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Wednesday, 22 August 1973
Page: 221

Mr DALY (Grayndler) (Minister for Services and Property4.54) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill, which seeks to amend certain provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act relating to the redistribution of States into electoral divisions, is in identical form to the Commonwealth Electoral Bill (No. 2) 1973 which I introduced in this House on 13 March 1973 and which was passed by this House on 4 April 1973. As honourable members would know, the motion for the second reading of the Bill was defeated in the Senate on 17 May 1973. My Second Reading Speech on the Commonwealth Electoral Bill (No. 2) 1973, when first introduced, is reported in Hansard dated 13 March 1973 - pages 502 to 513. In my speech, I fully explained the details and the purposes of the amendments. We have a heavy legislative program before us and as the proposed amendments of the Commonwealth Electoral Act contained in this Bill have already been agreed to by this House, I do not propose to again go over the many reasons which justify the adoption of this legislation. I will, however, for the benefit of honourable members, deal briefly with the proposals contained in the Bill and the purpose of the Bill.

The Bill seeks to change only sections 19 and 25 of Part III of the Commonwealth Electoral Act dealing with the redistribution of the States into electoral divisions. It is proposed that all other provisions of Part III of the Act which specify the procedure for redistributions of States into electoral divisions, be retained. The amendments proposed will have the effect of:

(a)   reducing the permissible variation from the quota specified in section 19 (1) from one-fifth to one-tenth;

(b)   revising the factors (section 19 (2)) to which the Distribution Commissioners are required to give due consideration by deleting the reference to:

(i)   disabilities arising out of remoteness or distance;

(ii)   the density or sparsity of population of the division; and

(iii)   the area of the division; and

(c)   varying section 25 (2) (b) to provide that a redistribution may be directed whenever in one-fourth of the divisions of a State the number of electors differs from the quota by one-tenth (in lieu of one-fifth).

The proposed amendment of section 25 (2) (b) is a natural corollary to the amendment of section 19 (1) reducing the margin of allowance from the quota to 10 per cent.

The purpose of these amendments is perfectly clear. We seek to bring down legislation which will provide for practical equality of representation at redistributions of States into electoral divisions thus ensuring that the will of the majority will be reflected in the outcome of the elections of members of this House. The principle of 'one vote one value' must be established as the fundamental objective of redistribution. These are principles which are enshrined in the platform of the Australian Labor Party and our efforts fo bring them about when in Opposition are well known. Our intentions were publicised before the last elections at which the people elected an Australian Labor Party government.

Mr McVeigh - It was 49 per cent of the vote. You are not a government.

Mr DALY - We proposed a permissible variation from the quota of electors sufficient to enable the Distribution Commissioners to give due consideration to factors which are consistent with the equal representation principle which the Australian Labor Party, both in Opposition and in Government, has consistently enunciated. The honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) who interjected received 17 per cent of the primary votes at the last election and he got into the Parliament. That is a real democratic vote. I am reminded that he did well to get 17 per cent. Factors such as 'the area of the division', 'the density or sparsity of population' and references to 'disabilities arising out of remoteness or distance' inserted by the previous Government in 1965, are contrary to the concept of equality of political rights and encourage departure from the quota of electors in a manner which makes the value of a citizen's vote depend largely upon his geographical location.

The changes proposed by this Bill are designed to provide by legislative measures that, as far as may be practicable, the value of the vote of one citizen shall be equivalent to the vote of another and to give some meaningful application to the principle of one vote one value' without unnecessarily restricting the Distribution Commissioners in proposing a redistribution. The existing 20 per cent permissible variation from the quota which allows a division to have 50 per cent more electors than another division in the same State and which was introduced in 1902 when Australia had a population of about four million, as against thirteen millions today, can no longer be tolerated in our society.

Section 24 of the Constitution provides that the number of members chosen in the several States shall be in proportion to the respective numbers of their people. Thus, the Constitution itself ensures equality of representation between States based on the numbers of people resident in those States, a condition which the Australian Labor Party believes should also apply within the several States. Based on the population revealed at the last census, New South Wales for example is entitled to 45 members while Western Australia (which comprises nearly one-third of the whole of Australia) is entitled to 10 members. Obviously, the founders of the Constitution did not take cognizance of the area, density or sparsity of population and disabilities arising out of remoteness or distance, in framing Section 24.

It is evident that the area of divisions and the density or sparsity of population in divisions cannot be uniformly applied throughout the States. The Government believes that people should be the controlling factor, not only for determining the representation for the States in the House of Representatives, but also for determining divisions within those States. I remind those honourable members who are seeking to interject that the Labor Party holds more country seats than does any other party in this Parliament.

There are only 4 clauses to this Bill, and its title, 'Relating to the Distribution of the States into Electoral Divisions', indicates its limitations. Despite these limitations, in this House in March and April of this year, the debate extended over a total period of 10 hours 55 minutes. There were 21 speakers on the second reading and 14 in the Committee stage. Again, when the Bill was before the Senate it was debated for 10 hours 5 minutes and 25 senators participated in the debate. It must, therefore, be agreed that full and adequate time has been given for discussion to this limited 4-clause legislation.

As the Bill is identical with that previously presented, I see no reason why the legislation should be delayed by a lengthy debate which will no doubt only provide a repetition of the well-worn arguments made by the Opposition on the previous occasion. It is also worth recording that in rejecting the Bill, the Senate did not advance any new arguments, their opposition being a blatant political move designed to maintain loaded electorates and destroy the principle of one vote one value. I repeat what I said of this legislation in my second reading speech earlier in the year:

It is a challenge to those who sit opposite to stand up and be counted on the fundamental democratic principle of one vote one value and majority rule. This is the basis on which this legislation stands - nothing more, nothing less.

The Government regards this Bill as a major piece of our legislative program, and in resubmitting it we expect that the Parliament will adopt a responsible approach and that the measure will be afforded a speedy passage through both Houses. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Bonnett) adjourned.

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