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Thursday, 18 June 1903

Mr SKENE (Grampians) - I had no intention of taking part in this debate until the Minister for Home Affairs declared that he did not propose to make the same effort to discover the electors whose names do not appear on the Federal roll in Victoria that he intends to put forth in New South Wales. He bases his reason for making this distinction upon the expense which would be involved. ' It has been stated in the press that of the 35,000 electors who have not been enrolled in Victoria, 30,000 are resident in the country districts. It is very probable that that isa fact, , because in the drought-stricken districts of this State, whatever may be the position in Ne\, South Wales, regarding the distribution of the electors who have not been enrolled-

Mr Wilks - I was quoting from the official returns.

Mr SKENE - I am perfectly satisfied, so- far as Victoria is concerned, that the names of a large number of the dwellers in the northern areas do not appear on the rolls. At the time that the rolls were collected they were absent from their homes. The whole of the small holders in the mallee district were compelled by the drought to leave their homes and go south, taking their stock with them. This is a most important matter, because 30,000 electors in the country represent not merely a quota, but the maximum for an electorate.

Sir William Lyne - Their names would still be upon the roll.

Mr SKENE - One country electorate has been entirely cut out of the plan of the new districts, and if that has been done by reason of the residents being absent from their homes, and becoming enrolled elsewhere

Mr Tudor - They do not water their stock in the metropolitan areas, surely.

Mr SKENE - Probably the honorable member does not know as much about this matter as I do. I am aware that the whole of the stock in the district which I have mentioned was removed to districts south of the Dividing Range. Assuming that these people were enrolled outside of their own district, the effect must still be the loss of the electorate from which they came. The Wimmera electorate was reduced by 5,000 votes. Seeing that the temporary absence of these electors from their homes would .have that effect, I do not think that the Minister, because of the expense that would be involved, should stay his hand in endeavouring to find them. He says that such action will cost only £350 in New South Wales, whereas in Victoria it would cost £3,500. Buj, even if it did cost that sum - assuming that a country electorate has been wiped out of existence because of the abnormal conditions prevailing when the roll was being compiled - it is surely worth the expenditure to have it restored. When the Electoral Bill was under discussion, the matter to which I am now directing attention was very strongly argued by the representatives of country constituencies, and was eventually settled in a fair spirit. I hold that, as far as possible, the country districts should be given reasonable representation - a larger representation than that to which they are numerically entitled as compared with the city electorates. That was conceded when Parliament fixed a margin of 20 per cent, either above or below the quota in connexion with the representation of rural districts in this Parliament. If the country is not diligently searched for these electors, and if an electorate has been struck out, the whole advantage which Parliament proposed to confer upon those districts . has vanished. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will reconsider his attitude upon this matter. Certainly the expenditure of £3,500 is not a large one to insure fair play as between town and country districts, which fair play this House decided should be given under the Electoral Act.

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