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Wednesday, 23 October 1912

Senator MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then Parliament is the body which ought to lay down the practice, but it has laid down in the Electoral Act the ideal of an equal value to each vote.

Senator Stewart - That is what I am after.

Senator MILLEN - Then how can the honorable senator contend that there should be greater representation given to country electors than to town electors ?

Senator Stewart - I shall tell you that in a few minutes.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator has told us some extraordinary things in his time, and I shall listen with a great deal of pleasure when he defends that principle. It seems to me that from the stand-point of numbers, the gentlemen who are responsible for the Queensland scheme have made a very successful distribution.

Senator Givens - And that is the only good thing you can say about it.

Senator MILLEN - I do not know enough of the local circumstances to refer to the scheme apart from the matter of numbers. Whilst a fairly successful redistribution has been arrived at, still, even here, there is an excess of electors in the metropolitan electorates, and a deficiency in the country electorates. I admit that the excess and the deficiency are both small, but still they exist. If they had stood alone, I should not have drawn attention to the fact, but I shall be able to show later that the same practice prevails everywhere, and that at least in one State - New South Wales - the discrepancy is so serious as to justify attention being directed to it. To justify that statement may I incidentally give the figures for the other States. In Western Australia the quota is 30,391. Here there is a departure from what I affirm is the general rule, because the metropolitan electorates are under the quota and the country electorates are in excess of it - a position which is explained by a statement in the report, which sets out that that has been deliberately done in view of the fact that the metropolitan electorates are growing in numbers, while comparatively the country electorates are losing in numbers.

Senator Rae - Do you admit the right of the Commissioners to alter the electorates in anticipation?

Senator MILLEN - I do not. If that is to be done it ought to be done by Parliament. I am inclined to press the view that Parliament has affirmed in the Electoral Act the desire to attach to each vote an equal value, and there ought to be no departure from that, unless with its sanction. In Victoria, the quota is 34,648. In the metropolitan electorates the number allowed is in excess of the quota - not a very great excess, but still an excess - while in the country electorates there is a deficiency, the same as in Queensland. When I turn to the figures for New South Wales I find that the same principle has been followed out of giving to country electors a larger representation than they are arithmetically entitled to. New South Wales furnishes the most curious case of the lot. The redistribution scheme discloses that there are eleven metropolitan and submetropolitan electorates, and that the average number of electors is 37,500. The quota for the State is 34,657, so that, for the metropolitan and sub-metropolitan electorates, the quota is exceeded by about 3,000. The average number for the sixteen country electorates is 32,691. The average difference between the town and the country electorates is nearly 5,000, while in the sixteen electorates there is a difference of 53,000 electors, being a quota and a half. The country electors are receiving a member and a half more than they are entitled to receive according to their numbers. If we are going to adopt the policy that the value of a vote shall be determined by the locality in which the voter resides, it ought to be decided here, and set out in the Electoral Act ; but in the whole of these schemes, with one exception - and I cannot regard it as an accident, seeing that it takes place in every State - there has been followed out this principle of giving to country electors smaller electorates from the stand-point of numbers than are given to metropolitan electors. The margin was put in the Electoral Act, not as a direction to the Commissioners to utilize it when they could avoid it, but because it was recognised that we could not have entirely equal electorates. Surely it was never intended that the Commissioners should use it, within the margin which the Act necessarily afforded, for the purpose of founding an entirely new system. That is what they are certainly doing. One hesitates to bring officials into the matter, but I do know that some officials hold the opinion that there ought to be an inequality in the representation of the country as against the town.

Senator Fraser - So there ought to be.

Senator MILLEN - If so, it is Parliament which, should affirm that, and not the officials. Parliament has given a clear direction in the Act that, as far as possible, the electorates ought to be equal in numbers. In order that I may dispose of the objection which may be raised that the Act allows a variation from the quota to the extent of 20 per cent, one way or the other, I may say that I should not take any exception if it had been utilized in the case of the town electorates as well as the country electorates. But when I find that all the variations below the quota are in the case of country electorates, and all the variations above the quota are in the case of town electorates, I venture to say that it is not due to accident, or to the pressure of numbers, but is the result of some set purpose and design. It is not possible for me to take any exception, apart from this matter, to the other scheme, which will come under review to-day, but I would point out to honorable senators that if this practice is continued, Parliament may be called upon to make an amendment' in the Electoral Act which will lessen the quota, or give a more emphatic direction to warn the Commissioners against the pernicious doctrine on which they have been acting.

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