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Wednesday, 14 November 1973
Page: 1804

Senator WOOD (Queensland) -I have listened very keenly to the debate on this issue because it is an issue which was before this chamber not so long ago and the Senate then rejected it. It was very well debated at the time. On that occasion I used the opportunity to quote quite extensively from the constitutional discussions which ultimately resulted in the initiation of an Australian Parliament. It should be remembered that the Constitution of Australia is based not on the House of Representatives but on the Senate. If it had not been possible to secure agreement on the establishment of the Senate there would not have been an Australian Parliament. The reason for the discussions was to determine the basis of representation and it was decided that the States had to have equal representation, otherwise the smaller States would have been swamped by the more populous States. Honourable senators will remember that the basis of what I put forward on the earlier occasion was that the Senate is a States House. Honourable senators here represent States.

Now we have the desire on the part of the Government to bring in another aspect, that is, that Senate representation shall be given to the Territories also. This strikes at the very heart of what brought about the initiation of the Senate and I think that when we start moving in such a direction as is now proposed we are taking a very serious step. The Territories are not States. The argument has been used: What about the number of people? But then we have unequal numbers in the States. The States did not get representation by senators on a population basis; they got it because they were States. Therefore I cannot see that we as a chamber should countenance in the slightest degree the suggestion that this whole basis of representation should be changed. I know it is very easy to say that the people here and the people there should have better representation by bringing in senators, as is now proposed for the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Those people do have representation in the House of Representatives, which has a different basis. Their representation is based on the number of electors in each State being divided into electorates. As a consequence the more populous States have more members in the House of Representatives.

Because of the limitation that this chamber is a States House, the solution to the problem of representation for the Territories is that if the Territories do not have sufficient representation there should be more representation of them in the House of Representatives where they are entitled to it. If we say that because of their population and because they are Territories we have to widen their representation and bring them into this chamber the questions are then raised: If representation is not on a States basis where do we stop? How far do we go? We have the Australian Capital Territory and we have the Northern Territory. Supposing we stop there. What do the people in the other Territories say? Are they not entitled to Senate representation too? We have more Territories than those two. For instance, what about the people of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands? Are they not entitled to representation here if the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory are?

Senator McLaren - They do not have any representation in the other place.

Senator WOOD - They are entitled to it if you say that territories are to be treated on the same basis as the States. What about the people of Norfolk Island?

Senator Poyser - You are on flimsy ground here because you do not know the background.

Senator WOOD - I think I have made a better study of the Senate than anybody in this chamber.

Senator Poyser - I am talking of the Cocos Islands.

Senator WOOD -What about Norfolk Island?

Senator Poyser - You do not know the background.

Senator WOOD - No, of course I do not.

Senator Poyser - What about Christmas Island?

Senator WOOD -What about Norfolk Island? That is another Territory.

Senator Poyser - And Christmas Island.

Senator WOOD - And what about Heard and McDonald Islands. They are territories.

Senator McLaren - There are only seals there.

Senator WOOD - We are talking of territories such as the Heard and McDonald Islands. What about the Coral Sea island territories and the Antarctic territory?

Senator Poyser - That is not inhabited and you know it.

Senator WOOD - Just a minute. Where will we stop? If it is a matter of bringing more territories into the Senate, on what basis do we do it? The Constitution provides that this House shall be comprised of so many senators from each of the States. Once we break down that situation I believe we are doing very serious damage to this chamber. I feel that the States would consider that the election of senators to represent the Territories would in certain ways weaken their strength in the Senate.

Senator McLaren - What nonsense.

Senator WOOD - It is not nonsense because the Territories are on an entirely different basis. The Australian Capital Territory has a representative in the House of Representatives. Who can say that electors in that Territory are not very close to the minds of members of this Parliament? We are situated in the area. Because of contact that public servants and others in this area have with us, do honourable senators opposite mean to tell me that this area has not a great influence on us? Yet the Government proposes to give them more strength by allowing them to elect 2 members to the Senate. We either stand by the very basis on which the Senate was established or we destroy it by doing what is asked. This move must not be countenanced in any form because it might possibly be an expedient to help a government or a party through some situation. That is the sort of thing which we should resist. I believe that we should look at this matter on the highest basis so far as the Senate is concerned. Because the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) probably has not a very strong regard for this chamber is no reason why any move should be made to denigrate it in any shape or form.

Senator McLaren - That statement is not right.

Senator WOOD - It is right. I know what he thinks about the Senate and about senators. I have been a senator for quite a long time and I know things that have been said in the past. No one can say that in the years that I have been a senator I have not stood for the Sente. I came into the Senate with a determination to use any power in my capacity to make it a better chamber. I believe that credit is due to those senators who over a period have worked to make this chamber a much better chamber today than it possibly was before. In fairness, I believe that generally speaking the quality of the Senate has risen considerably. I believe too that senators now have a much better outlook and that the Senate now stands higher in the minds of the people than possibly it did before.

I travel around the States. In the last election campaign I was most interested to hear the approbation which came from people about the work of the Senate, its committees and so on. I think that we as senators should be proud of this chamber. When we look at its history, the reason it was introduced and the basis on which it has been developed, we should have in our minds that we should preserve the Senate as it was originally intended and as it is presently functioning, that is, as a States House. Once we depart from that we can lead ourselves into very dangerous areas.

Senator McLaren - That is not so.

Senator WOOD - The honourable senator may laugh about it. Mention was made of the other Territories. Once we change the reason for the establishment of the Senate- to protect the States- and allow the Territories to be represented, we do not know where things will end. If all the Territories are represented after a period, ultimately, with governments giving more and more representation to them, the States could be outvoted, and that would destroy the purpose for which this chamber was established. I oppose the Bill because I believe that it is a downward movement so far as the Senate is concerned, and so far as relations with and representation of the States are concerned. In those circumstances I oppose the Bill, as I opposed the previous Bill. I sincerely hope that when the vote is taken the majority will be in opposition to the Bill.

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