Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 15 November 1983
Page: 2704

Mr STEELE HALL(8.36) —by leave-I move:

(1) Paragraph (1), omit sub-paragraph (g), substitute the following sub- paragraph: '(g) electoral distribution and numbers of Members of Parliament . . .

He moved that motion on behalf of the Liberal Party. The honourable member for Boothby said:

The first amendment seeks to add to paragraph (1) (g) of the motion the words ' and numbers of Members of Parliament'. I have included this as an additional point of study and recommendation for the Minister's consideration because the number of members of parliament is a very important aspect.

This matter was not raised by the National Party; it was not raised by the Labor Party. It was raised by the honourable member for Boothby who, I thought, was the spokesman for the Liberal Party on this issue.

Mr Leo McLeay —When was that?

Dr KLUGMAN —It was on 4 May this year when the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform was set up.

Mr Leo McLeay —You mean it was his idea?

Dr KLUGMAN —The honourable member said:

It is a subject of great concern to some people. If this is included in the terms agreed to by the Minister it would allow members of the public to give their views as to whether there should be more members of parliament, whether the status quo should be retained . . .

Mr Leo McLeay —Is it all his fault?

Dr KLUGMAN —It is the honourable member for Boothby. One could not have more consensus. The Liberal Party moved a motion for the consideration of the matter; the National Party made the appropriate submission; and the Labor Party was persuaded on the issue.

Let me make one point in relation to an argument that is advanced by members of the Liberal Party. I tried to act as a fairly objective Chairman of the Committee. Some members of the Liberal Party are not being terribly numerate, with all due respect to them. They see this proposal as a deep plot, so far as the Labor Party and the National Party are concerned. Former Senator Puplick, whom I consider a rational person, in conjunction with the Director of the Institute of Public Affairs, wrote a pamphlet for the Institute on the subject of more federal parliamentarians. He put up the proposition that this year, under the proposed enlargement of Parliament, 14 of the extra 23 parliamentarians would have been from the Labor Party and nine would have been from the Liberal-National Party. I do not dispute that statement, I have not checked the figures. But let us assume hat those figures based on material which was prepared by Malcolm Mackerras are accurate.

I refer to what happened this year. In the elections we got 75 seats and the Liberal-National Party got 50 seats. That is a ratio of 60 : 40 or 3 : 2. For practical purposes, out of 23 extra seats one would expect a result of 14 Labor and 9 Liberal-National Party. Do Liberal members expect that at the next elections we will have the same result as to the numbers of people voting for the different parties as happened in 1983? I would think there is no method by which they could win under those circumstances. We should be looking at figures for, say, 1980, 1974 and 1969 when elections in Australia produced close results . To calculate what the result of a particular reform would be one must try to determine what would happen if the voting trends were as they were in 1969, 1974 and 1980. Those elections were won twice by the coalition parties and once by the Labor Party with very, very narrow margins. One would probably find that out of the 23 seats-obviously we do not know how they would be redistributed-they would break 12 to 11 to one party or the other. The proposal does not represent bias towards one party. I think it is impossible to predict what the result will be of a particular method of redistribution.

I am sure that in 1948 when Arthur Calwell introduced measures to enlarge the size of the Parliament and to change the method of election to the Senate for the 1949 election, he thought that this move would have a terrific result for the Labor Party, otherwise he would not have been able to get the proposals through the Labor Party Caucus. We all know what the result was in 1949. I make the point that this legislation does not attempt to achieve a means of installing a permanent Labor government. I do not think there is any method to do that except by persuading people to keep on voting for us and that is a different issue altogether.

For those who will be following this debate by reading Hansard, I seek leave for table 6 on page 137 of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform's report to be incorporated in Hansard. The table shows the average number of enrolled voters in each electoral division on a State basis in 1949, 1983 and with the proposed increase.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-


Average Average Average

enrolment enrolment enrolment

per division per division Per cent with more Per cent

1949 March 1983 difference members difference State

(A) (B) B/A (C) C/A

per cent per cent NSW 40,782 75,536 (43) * 85.2 63,687 (51) * 56.2 Vic. 41,510 75,663 (33) 82.3 64,023 (39) 54.2 Qld 38,724 81,826 (19) 111.3 61,369 (24) 58.5 SA 43,432 80,085 (11) 84.4 67,764 (13) 56.0 WA 39,471 72,507 (11) 83.7 61,352 (13) 55.4 Tas. 32,308 56,493 (5) 74.9 56,493 (5) 74.9 ACT 11,841 68,662 (2) . . 68,662 (2) . . NT 6,586 57,471 (1) . . 57,471 (1) . .

