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Tuesday, 3 December 1985
Page: 2832

Senator COLSTON(9.25) —I wish to take advantage of the first reading of the Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1985 and allied Bills to mention matters which are not relevant to the Bills, something we are allowed to do on the first reading of this type of Bill. Last Saturday Mr Wallace Brown in the Courier-Mail expressed the opinion that any proposal to use Federal legislation to override the Queensland electoral redistribution was all rhetoric and little else. He also said in relation to the Premier of Queensland, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen:

The Premier can also rest easy about Canberra on the issue, and he knows that. It doesn't have the guts.

I have known Mr Brown for a long time and I have such a high respect for him as a journalist that I do not intend to argue with him publicly. Time will tell whether the rhetoric over the gerrymander is indeed all rhetoric and little else. Time will also tell whether Mr Brown's assessment that Canberra-I presume he means the Hawke Labor Government-does not have the guts, to use his words, to tackle this denial of electoral justice in Queensland is correct. In 12 months time it will be interesting to look back to see whether Mr Brown was correct. I certainly hope that by then he has been proved to be incorrect.

There seems little, if any, prospect that anything can be done about the Queensland gerrymander before the next State election. However, the new electoral boundaries are so obscene that we must look forward to the election after the next one. We must make sure that that election is fought on fair boundaries. I have made my position clear on the need for Federal legislation. No Australian government can stand back and allow a significant number of citizens in any State to have second class voting rights. I will press for and I will expect this Parliament to pass legislation to embody one vote one value as a basic principle of parliamentary electoral systems in Australia.

On a previous occasion I provided an analysis of the 1985 State redistribution in Queensland. That appears in the Hansard of 14 November 1985 at pages 2154 to 2157. This evening, however, I shall again outline why the system in Queensland is unacceptable. The 1985 Electoral Districts Act is the basis of the latest gerrymander of Queensland's electoral boundaries. This Act establishes a total of 89 electorates in four electoral zones. This is an increase of seven seats over the existing 82 seats in the Legislative Assembly. The most populous of these four zones is the south-eastern zone. This has 51 seats with an electorate quota of 19,357 voters. It is based on Brisbane, the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, Ipswich, Toowoomba and adjoining regions. The next most populous zone is the provincial city zone. This has 13 seats and an electorate quota of 18,149 voters. This zone is based on Bundaberg, central Queensland, Mackay, Townsville and Cairns. The third zone is the country zone. It has 17 seats and an electorate quota of 13,131 voters. This zone is base on the rural hinterland of coastal provincial centres running in a narrow belt from north Queensland to the Brisbane valley. The zone with the least population is the western and far northern zone. This has eight seats and an electorate quota of 9,386 voters. It comprises the remainder of the State.

I defined the term `gerrymander' in a previous speech to this chamber. The particular gerrymander which has resulted in the latest redistribution in Queensland is the manipulation of State electoral boundaries to the political advantage of the National Party. Based on previous State election results, the National Party has used the redistribution to give itself a head start. Even if the majority of Queensland voters want the National Party thrown out of office, this task would not seem to be achievable unless there is a shift in voting patterns. I believe that such a shift is possible, but why should any party be allowed to manipulate boundaries to try to keep itself in power in spite of any desire of the electorate to the contrary?

The whole concept of the right to vote hinges on the equality of citizens' votes. Parliamentary democracy is based on the principle of equal voting rights for all people. In failing to uphold this principle, a National Party government is guilty of electoral cheating. It is not as if sound electoral principles have not been discussed previously. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example, states:

The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government. This will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote, or by equivalent free voting procedures.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states:

Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity . . . to vote and be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage, and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.

Finally, Mr Justice Warren of the United States Supreme Court had this to say in 1969 on the subject of gerrymanders:

Legislators represent people, not trees nor acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests. To the extent that a citizen's right to vote is debased, he is that much less a citizen. The basic principle of representative government remains and must remain unchanged. The weight of a citizen's vote cannot be made to depend on where he lives.

