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Thursday, 24 February 1977
Page: 480

Mr BRYANT (Wills) -I suppose there is some comfort that as far as the National Country Party is concerned nothing ever changes for the better. We have heard ad nauseam in the 2 1 years I have been a member of this place the case made out by the Country Party against proper democratic political representation. One sees it in turning back the pages of political history. The honourable member for Calare (Mr MacKenzie) has a rather simplistic view of representation. It is whether a person has a car or not. It is whether a person lives in his electorate or not. Perhaps it is a reasonable proposition. To reply to the honourable member, what I have to say is that he does not live anywhere. He just takes up space. My own view of representation is that it does not matter where one sleeps. It is what one does when one is awake that matters. It is time that the Country Party woke up to the fact that we are dealing with people. The honourable member for Calare- and I suppose it is a tribute to the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Cotter) in his propaganda campaign- is capitalising on the reflected glory of the honourable member for Kalgoorlie who represents or misrepresents most of Western Australia. The honourable member for Calare, weeping copiously here about his 29 000 square kilometres which is something like 12 000 or 13 000 square miles has tried to gather some steam out of the fact that the honourable member for Kalgoorlie tries to represent some 800 000 or 900 000 square miles. The electorate of Kalgoorlie was represented in the Parliament for 16 or 17 years by Mr Fred Collard- adequately representedand I never heard him grizzle like the honourable member for Calare did because he represents -

Mr Cotter -He will not be back.

Mr BRYANT -The honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Cotter) will not be here for 17 or 18 years. He has 600 days to go. He may as well make the most of them. Members of the Country Party say it is hard luck that -

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (MrLucock)Order! Firstly, I remind the House of the comment I made in regard to honourable members addressing their remarks to the Chair. Secondly, I remind honourable members that interjections are out of order. While there has been some comment with regard to the Bill that people will not be here much longer, if interjections continue that statement will be a correct one at least for tonight.

Mr BRYANT - You will have to forgive me Mr Deputy Speaker. I was speaking eloquently about the Country Party and knowing you are a member of it I thought you would be embarrassed if I directed my remarks straight at you. The honourable member for Kalgoorlie has 17 State members to look after. Apparently that is a hardship. Obviously they are mostly Country Party members. I would have thought that that was fairly adequate representation.

The Opposition has 2 serious objections to this Bill. This Bill is again another mangling of the many efforts to try to make Australian political representation democratic. We object to the guidelines that have been set down for the periods of redistributions and we object to the possibility rather more than the probability, perhaps in the immediate future of a gerrymander arising out of the area provisions. There would have to be something wrong with us if we did not realise that in the long history of electoral redistributions they have gradually become worse and worse in this country wherever conservative parties have been in command. Another point I would like to make about the honourable member for Calare is that he said there is no possibility of direct electoral justice under the present Constitution. Therefore he says if we cannot have direct electoral justice we may as well magnify the injustice.

We recognise the fact that we are cornered inside the Constitution and can only, as near as practicable, make redistributions democratic inside each State. The honourable member mentioned that there have been 4 distributions over a period of 20 years in which the differential between the various electorates was fairly small. I think that is the way it ought to be, as I hope to explain in a few moments. My own view is that electorates ought to be as close as practicable in voting power because that is what representative government is about. I represent 113 000 people in the electorate of Wills. The honourable member for Clare represents 85 000 people in his electorate. We are about the business, not of geography, but of people. So I want to raise the general question of the potential trickery that is behind this Bill.

The honourable member for Calare made great play on some of the recent history of the Bill. The facts are of course that since federation there was until about 1960 a very consistent philosophy behind electoral redistributions and mostly they stuck pretty close to the quotas- not completely, but in the redistributions over that period they kept pretty close to the quotas. When

I became a member of this Parliament it was accepted by both the Liberal Party and the Labor Party that the 10 per cent differential was adequate. In most cases, as was pointed out by the honourable member, we did not go even as far as that. However there was a hard fought campaign by the Country Party over a period of years to have the differential increased to 20 per cent and it succeeded during a period when it had a tighter grip on the Liberal Party than it now has. All I can say in favour of the Liberal Party after watching it for 2 1 years is that it is nice to know that at one period- now- it has stuck to the principle and it has not given in to the area syndrome of the honourable members from the Country Party.

