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Thursday, 25 August 1983
Page: 276

Mr GEAR(11.52) —I rise in the grievance debate today, as did my colleague the honourable member for Fadden (Mr Beddall), to talk about an injustice-to the Western Australian people in his case-to the electors whom I represent in Tangney. I refer to the lack of democracy in the Western Australian Legislative Council, a dubious distinction we share with Queensland which, like Western Australia, has a gerrymander entrenched by the conservatives as in the Western Australian upper House. Unless we do something about it the people will continue to be disadvantaged in that the people for whom they vote will never rule on their behalf. In Western Australia we have had responsible government for 95 years. The Labor Party has ruled for 35 of those 95 years but has never had control of the Council. Although it has been in government, it has never had power.

The basis for our proposals is fairness. The basis for the retention of the gerrymander, in Western Australia anyway, is not fairness but power. In the last election the Australian Labor Party gained 51.7 per cent of the vote and had only seven members elected to the Legislative Council whereas the coalition-the Liberal Party and the National Party combined-received 45 per cent of the vote and had nine members elected. Although the Labor Party got the majority of the votes it ended up with a minority of members. For many years the rationale for this gerrymander by the conservatives has been the country people's needs. There seems to be a pre-occupation with the rationale that, because there are vast expanses of country between electors, somehow their needs have to be met by having a mal apportionment. The conservatives seem to think that in that way democracy will prevail.

Mr Ian Cameron —You try servicing them. See how good you are.

Mr Cadman —That has never been the case and you know it.

Mr GEAR —There are a couple of things I can say about that argument. My parliamentary colleague the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Campbell) has the biggest electorate in the world. He has no problem in representing that electorate quite adequately. In fact, in the last election he got the biggest swing of any member in this House. That is the rationale of the National Party, of course. Another argument it used was the wealth in rure rationale but it cannot use that any more because everyone is given a vote. I suppose if the wealth in rure rationale were the predominating argument today the National Party would take the right to vote off those people who were not wealthy.

Mr Ian Cameron —I am talking to you, not him.

Mr GEAR —That would suit the honourable member opposite, I know, because his Party has had a vested interest for the last seven years in making people less wealthy than they are in some instances. But the people who have wealth, of course, are well looked after by his mob.

Mr Ian Cameron —We are still governing in Queensland and we will continue to do so.

Mr GEAR —Not for much longer, thank goodness. Let us look at the argument put up about country needs. These are not dinkum arguments. One of the arguments we could use relates to two seats in the lower House-the Legislative Assembly-the seat of Kalamunda, which is only 12 miles from Perth, and the seat of Kimberley, which is many thousands of miles from Perth, at the top of the State. If they were dinkum arguments and if the more remote areas needed fewer people to elect the person who represents them, Kimberley would have fewer voters than Kalamunda . But that is not the case. Kalamunda has fewer voters than Kimberley which is many thousands of miles away. The reason is simple. It is that Kalamunda is represented by the Liberal Party and Kimberley is represented by the Labor Party . So there is no rationale for that argument, which has been with us for a long time.

We could look at a more contemporary argument. Until the last Parliament five seats were classified as being outer metropolitan. They were Mundaring, Kalamunda, Darling Range, Dale and Rockingham. Many of the people who live in those electorates actually work in Perth and travel to and fro every day. The Parliament sets the boundaries in Western Australia. There is no independent committee which does that. In the last Parliament the Liberal Party put Rockingham back into the metropolitan area. The justification for this was, of course, the fact that Rockingham was held by the Labor Party. Mr Mick Barnett, a very able member, held Rockingham. He won it from the Liberals. But because it was a Labor Party seat and Mr Barnett made it a safe Labor Party seat by his hard work, it was put back into the metropolitan area. But it was the most remote electorate in terms of distance of those five seats I have mentioned.

So once again the rationale of the argument about the needs of the country elector was dispensed with on the grounds of political expediency. Political expediencey, of course, involved the fact that Rockingham was held by the Labor Party. By putting Rockingham back into the metropolitan electorates the effect of the Labor Party representation in the Legislative Council was halved. So much for that argument about the needs of country people. It would seem more appropriate in this day and age, when better communications are available, that members representing those country electorates be given the opportunity to have better communications and better transport so that they can communicate with their constituents. I put it to the House that that is a much more reasonable proposition.

The Bourke Government was elected on 19 February. It has three definite proposals which are before the Council at the moment. The first proposal is to abolish the Council system and replace it with proportional representation along the lines of that in the Australian Senate-that is, treating the whole of Western Australia as one electorate and having people elected on a party basis, proportional to the vote they receive in the election. That proposal has already gone through the House of Assembly. Another proposal is to resolve the deadlock between the two Houses. At the moment, unlike the situation with this House, the Legislative Council in Western Australia could send the Assembly to the people but not go itself. It can deny Supply, send the Assembly to the people and not be judged itself.

The third proposal is to make enrolments easier. Western Australia is one of the only two States where it takes two forms to get enrolled for State and Federal elections. Not only is that hard, because one has to fill out two forms, but also things have been made increasingly harder because the State form for the initial enrolment has to be witnessed by a justice of the peace, a commissioner of declarations or a police officer. In this respect I refer again to the needs of the country people in that they are disadvantaged, because of their remoteness, in actually getting to see one of these people. Once again, that reform will advantage country people in that respect in that they can get one of their neighbours, who is already on the electoral roll, to enrol them.

Those three proposals will come before the Council fairly shortly. I ask all those people in Australia who are interested in democracy to take a very close look at what happens in Western Australia. It is also worthy to note that when this House had a look at article 25 of the United Nations International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights, which deals with universal sufferage, that article was not accepted by the Liberal Party. So in that respect the thought of one vote one value, which is denounced by the Liberal Party in Western Australia, has also been denounced by the conservative forces in this chamber.

I close my remarks by saying that it is about time that democracy came to Western Australia, and to Queensland on 22 October.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! It is now 12 noon. In accordance with standing order 106, as amended for this session, the debate is interrupted.

Question resolved in the affirmative.