The National Party has advanced two justifications for its gerrymander. These are that the recent redistribution provides for balanced representation and that it incorporates the principle of electoral weightage to benefit residents in far flung parts of the State. Let us examine both these attempted justifications. The argument of balanced representation does not stand up to scrutiny. It represents an admission by the National Party that under an electoral system not rigged in its favour it would practise discrimination against residents of non-metropolitan areas of Queensland. The gerrymander has not contributed one iota to decentralisation in Queensland. To the contrary, the National Party State Government, which has been in office since 1957, is yet to implement a decentralisation policy. This absence of policy has been verified in a report commissioned by the Government itself. The 1984 report on decentralisation, undertaken by Professor C. P. Harris of the James Cook University for the Department of Commercial and Industrial Development, stated:

The Queensland Government has no explicit decentralisation policy or set of policy measures to favour the establishment or expansion of industries in non-metropolitan parts of the State.

The gerrymander has not created any new jobs, investment or development in Queensland. It has not stopped the drift of population from the country to the cities. It has not arrested the declining per capita income in country areas. It has not led to the National Party State Government, which supposedly represents rural interests, contributing one cent towards the joint Federal-State assistance package to the sugar industry. The gerrymander is designed solely to preserve the National Party in government. I mentioned earlier that the National Party attempts to justify the gerrymander on the grounds of giving greater representation to the far flung parts of the State. In reality, electorates which are the greatest distance from Brisbane and those which are the largest geographically are given no significant advantage under the gerrymander. What has resulted is that Labor and Liberal votes are bottled up in zones with high quotas, while a predominance of National Party seats are found in the two zones with the small quotas. The very existence of the country zone, based on areas only a few hours drive from the State's major population centres, refutes the National Party's arguments about the need for electoral weightage.

I would like to outline a few examples of the anomalies and inequities that abound under the National Party's latest gerrymander. A person's vote in Winton or Longreach is worth 50 per cent more than a person's vote in Mount Isa. Winton and Longreach are in the electorate of Gregory, with 8,347 electors. The city of Mount Isa is in the Mount Isa electorate, with 12,678 electors. Both seats are in the western and far northern zone. A voter in the central Queensland mining town of Moranbah is a constituent of the Bowen electorate, a country zone seat with 12,275 electors. Just under 100 kilometres away by air or about 120 kilometres by road, a voter in the central Queensland mining town of Blair Athol is a constituent of the Peak Downs electorate, a western and far northern zone seat with 8,362 electors. A resident of Nanango is one of Deputy Premier, Bill Gunn's 19,152 constituents in the south eastern zone seat of Somerset. Drive 24 kilometres up the road to Kingaroy and meet some of the 12,865 voters in the Premier's country zone seat of Barambah. In other words, it has 19,152 voters as opposed to 12,865 only 24 kilometres away. Chinchilla on the Darling Downs is in the country zone seat of Condamine, which has 12,236 voters. Less than 50 kilometres away by road, the neighbouring town of Miles is part of the western and far northern zone seat of Roma, with 8,304 electors. Again, there are 12,236 voters as opposed to 8,304 voters with only 50 kilometres between the two.

The electorate with the highest quota of voters is Townsville East-1,570 kilometres from Brisbane-yet distance from the State's capital is meant to be one of the justifications for having seats with small enrolments. The electorate of Warrego stretches from the South Australian border to Springsure in Central Queensland. That is like having a resident of Ipswich in the same electorate as a resident of Mackay. The Warrego boundary conveniently skirts the Labor voting town of Cunnamulla, which is now lumped incongruously in the safe National Party seat of Balonne. The Aboriginal settlement of Wujal Wujal is completely surrounded by the electorate of Barron River, held by the National Party. But Wujal Wujal itself is deemed to be part of the Cook electorate, held for the Labor Party by Bob Scott. It is a land-locked island that exists in the provincial cities zone, but has been drawn as part of the western and far northern zone. For the record, the seat with the fewest voters is Balonne, with 8,162 voters. It is about a four-hour drive from Brisbane. However Townsville East has the most voters, with 20,837.

The National Party State Government's gerrymander is an indefensible denial of Queenslanders' most fundamental democratic right-the equality of their votes. The Labor Party will not relent or retreat in its campaign to bring about electoral justice in Queensland. Whilst the Labor Party in Queensland will be educating the public about this grossly distorted electoral system, I hold that the Federal Government should take legislative steps to safeguard the electoral rights of the citizens of Queensland.