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Thursday, 5 December 1985
Page: 3010

Senator McKIERNAN(1.13) —The subject I raise in today's matter of public interest debate is of particular interest to the people in the State that I represent in this chamber; that is, Western Australia. It is also a subject that is of interest to all citizens of this country, as it is of interest to all fairminded people all over the world. The matter to which I refer is that of the concept or principle of one vote one value-a principle that does not apply in my home State, a principle that did not apply to the people of Western Australia when they elected the State government at the last election, nor indeed will apply when the next State election is held. Much publicity and debate has been focused in the last month or so on the blatant redistribution of State electoral boundaries in Queensland, and rightly so. It is disgusting that such a gerrymander could happen in the State of a country that professes on the world stage to being a democracy. The people of Queensland are rightly outraged about what is planned for them, just as the people of Western Australia are outraged about what is imposed on them in my home State.

I wish to spend a few moments outlining some recent figures on electoral enrolments in Western Australia. I will use these figures to prove that equal universal suffrage does not exist in Western Australia, particularly in the election of members of the Legislative Council. I will use the figures to prove that some individual votes in parts of Western Australia are equal to 11 times the value of those votes of other citizens in a different part of the State. By way of background I inform the Senate that there are some 37 seats in the Legislative Assembly, and 17 provinces in the Legislative Council each electing two members, giving a total of 34 Council members. Of all the Australian States and Territories, electoral enrolments for the Western Australian Parliament show by far the greatest variations. The only other Houses in this country where unequal enrolments are possible are the Tasmanian Legislative Council and, of course, the Queensland House of Assembly. In the Commonwealth House of Representatives and most State parliaments electoral enrolments may vary by only 10 per cent. However, that is not the case in Western Australia.

To give an indication of what I mean, the average number of voters in the Assembly districts contained in the metropolitan area of Perth at the moment is 19,653 and the average number of Assembly voters in districts in the rural areas of Western Australia is 10,222, giving an overall State average of 15,186. The highest enrolment is in the Assembly seat of Murdoch, with 27,991 voters-a variation of 84.3 per cent over the State average. It is by far the largest seat in terms of numbers of voters. The lowest seat, Murchison-Eyre, with 3,563 electors, is 76.5 per cent below the average State enrolment figure. In the Legislative Council the average enrolment for those seats in the metropolitan area is 84,227. For the rural area it comes right back to 27,600, giving an average State enrolment of 50,917. The province with the highest number of enrollees is the North-East Metropolitan Province, with 95,224-87 per cent over the State average. The lowest, Lower North, with 8,588 voters, is 83.1 per cent below the State average-an enormous variation from what applies to national seats and seats in most other States of this country.

To show how minorities can control the State I will give some examples of what is possible under the present distribution. The 29 districts with the lowest enrolment elect 29 of the 57 members in the Legislative Assembly, so they can control the Assembly. Their total numbers of enrollees need only amount to around 35 per cent. We could be governed by a minority of 35.5 per cent. The Assembly district with the highest enrolment contains over 7 1/2 times as many electors as the district with the lowest enrolment. The nine Legislative Council provinces with the lowest enrolments elect 18 of the 34 councillors, so it can control the Legislative Council with only 27.8 per cent of the vote. The four Legislative Council provinces with the lowest enrolments together contain a lower number of electors than the province with the highest number of enrollees at the moment. In other words, the four lowest together total 85,507 voters, as opposed to North-East Metropolitan with 95,224. The four together can elect eight representatives; North-East Metropolitan can elect only two. In the Legislative Council the ratio of voters for the North-East Metropolitan Province and Lower North Province is over 11:1. The votes of people in Murchison, in Lower North, have 11 times the value of the votes of people in North-East Metropolitan Province.

Part of the reason for the anomalies that I have just outlined-some of them involve population growth as well, which enlarges the variation-is that the State is divided up into three electoral areas. This is not done by any electoral commissioner; it is done by the Parliament itself. Earlier this week, I think it was Tuesday, Senator Walsh outlined the gerrymander that had been sought in the northern area of our State. The boundaries of the seat of Kimberley were redrawn to include the inland mining areas. We have had three separate, distinct boundary areas drawn up by parliament supposedly to give the rural voters votes equal in value to those of people in the metropolitan area. The State is divided into three areas-the Metropolitan area; the Agricultural, Mining and Pastoral area, and the North-West Murchison-Eyre area. The seat of Kimberly, which is by far the most distant seat from Perth, actually has an enrolment of 17,728, which is equivalent to that in a number of metropolitan seats. It is a blatant abuse of the powers of parliament by the previous Western Australian State Government.

But the abuse of parliamentary power really comes to the fore in the activities of the Council, acting in its position as a House of review, and what it has done to various pieces of legislation over the last 20-odd years. During the life of the present Burke Labor Government, whose term of office is getting on for three years, the Council, in its wisdom, has rejected 10 pieces of legislation. Some of them-not all of them, of course-have dealt with electoral reform. The Court, and later O'Connor, coalition Government was in office for nine years. In that nine-year period the Council did not seek to exercise its power of veto on one occasion. The government previous to that was the Tonkin Labor Government. Again, it was in office for three years and the Council sought on 21 occasions to reject that Government's legislation. Before that we had the Brand coalition Government in office for 12 years, and in that 12 years only one piece of legislation was rejected by the Council. Prior to that the Hawke Labor Government was in office for six years, and 20 pieces of legislation were rejected in that time. From those figures, Labor has been in office for 12 years and has had 51 pieces of legislation rejected, but the coalition was in office for 21 years and had one piece of legislation rejected. I do not need to say, for the benefit of other than Western Australians listening to this broadcast, that the Legislative Council in the Western Australian Parliament is controlled by the Opposition parties.