What is it all about? The objective is representative government. What is representative government? First of all, I believe it is equality of representation. It has nothing much to do with quality as such. The citizens of Australia pick a number of us for many different reasons but when we sit in this House we each vote as one. It is one vote, one value and we are counted for ourselves and ourselves alone. Any system which interferes with the capacity of each one of us to represent a certain number of people has a great potential to be undemocratic. I am not taken in by the reference to Great Britain, the United States of America, Canada or anywhere else. We do not have to model ourselves upon them. It is not so distant in the past that Australia was regarded as one of the first democracies in the world and it is time that we got back to that general program.

The objective is equality of access to political decision making and that can only be based upon simple arithmetic.

Mr MacKenzie - I raise a point of order. I do not believe the honourable member for Wills can talk about equality of access when he lives in the Australian Capital Territory for most of the year.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!That is not a valid point of order. I think the honourable member should know that, too.

Mr BRYANT - Actually I live wherever my work takes me. I even pass through the honourable member's electorate and I find that the people there wish they had the same kind of representation as have the people of Wills. The objective is equality of access to political decision making, equality of voice in this House. The only way to get that is to have equal voting strength in the electorates. There is a philosophy which supports a policy that there ought to be equal populations in electorates. That would be satisfactory from a point of view of people like me but I would regard it as potentially undemocratic. Therefore we have to accept the point that redistributions of electorates should be based upon the voting power of people and the voting power of their representatives in this House. I cannot understand how the people of Australia stand the trickery that has gone into the electoral systems in Australia. It has mostly been done by our opponents but not absolutely. Occasionally Labor Party governments have done the same. One has only to think of the sad history of electoral reform. Think of the House of Commons and the long battle to get decent elections for that place. The first fight was about getting manhood suffrage. I thought that as we were dealing with the Country Party and the system it likes to foster in political elections it might be worth while reminding its members that they are not the first people in history to indulge in trickery. I have here a book called The Addled Parliament of 1614- about contemporary with their philosophy. An election was being held.

Sir HenryRich, a favourite of the King, was defeated in Norfolk. Rich entered the contest confidently, supported by letters from the Lord Chamberlain, Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk. The sheriff's county court opened at the castle in Norwich, the customary place, on 7 March at about seven o'clock in the morning with about three thousand freeholders assembled for the election, most of them supporters of Rich. But within half an hour, after some routine business had been dispatched, the sheriff's deputy suddenly adjourned the court to Swaffham, twenty miles away. The high sheriff, who was already at Swaffham, proceeded to hold the election there in the presence of a few freeholders assembled for the purpose.

The National Country Party cannot do that now. What it does is to try to change the electoral boundaries to make up for being deprived of that opportunity. It has been a long haul through manhood suffrage, abolition of plural voting, removal of the property franchise, fixing up other qualifications, giving votes to the Aboriginal people of Australia, votes for women and recently votes for people over 18 years of age. In every instance in which we have attempted to bring more complete democracy to this Parliament and to the parliaments of Australia, we have been faced with the hot tempered opposition of honourable members on the other side of the House, particularly members of the Country Party. When we come to the question of electoral boundaries, I believe that a proper democracy means that the electorates must be as equal as possible in voting strength and there is no practical difficulty whatsoever in doing that. The census system in Australia is adequate enough. The counting is complete and the enrolment recording is absolute enough for that to be done,

I should think, to within 1000 or so in the average electorate. I will be happier with the Electoral Act when it provides that electorates shall be as nearly as practicable equal in voting strength at the time when the electoral boundaries are drawn. Perhaps the extension of the 12 months provision for the new census figures to be issued should be complimented by a provision that the boundaries shall be redrawn 12 months before every election is due. It is time the Parliament established the principle of equality of electorates, the principle of one vote one value. Will the honourable member for Calare care to debate the issue around the country with any member on this side of the House.

Mr MacKenzie - Of course I would.

Mr BRYANT - I suppose that he would. I would be very happy if he would come to public meetings in some electorates.

