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Monday, 11 December 1905

Mr GROOM (Darling Downs) (Minister of Home Affairs) . - I ask the Committee to negative this clause. It is really the first of a series of amendments inserted in the Senate to provide for the appointment of three Commissioners for the purpose of redistributing the electorates. The Senate has proposed that the persons referred to in sub-clause 2 - a Judge of a Court of a State, the Surveyor-General or head of the Survey Department of a State, and the Commonwealth Electoral Officer for' the State - shall, when a redistribution is ordered by proclamation, proceed to divide the States into electoral divisions. Their work is to have the force of law immediately the Executive has proclaimed the proposed divisions, as they are bound to do, and it is not to come under the review of Parliament. That is a reversal of the existing system.

Mr Batchelor - The majority of the Commissioners would be State officials.

Mr GROOM - Yes, with the exception of the Commonwealth Electoral Officer in each State they would all be State officials. Under the system we have adopted one Electoral Commissioner is appointed for each State. It is his duty to distribute the State into electorates, and when he has made his distribution, it is advertised, and objection can be taken to the divisions he proposes. Then the whole matter is brought before Parliament for confirmation, and the control of Parliament is thus preserved.. The idea contained in the Senate's proposal is to entirely eliminate the controlling power of Parliament in this matter, and to leave it in the hands of the Executive to decide when a redistribution of a State into electorates shall take place.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is not left entirely in the hands of the Executive.

Mr GROOM - It will be in the hands of the Executive as it is now, to decide when a redistribution shall take place.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not under the amended provisions.

Mr GROOM - Section 23 of the principal Act provides that -

A redistribution of any State into Divisions shall be made in the manner hereinbefore provided whenever directed bythe GovernorGeneral by proclamation.

We propose some modifications of that, but there is a provision under which the Governor-General in Council may order a redistribution when he thinks fit. The objection to the proposal of the Senate is that, in the first place, it does away with the control of Parliament altogether. I believe that Parliament should retain a controlling power in determining the distribution of its own electorates, and it should be the final court of appeal in such a matter. In my opinion, therefore, the Senate made a mistake in eliminating that control. When the original measure was first introduced, a proposal was made that there should be three Commissioners, but the House, without a. division, rejected that proposal, and decided that there should be but one Elec- toral Commissioner for each State. It was pointed out that if three Commissioners were to be appointed for each State, heavy expense would be involved. It is clear that for a State like Tasmania, with only five electorates, the scheme now proposed is a very cumbrous method of dealing with the sub-division of that little State. When the matter was, previously discussed here, it was pointed out that to have three commissioners for each State would mean that there should be eighteen Electoral Commissioners appointed. Under that, twelve new appointments would be necessary. Each of the officers appointed would, of course, be entitled to extra remuneration for work done under this measure. The Commission would probably take evidence in investigating matters, and might wish to travel, and it would be a very cumbrous Commission for such a purpose. The division even of a. State like New South Wales should not be a very difficult task for one officer acquainted with his work. Another objection to the proposal is that, in substance, it really leaves the House of Representatives at the mercy of the Executive of the day, because they are given the right whenever they think fit to say that there shall be a redistribution of the electorates. Under the proposal submitted by the Senate, immediately that took place the whole matter would be completely removed from the control of Parliament. The redistribution would have to take place in accordance with the scheme submitted by the Commissioners in each State, and honorable members will understand that the very fact that a redistribution is decided upon implies a dissolution of Parliament, and the return of a new Parliament on the basis of the new constituencies. On the whole, I think it is not advisable, especially at this stage, to accept these amendments. The idea of the Bill as introduced was to bring about certain administrative alterations found to be necessary for the efficient working of the Electoral Act. To accept the Senate's amendment now might render it exceedingly difficult to carry out in due time the object of the Representation Bill, which was introduced specially in order that the next elections might be conducted upon such principles as would insure to each State the representation to which it is entitled according to the latest statistics of the Commonwealth. We fixed the enumeration day with that object at the earliest possible date, so that all the administrative arrangements might be made to bring the principle of the

Representation Bill into effect at the next election, and to secure to each State its due representation.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That could be easily got over.

Mr GROOM - If we are to have three Electoral Commissioners for each State, we cannot be sure how long they will take to do their work.

Mr McWILLIAMS (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - We do not want three Commissioners for the smaller States.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It will not be necessary to apply this to the first distribution.

Mr GROOM - To avoid that, we should have to insert special clauses in this Bill. I think that the present system has worked satisfactorily enough. It is inexpensive; it leaves to an independent person the redistribution of a State into electorates.; and reserves to Parliament the control which I think it should always keep over such matters. In the circumstances, I ask the Committee to negative this clause, and we can afterwards deal with the amendments consequent upon it.

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