sentinel, on behalf of the Australian people. Of course, the Opposition is opposed to it because it has seen what has happened in the United States where the United States Supreme Court has cracked down hard against the sort of electoral gerrymander which has been per petrated in this country both in respect of this House and in certain of the States over the past generation.

Mr Anthony - You are out of date. You do not have the latest verdict.

Mr RIORDAN - No matter how much the Leader of the Australian Country Party may try to divert this debate and no matter how much the Leader of the Opposition may try to pull the wool over the eyes of the Australian people and, by pettifogging arguments, try to confuse the issue, the Australian people will not be fooled. No matter what obstructionist tactics are adopted by the Liberal-Country Party in this House, the Constitution provides that the matter can still go before the Australian people. It will go before the Australian people and they will have their say. In my view there is no doubt as to what that say will be. I certainly support the proposition.

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