Mr DONALD CAMERON (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - Mr Deputy Speaker,I rise on a point of order. I cannot hear the honourable member for Wills.

Mr BRYANT - I am sorry if my message is not getting through to the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron). He is a notably slow learner and we will be able to put him on our Hansard list after the next election. I think that a standing commission on the matter should be established, although I am not sure whether it should consist of High Court judges or be conducted under the present system. It should be a standing commission which keeps enrolments under constant review. My own view is that once the principle of as equal enrolments as possible is established there will be no gerrymander attempted by any of the parties in the House and that I would entrust most people with the job of drawing the boundary line. I hope that what has been fought by the National Country Party today is a rearguard action, that the concession made by the Liberal Party is a rearguard concession and that we will eventually come to the stage, not too far off, where Australian elections will be an example to the rest of the world as were the general principles of establishment of manhood suffrage, secret ballot and votes for women some three-quarters of a century ago.

I want to raise several other matters concerning this question of representation. My colleagues in the National Country Party have been pretty anxious about the difficulties of people representing large areas. It is true that the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Cotter) has a very great area to encompass.

Mr Bourchier -How big is Wills?

Mr BRYANT - I was just getting to Wills because it is quite obvious that honourable members on the other side of the chamber are not quite conscious of what the situation is in electorates such as Wills. My electorate is some 11 square miles in area, perhaps a little less. It has approximately 1 13 000 to 120 000 people. It has a very strong migrant base with one ofthe largest Greek populations in Australia, one of the greatest concentrations of Italians and a very strong Turkish, Yugoslav and Lebanese population. These are human problems. We must equate the personal problems of people such as those and the representative difficulties of people who know not the language and whose language one knows not.

Honourable members interjecting

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!I point out to the House that the honourable member for Griffith took a point of order to the effect that he could not hear the honourable member for Wills. It would assist if honourable members on my right did not interject, as their interjections are overriding the words of the honourable member for Wills. I suggest, therefore, that those honourable members on my right cease interjecting.

Mr BRYANT - I shall continue the comparison. Wills is a very productive part of Australia. My friends from the National Country Party who represent some of the World 's most efficient primary producers- I think that is one of the facts of Australian life- will understand the comparable and complementary productivity of factories and people in areas such as I represent. It has an almost unbelievable concentration of manufacturing capacity. There are hundreds of factories, some of them very large and some of them quite small, but there is an almost unbelievable concentration of productive capacity and wealth inside those ten or eleven square miles. I represent that in the context of the present economic situation with regard to tariffs and such like. These industries are as difficult to represent as the open spaces of country electorates. The great concentration means a greater concentration required by the member and people such as myself to locate the problems and keep in touch with them. While I recognise the difficulties of travel and transport of members of the National Country Party, I think it is time that they recognised that the representative principle also covers the difficulties and problems of such people as I represent. I do not concede to any honourable member that my task is not just as difficult or just as demanding. I work at it as much as I am physically capable. I give it the spirit that I think the people request and I know that other honourable members in this place- I know a lot of them very well indeed, people with whom I have travelled on committees and so on- are doing the same. I may well believe that many of them are in grievous political error, but I think that the people of Australia on the whole are pretty well served by the devotion and dedication of people who come into this place. We do not gain anything for the Parliament by suggesting otherwise, or by suggesting that we should have some principle which departs from the democratic principle.

What is the logic of the area principle- that is, say, 120 seats for an area of 3 million square miles? The extreme logic of it, nonsensically of course, would simply be to divide Australia into one hundred and twenty 25 000 square mile equal portions, regardless of the population. Even my friend, the honourable member for Calare, would say that that is not reasonable. There is no possible way to equate space and people. My friends opposite talk about the great difficulties of it. They cite all sorts of difficulties but we live in a world of communicationtelephones, travel, television and all the rest of it- and we are now in communication in a way which was not possible when the electorates were first drawn. I hope that the Parliament will reject the propositions contained in this Bill and that honourable members on the other side of the House who stood up, but not quite firmly enough, for a principle, will at last relent in thendeparture from the principle of one vote one value and proper and equal representation and reject the domination of the Country Party.

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