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Thursday, 26 October 1905

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) - I should now like to lay before honorable senators the effect of the amendments which I intend to submit. Although I know that technically I should confine myself to the proposed new clause under discussion, I am sure it will suit the convenience of the Committee if I am allowed, in explaining the purpose of the immediate amendment, to refer to the amendments to be submitted later on. The present Act provides that where a redistribution scheme is necessary, the Government shall appoint a Commissioner for each State. The duty of that Commissioner is to divide the State into a number of electorates corresponding to the number of members to be returned to the House of Representatives. Having mapped the State into electorates, as nearly equal in numerical strength as possible, the Commissioner advertises the scheme, and invites objections or suggestions. Under the Act he is called upon to consider these objections or suggestions, and, after a lapse of a certain period1, he, as it were, revises his own work, and presents the scheme to the Minister, whose duty it is to submit it to both Houses of Parliament. If Parliament approves of the scheme, it then, by proclamation, becomes law ; but if Parliament dis; approves, then the scheme is thrown back into the melting-pot. It appears to be optional whether the Minister sends the scheme back to the Commissioner, but, if he does so, it is the duty of the Commissioner to devise another. What I propose is practically to remove the parliamentary veto; to provide that, instead of the scheme coming to Parliament for acceptance or rejection, it shall in- itself be final. If that amendment be adopted, it would, perhaps, place too dangerous a power in the hands of a single Commissioner, and, for that rea-. son, I submit an amendment providing for three Commissioners. Under my amendment, section 12, which provides that the State shall be divided into a number of electorates, will remain, while section 13 will provide for the appointment of three Commissioners, namely, a Judge of a Court of the State, the Surveyor-General, or head of the Survey Department of the State, and the Commonwealth' Electoral Officer of the State. I am not at all wedded to the proposal that these particular officials shall be appointed, but I suggest them because they are officials whose special knowledge would be valuable, bearing in mind the work with which they would be intrusted. It is necessary to provide for temporary disability on the part of any or all of these officials, either through illhealth or absence owing to holidays, or other causes; and therefore I propose that the Governor-General may, for reasons which appear sufficient to him, appoint other persons to perform the duties. This latter provision is necessary to prevent a dead-lock. If the amendment now before the Committee be carried, clauses 14 to 19 inclusive will remain, leaving the procedure exactly as it is tb-day. The three Commissioners will discharge the same duties as the single Commissioner is now called upon to discharge under the Act. It is in regard to sections 20 and 21 that I propose radical amendments. Section 20 provides that the Commissioner's report and the map shall be submitted to Parliament, and that section I propose to strike out. In section 21, which provides that if both Houses of Parliament approve of the redistribution, the Governor-General mav, by proclamation, declare the names and boundaries of the divisions, I propose to insert the further amendment that on the completion of -the work by the three Commissioners, the scheme, after the consideration of objections and suggestions, shall, as revised, become the law of the land. In other words, the amendment will entirely remove parliamentary control. And I ask honorable members whether they do not consider my proposal better and more workable than the provision in the Act? Parliament has an inherent, and a very natural and understandable objection to change. I need only refer to the fate which overtook the redistribution scheme submitted in another place prior to the last general election - a scheme which was subjected to severe criticism and thrown out. The difficulty of getting a redistribution scheme through Parliament will always be present. There will always be a temptation, both on the part of members and of the Ministry, which only exists by the support of numbers, to regard any alteration with suspicion and dislike. Not only has the Commonwealth Parliament already had experience in this connexion, but in New South- Wales, and doubtless in other States, every proposal for redistribution has' been postponed as long as possible - has been met by either open obstruction, or, more frequently, by efforts to quietly side-track it. The natural disinclination of the average member to have his constituency disturbed is a potent factor in bringing about that fate. If we have a Commission of men whose position in the Public .Service places them above suspicion, we may safely leave this work in their hands. If we honestly desire to give effect to the Constitution, which provides for equality of representation, we must remove the question of redistribution entirely from the arena of political influence; and that can only be done by some such proposal as that I submit. The amendments simply provide that automatically, as the number of electors ebbs and flows - as the electors move 'from one portion of a State to another - and as a State gains or loses a member, redistribution shall take place on a fixed principle, whether or not it suits the circumstances or exigencies of political parties. So far, I have heard of only one objection to the amendment now before us, and it was voiced by Senator Keating when I first submitted the proposal. The Minister said with some truth that there is always a certain amount of jealousy on the part of the House of Representatives, or the Chamber which in a State Parliament corresponds more nearly to' the

House of Representatives, in matters pertaining to particular electorates. . But I want to see whether that argument applies to a Parliament constituted as the Federal Parliament is. I admit that there is a great deal of force in the argument as applied to the ordinary Legislative Assembly of a State; but if there is any matter which distinctly comes within the functions of the Senate, as the States Chamber, it is that which I am now submitting to the Senate as the champion and guardian of States interests. It is quite true that the High Court is the guardian of States rights, but the Senate was specially constituted and designed to be the guardian of States interests. It may happen that, accordingly as another place accepts or rejects a redistribution scheme, a State may gain or lose a member. For instance, if it were shown to-day that the State of Queensland was entitled to ten representa-. fives-

Senator Turley - Which it is.

Senator MILLEN - If the honorable senator pleases, I shall say that Queensland is entitled to ten members. Under the present Act, if a scheme for redistribution were prepared by the Commissioner and laid before Parliament, the nine Queensland members, joining with other members, might elect to reject it. If an election came on, Queensland, which was entitled to ten members, would be able to elect only nine, because no redistribution scheme had been approved beyond that which provided for that number. The result would be that Queensland would be practically robbed of a member, or of one-tenth of the representation to which it is entitled. It is the duty of the Senate to provide adequate machinery to insure that each State shall have its full measure of representation. This is a matter which appeals to us, because we represent the States as a whole, whereas members of another place - I do not wish to reflect on them in any way - who vote in regard to individual electorates, may reason-, ably be supposed to be under some bias. That bias, of course, may be unconscious, because we are all subject to unconscious bias ; and "it is excusable if the representative of an electorate in another place regards his local interests as perhaps of more importance than States interests. But we, who represent the States as a whole, mav be pardoned if we claim that we are in ? better position to view the interests of a State as a whole than are those who represent merely a portion of a State.

I have indicated, what seems to me a sufficient answer to the statement of the Minister, that by the rejection of a redistribution scheme a State might lose a member to which it is entitled, or might be unable to retain a member to which it is entitled. For that reason, and in order that we may loyally give effect to section 24 of the Constitution which provides that representation shall be according to population, it is not only desirable, but to my mind it is absolutely necessary that we should take away from Parliament the power t'o tamper with a redistribution scheme, or to postpone its consideration so as to deprive any State of the representation to which it is entitled. I have previously addressed myself to the question, and I propose to do no more now than to ask honorable senators to regard my proposal quite apart from any immediate effect it may have in any particular State. I have not myself considered what effect it will have in that way. We are here providing machinery which, so far as I know, is likely to be the groundwork of our electoral system for many years to come. I believe we are all agreed that political equality is the basis of our existence as a Parliament, and it should be our desire to preserve it. I ask honorable senators to give effect to this proposal to remove parliamentary influence, it may be parliamentary intrigue, and the right of Parliament to tamper or interfere with this matter, and to say once and for all that we shall put beyond political influence the question of the representation of the States in the Federal Parliament.

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