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Wednesday, 6 November 1985
Page: 1656

Senator JONES —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Special Minister of State and the Attorney-General. Has the Minister's attention been drawn to reports in today's newspapers that referred to the blatant gerrymander of State electoral boundaries proposed by the Government of Queensland which effectively mean that the Bjelke-Petersen National Party Government will be able to retain office with only 35 per cent of the vote? In view of this blatant rape of democracy by one Australian State in a bid to keep power in the face of rapidly declining electoral popularity, what action could the Federal Government take to prevent substantial parts of Australia becoming a virtual dictatorship?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The gerrymander that has just been announced in Queensland is yet another grotesque demonstration of the quality of respect for democracy in that State. This has been something which has risen in the craw, I would imagine, of all Australians who are committed to constitutional and democratic systems representing proper principles not only of fair play but also of political democracy. The Government's approach to these matters is absolutely clear and I would hope that it is one shared by those on the opposite side, although that is hardly likely in view of the character of the interjections that are coming from some quarters on the front bench at the moment-that is, that one vote one value is the only proper and equitable basis for electoral systems. I note that the plenary session of the Australian Constitutional Convention held in July-August this year also voted in favour of this principle.

As to what it is within the Commonwealth's competence to do about this sort of thing, the most immediate need is obviously for some kind of overarching constitutional reform which would apply in Queensland as everywhere else. Such an attempt was made in 1974, but failed-as so often-on the rock of opposition from those opposite, who were not happy about any such principle being written into our Constitution.

The issue has arisen again with Senator Macklin's Bill, now before this Parliament. Regrettably, there are a number of technical matters that still remain to be satisfactorily resolved about how one translates the one vote one value principle into effective practical effect, and it may be that the most appropriate way of dealing with Senator Macklin's Bill is to refer it, as has been canvassed in some quarters, to the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform for further consideration before it is dealt with in this chamber.

But in any event, there clearly is a case for constitutional reform. Hopefully, it will be the kind of reform that will be promoted as a result of the proposed commission on the Constitution-at least, when the acronym is sorted out-that Mr Lionel Bowen has been proposing in recent times.

There are other legislative options, not presently on the statute book but which may arise in the context of the passage of some such legislation as the Bill of Rights. The particular Bill that has been introduced in the House of Representatives does not, of course, purport to have direct application to the States, although it allows for some investigation of possible breaches of the principles of the international conventions there set out. I note that the report of the Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs that was introduced yesterday went further in that respect, suggesting that electoral democracy was of such fundamental and crucial importance to all other civil liberties that it ought to be separately treated and separately protected. This is a matter about which a continuing debate is possible, but I do not believe that it is appropriate to embark upon that debate in the context of Question Time.

It is only appropriate to notice, once again, how outrageous the proposal is that is coming forward yet again from the Queensland Government, and how important it is that those elsewhere in the country who have some continuing belief, however minute, fleeting, transient or flimsy, in the principles of political democracy join together to do something to ensure that the residents of that State will enjoy a greater quality of democracy in the future than they manifestly do at the moment.