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Thursday, 19 June 1902


Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - I move -

That the words' " and shall be adhered to as nearly as practicable be omitted.

These words are unnecessary. It is provided that the commissioner may depart from the quota to the extent of 25 per cent., more or less, and these words will restrict his action very considerably. I do not think that in all cases it is fair that the electorates should be equal. At the first glance it might appear to be right that we should have the same number of electors in all electorates so as to secure onevoteonevalue. I deny, however, that this result will be achieved by making all the electorates equal. On the other hand, to equalize the electorates will be to depart absolutely from the principle of one-vote-one-value. It can be shown clearly that the compact bodies of electors in the large centres of population have an immense advantage over the scattered electors of the country districts. True liberals, who desire to see every section of the community possess equal power and equal influence upon legislation, should endeavour to place them upon the same footing, but this cannot be whilst one section stands at a considerable disadvantage as compared with others.


Mr Fowler - That disadvantage cannot be expressed arithmetically.


Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - Not exactly ; but it can be shown beyond all possibility of doubt that it exists to a large extent. I pointed out on a former occasion that the electors in the large centres of population can easily get together, and form associations to promote any views that they may hold. They are close to the seat of government, and in direct contact with the leading officials of the State, and thus they can bring infinitely more influence to bear upon the Government, and upon legislation, than can the electors scattered throughout the country districts. More than that, the metropolitan newspapers exercise an influence on legislation second only to that of Parliament itself. They mould public opinion, and largely sway the proceedings in Parliament. They are circulated throughout the whole of the State in which they are published, and the provincial newspapers take their political tone largely from those published in the capitals. The honorable member for Bland admitted on a former occasion that the electors in the country districts were placed at a considerable disadvantage.


Mr Watson - Not with regard to legislation, but only in respect to administration.


Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - The honorable member must admit that they are at a disadvantage in regard to legislation also. The man who lives next door to the polling booth is better situated than the elector who has to ride 20 miles to record his vote. The honorable member for Bland said that the proportion of electors who recorded their votes was as large in the country districts as in the towns, but I have looked through a large number of the returns in connexion with the Federal elections in all the States, and find that there is no comparison between the city and country electorates. The Federal Parliament has the control of the Tariff, and may impose protective or freetrade duties as it pleases. It also has unlimited powers of taxation. In Victoria, notwithstanding that there has always been a great discrepancy between the representation accorded to the country districts and that given to the metropolitan electorates, the latter have always enjoyed an enormous advantage. In connexion with the Tariff the Victorian Legislature protected every industry in the metropolis, and absolutely refused protection to those in the country. When I entered the Victorian Parliament there was not a single industry in the country which was protected, whilst every metropolitan industry enjoyed protection. A country party was therefore formed, but owing to so many provincial electorates being represented by town men, who refused to extend the principle which they advocated to the country, some years elapsed before we could induce a majority to extend protection to the farmer, and place him upon the same footing as the manufacturer. Then, in regard to taxation, what was the action of the Victorian Parliament? It imposed a land tax which did not touch city property.


Mr Fowler - No wonder that the farmers in Victoria are against land taxation.


Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - The land taxation of this State was levied upon its grazing capabilities. There could be no more unfair basis of taxation, because a man could possess a block of land in the city worth £500,000 or £1,000,000, and yet escape taxation.


Mr Watson - We avoided that in New South Wales, where we have something like equal representation.


Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - I find that the provisions of the New South Wales Act are wider than those contained in this Bill, and though the margin is not so great, the conditions which the commissioners have to take into consideration there are more favorable to the country districts than they are in Victoria. The Federal Parliament has sole control of the Tariff, and therefore the honorable member must see that if we give an undue preponderance of political power to the cities, it will be possible to tax the country resident up to the hilt, and to let the city resident go free. The industries in large centres of population will probably be protected, while those in the country will be entirely unprotected. As I pointed out, although in Victoria we make a consideraable allowance for the scattered country electorates, out of fifteen of those for the return of members to the House of Representatives, four seats are filled by city men. The whole of the eight seats accorded to the city are also filled by city residents. Therefore, the metropolis has twelve representatives in this House, whereas the country districts have only eleven. Moreover, the city has the whole of the representation in the Senate.


Mr Spence - That is the fault of the country districts.


Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - It is the fault of the unfortunate conditions which prevail. It is very much easier, in most cases, for a city man to be returned for a provincial district, than for a country man. I admit that city members represent the country to the best of their ability, but their associations are with the city, so that they represent the metropolis just as much as they do the country. Take the case of the honorable member for Bland, whom everyone will acknowledge to be a fairminded man. I am sure that he wishes to do justice to his constituents, and yet when we are dealing with a question of vital importance for the country districts, his unconscious bias induces him to vote for the city as against the interests of the people whom he represents. My honorable friend said the other night that the labor party are always opposed to any departure from the principle of equal electorates. In Victoria, to the credit of that party be it said, they have never asked for that. The man who was the acknowledged leader of that party for many years, until he became a member of the State Government, Mr. Trenwith, was as strong upon this point as I am. He said that he wished to give equal power to every section of the community. But he admitted that the scattered electorates of the country laboured under a great disadvantage as compared with the .compact metropolitan constituencies. He acknowledged that some additional country representation' was necessary to approximately compensate for the great advantages of the compact electorates of the city. He always desired to act fairly in this respect, and I think that the advocates of labour should not confine their advocacy to the city labourer. Surely there are labourers in the country who are entitled to equal consideration. We should strive to place every section of the community upon an equality. At the same time it is utterly impossible to put the country electors in the same position as that occupied by the city electors. Even if the city had no direct representation whatever, it would still influence the course of legislation more than oan the scattered country districts. In the latter, there are such conflicting interests that it is almost impossible for a country resident to be returned to Parliament. I venture to say that if one comes to analyze the representation of the other States in the Senate, it will be found that the great centres of population have supplied the whole of them. The city press generally supports city men. I think that the margin allowed by the Bill is quite wide enough, and all I desire is that we shall not permit restrictions to remain in this clause which will tie the hands of the commissioner in such a way that he cannot act fairly. I agree with the honorable member for Echuca, that the existing electorates should be preserved until there is some great influx or exodus of population from any particular district. I should certainly like to know the views of the Government upon this matter. So far as I am aware, every member of the Government with whom I am acquainted entertains similar views to my own. I know that the two Victorian representatives have always held the same opinion as myself upon this question. The Treasurer is even more pronounced in his views than I am, because when I subdivided this State into electorates for the return of members to this House, he thought that I had not done justice to the country districts. Instead (of there being fifteen country and eight city members he thought there should be sixteen country and seven city members. I am also aware that the Minister for Home Affairs - the cause of whose absence we deeply regret, because we entertain the greatest respect for him - has always held similar views to those which 1 am enunciating, and has fought for his opinions in the New South Wales Parliament.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - He does not hold them now.


Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - He holds those views to the present time, and I have heard him' express them frequently. I think that the Attorney-G eneral should explain whether the Government intend that this provision relating to the one-fourth margin shall or shall not have effect as between country districts and the city. If we know what is intended, and the clause is too ambiguous, it will not be difficult to amend it in the right direction. I hold that we should give a reasonable preponderance of representation to the scattered electorates of the country, in order to modify, even to a limited extent, the great advantages possessed by the electors in the large centres of population.







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