Total average 39,948 74,989(125) 87.7 63,335(148) 58.5

* Figures in brackets in Column B refer to number of Members at March 1983.

* Figures in Column C, refer to number of Members if proposal to increase size of Parliament were accepted.

Dr KLUGMAN —I thank the House. The important point to realise is that the average enrolment per division in 1949 was 39,948. In March 1983, it was just under 75,000, an increase of 87.7 per cent. If the Representation Bill is passed and the increase in the number of members in the House of Representatives is granted, there will still be as of March 1983 about 63,000 enrolments in each electoral division. That represents an increase of some 58.5 per cent on the 1949 figures. It is important to realise that these enrolments are growing at a terrific pace. Take the average enrolment figures per electorate for New South Wales. I have not done the figures for the other States. In March 1983, when we prepared the report, it was 63,687; it is now 65,000. The figure has already increased by nearly 1,500 in just six months or so. In addition to that, one of the recommendations which everybody has accepted and which is now in the Bill is the compulsory enrolment of Aborigines. From now on it will be compulsory for Aboriginal people to enrol. I cannot recall the figures of the extra numbers involved but obviously in many electorates there will be a significant number. That factor in itself will again increase the average enrolment in each electorate.

In the couple of minutes that I have left before the suspension of the sitting for dinner, I will quickly refer to some of the arguments which have been made by other honourable members before I get on to my main argument in favour of increasing the number of members in the House of Representatives. Among the arguments for such an increase in the number of enrolments, is the claim that a larger parliament would strengthen the operation of the parliamentary system, a great number of extra responsibilities have been put on parliamentarians and on Parliament itself, access of electors to political representatives is demanded more now than it has been in the past and, most importantly, the growing involvement by the Federal Parliament in additional issues since 1949. I think everybody would agree that the list is impressive. The list includes: Aboriginal affairs, more extensive social welfare and health policies, uniform legislation such as company law, education, environment and conservation, family law, status of women, law reform and legal aid, ethnic affairs, consumer affairs, child care , minerals and energy policy, tourism and small business, sport and recreation, cultural affairs and the national heritage, federal affairs and local government , science and technology, electronic communications such as television and satellites, an expanded industrial relations role for the Federal Parliament, more complex economic issues and greater involvement in overseas aid. I think that anybody who reflects on these extra responsibilities which have been added to the responsibilities of the Federal Parliament and of Federal parliamentarians since 1949, in addition to the, I think, 87 per cent increase in the number of electors we each represent, must surely see that either the people who were in Parliament in 1949 were tremendously under-employed or obviously more members are now needed. Before we break for dinner, I will deal with one extra point which the honourable member for Boothby made. It was about the extra bureaucracy and the extra cost involved in having an additional 23 members and 12 senators. The honourable member suggested an extra staff member for each member of Parliament. That would give us an extra 189 staff members; at present there are 189 parliamentarians.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Dr KLUGMAN —Before the suspension of the sitting, honourable members will recall , I pointed out that this was a real consensus piece of legislation dealing with the increase in the size of Parliament. I pointed out that when the Committee was set up the honourable member for Boothby, who led for the Liberal Party of Australia, moved a motion to increase the number of members in Parliament. The National Party of Australia made the recommendation for the increase and presented the arguments. For practical purposes, members on the Committee adopted the recommendation from the National Party for very good reasons.

