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Thursday, 23 August 1973
Page: 351

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) (Leader of the Australian Country Party) - The reintroduction of this Bill symbolises the Government's determination to continue its savage onslaught against country people by reducing the voice of country people. This attack began immediately after the last election and it reached its climax this week with the Budget. On Tuesday night I described the Budget as a vicious and vindictive attack against the country people of Australia. The vindictiveness of this Government was made completely clear yesterday by the tirade of abuse from the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Lionel Bowen) against country newspapers, country people and the Australian Country Party. The iniquitous postal charges which are to be imposed upon country people if they continue to receive their local newspapers is simply another example of the Labor Party's continuing hostility.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.

Mr ANTHONY - When the sitting was suspended for dinner I was stating that the present Government was displaying considerable hositility towards country people. This was never more evident than in the Budget that was brought clown on Tuesday night. The Government's determination to pursue this hostile attitude is now demonstrated in the resubmission to the House of the Commonwealth Electoral Bill after its rejection by the Senate last session. Before I proceed to the Bill itself and to the Government's motives in trying to bludgeon the Opposition into accepting it, I want to dispute the claim of the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) yesterday that the Government has a mandate for this legislation. The Government uses the word 'mandate' like a screeching of parrots. But where was the mandate in the swing against the Australian Labor Party in South Australia or the swing against the Labor Party in every seat in Western Australia or the swing against the Labor Party in Queensland or even the 15 per cent swing against the ALP in the Australian Capital Territory? A full mandate requires the public support of both Houses of Parliament. So, let us not have so much of this easy talk about a mandate for everything under the sun.

The Government's motives in persisting with this legislation are clearly thrown into question when we look at the grounds on which the redistribution can be ordered. The Act makes it clear that there are 2 sets of circumstances in which redistributions are to bo held. The first is that there should be a redistribution whenever an alteration is made in the number of members of the House of Representatives to be elected for a State. The only State in which any change is proposed in the number of members is in Western Australia. Therefore, it is clear that under this first provision there is no requirement whatsoever for redistribution in any State other than in Western Australia. Another circumstance in which a redistribution should take place is whenever in one-quarter of the electorates in a State the number of electors differs from the quota by more than one-fifth either way.

This situation does not exist in any State, so there is no ground for a redistribution under this provision.

However, the Act does give power to the Government to order a redistribution at any time. But to resort to this part of the Act in the absence of any justification for redistributtion under the other provisions I have mentioned would represent a serious abuse of Executive power and in the absence of parliamentary approval or parliamentary changes in the Act would represent a complete contempt for the Parliament. Despite this, I have no doubt that the Minister's obsession with this legislation will lead to a resort to use of this power if the legislation is again rejected by the Parliament, as it should be and as I have no doubt it will be.

I want to make it quite clear now that every member of the Australian Country Party in both Houses will oppose this legislation and that when the Minister proceeds to abuse the Executive power of government and asks the Governor-General to direct that a redistribution be held, they will express their opposition. Further, every member of the Country Party in both Houses will oppose the actual redistribution plans, except for Western Australia, which flow from the actions of the present Minister. We will do this because it is clear that there is no justification whatever for a redistribution except in Western Australia, under the present Act. We will do is because we believe that there is no reason to change the present Act and because we believe that the Labor Party's approach to this matter represents a denial of electoral justice.

The provision which has existed since Federation for country electorates to have a slightly smaller enrolment than city electorates is as valid today as it was when our founding fathers wrote it into our laws 72 years ago. They understood - and the Minister understands but ignores - the difficulties of providing proper representation for people living in sparsely populated areas. Every Federal government for the past 72 years has understood and accepted this, whether they were Labor or non-Labor governments. But this Government, through its obvious hatred of country people, refuses to accept it. The founding fathers understood that if the country people were to enjoy parliamentary representation of a quality at least approaching that which city members can offer their constituents, there must be some consideration given to the physical difficulties of adequately representing large electorates.

The Minister is asking us to stretch our credulity beyond breaking point if he wants us to believe that a person living, for example, in the electorate of Gwydir, which covers 32,250 square miles, or Kennedy, with 280,230 square miles, is able to enjoy the same quality of representation as a person living in the electorate of Grayndler, which is less than 4 square miles in area.

Mr Daly - But they are very intelligent voters.

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