I pointed out that the Federal Parliament-quite apart from the fact that the last increase in the number of members was in 1949-has now got a very large number of additional issues which the people in 1948-49 never thought about as being Federal issues. Two members of the Committee dissented. As I pointed out earlier, the honourable member for Boothby dissented-to some extent it contradicts his present position-on the basis that it would be better to give an extra staff member to every one of the 189 parliamentarians at present. He considered that the extra staff member would be better than adding the extra parliamentarian. Senator Sir John Carrick, who was the other Liberal Party member on the Committee, reacted with the usual sort of argument used in the United States when somebody is asked whether a particular person claims to be a progressive republican. He is then asked the difference between a progressive republican and a conservative republican and says that a conservative republican is against change whilst a progressive republican is in favour of change but not now. That was exactly the attitude taken by Senator Sir John Carrick on this issue. He supported the increase but he felt that this was not an opportune time to go ahead with the increase and stated his reasons, which are basically economic, and contradicted his colleague who is leading for the Liberal Party in this House.

One of the arguments presented by the honourable member for Boothby-I think it is an argument that is accepted by others-is that the increase would interfere with the running of Parliament because six people will be elected from each State for the Senate at each Senate election and, therefore, the Senate will be deadlocked all the time. I have some difficulty in accepting that proposition because in fact it is likely that either the Australian Democrats or some other minority party will win the sixth seat in most cases and the remaining five seats in each state will be divided on the basis of which major party, in effect , wins the election in that particular State. But even if the proposition were true that the Senate were divided or that the Government will always have to depend on minority parties, I am not completely convinced that that is a bad thing. I know that it is, to some extent, going against the sorts of propositions we usually have to put in this House. My own view-I have expressed it before-is reflected in one of the editorials of the Sydney Morning Herald. The article states:

. . . the committee's arguments in favour of its recommendation are plausible and deserve more than the simplistic response that Australia already has too many politicians.

There are two main arguments in favour of expanding the size of the House of Representatives.

The article pointed out that the expansion of the Senate is as a result of the nexus provision in the Constitution. It stated that one argument is because of the growth in population, et cetera. I have dealt with that matter. The article continued:

The second argument is one for more legislators-

the word 'legislators' is reflected in dark black-

to increase the effectiveness of the Parliament as a countervailing force to the executive government, which has grown substantially since 1949. This is a worthy objective but there is nothing to suggest that this would necessarily follow from a larger House of Representatives. The failure of the House, unlike the Senate, to develop an effective Committee system, or similar procedures to more effectively scrutinise legislation, has been one of its own making.

To some extent that is true. I think it is changing. We have accepted the proposition that it would be a good idea to have more committees, either joint committees between the two Houses or committees of this House, dealing with issues rather than leaving it to the Senate committees. I certainly hope that the House will continue to insist on that proposition. I previously stated my own views that I do not think that the main aim of parliamentarians should be to be legislators. My own view would be that the increase in the number of parliamentarians would in fact reduce the proportion of the Executive or the so- called legislators in the party room. This would force the Executive to persuade a larger number of potential critics and maybe sometimes fail to do so. We have a situation at present where a large proportion of the Government party meetings are in fact members of the Ministry and those who have some other position which , in some way, ties them to a large extent to the Executive position in the broadest sense.

In the administration of the Fraser Government it is true to say that once matters came to the party room it was extremely difficult to raise issues to change a government decision. I have never been particularly impressed by claims of consecutive governments of varying political complexion that the number of laws passed is in any way related to the ultimate benefit for the Australian population. The Whitlam Government was terribly keen and proud to say that it passed more laws than any previous Government in its first 12 months or so. The Fraser Government was elected on the basis that it would reduce the amount of legislation. At the end of the first year of its term in office the then Prime Minister Fraser was terribly proud that he had passed more pieces of legislation in the first 12 months than Whitlam had in his first 12 months.

The relationship between benefits to the Australian population and the number of pieces of legislation passed is not proportionate. I would in fact argue that it is often in inverse proportion. In any case we need a significant number of members who are prepared to spend their time looking at proposed legislation and exposing it to more effective criticism both in parliamentary and party committees and in the party room and, in cases where it is appropriate, to changing the legislation and influencing their parties to change the legislation before it is introduced into Parliament. Simplistic parliamentarians are beloved of the media. Others are aware that 'solutions' often lead to more 'problems'. If a politician says that he is not 100 per cent sure and it is unlikely that any decision is a black and white decision but usually they are different shades of grey, the media criticises him. Often the net result is that-with all due respect to the people involved-the people who become leaders have at least to pretend to be rather simplistic and rather simple minded and to be prepared to claim they know the solutions to all the problems. My own view is that there are no solutions to many of the problems.

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.