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Tuesday, 15 November 1983
Page: 2723

Mr HUNT(9.43) —As a member of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform and one who supported the proposal to enlarge Parliament, I am pleased that the Government has seen fit to increase the representation in this place. I suppose two of the most difficult things that politicians ever have to do is to persuade the people, firstly, that they are in need of a parliamentary salary rise on the one hand or, secondly, that there is a need for additional politicans. It is very easy for people to make an argument against why there should be an increase in politicians. But there are very sound reasons for the increase, some of which have been canvassed by my Leader, the right honourable Leader of the National Party and honourable member for Richmond (Mr Anthony), who has been a very firm advocate for much of his parliamentary career for increasing the size of this Parliament. He is the Father of the House and has every reason to be proud of it. He was a very strong advocate for a yes vote in that referendum of 1967, a referendum that was agreed to by the Menzies Government and that was supported by the then Country Party, the Liberal Party and the Australian Labor Party. But because of the activities of a splinter party and a couple of senators who stormed the countryside putting an argument against more politicians, that referendum to break the nexus between the Senate and the House of Representatives was lost. The result and the reasons for the outcome are now history.

The National Party therefore commissioned Malcolm Mackerras to prepare a paper on a proposal to enlarge the Parliament by making a small increase in the number of senators. This paper was made available to the Joint Select Committee. The New South Wales National Party submission, which was a very good submission-it was one of the best submissions that went before the Committee-made a very strong reference to the Mackerras proposal. Indeed, it highlighted and canvassed some of the advantages of the proposal. I am very sad that my Liberal colleagues in our coalition cannot support the proposal of the majority of that Committee. I have seen many computer runs which show that there is no advantage or disadvantage to any of the major parties as a result of an increase in the size of Parliament. I think it is quite wrong for anybody to make assessments that such an increase will favour either the Labor Party or the National Party or that it will disadvantage the Liberal Party. It is quite wrong to make those assessments because the only figures that I have seen do not bear out that argument.

The honourable member for Boothby (Mr Steele Hall) made reference to the likely hung Senate if 12 senators are elected from each of the States. Of course, since 1958 only on four occasions have we not had a hung Senate. In fact, with a proportional representation system of voting, the chances of a hung senate in any event are very likely. I do not think that in this day and age we will ever stop splinter parties from contesting the Senate unless we put prohibitive deposits upon them. At each election for the Senate, we have seen that the number of candidates and parties presenting themselves seem to continue to grow.

This Bill provides for 23 additional members for the House of Representatives and 12 more senators to represent the Australian people in the Parliament. There has been no real increase in representation in the Federal Parliament since 1949 . In those 35 years the population of this country has nearly doubled and the workload on people in this Parliament has multiplied many times. It is inevitable that there will always be public opposition to this type of proposition. But I take the view, as has the Leader of the National Party, that when honourable members think something is right for the government and proper administration of this country, there is an obligation upon them to press that point of view, and to press it here. The people cannot have it both ways. They cannot expect the Parliament to deal satisfactorily with the enormously increased and more diverse work load with the same real number of Federal parliamentary members that represented them in 1949.

As I said earlier, since 1949 our population has doubled and the issues and the work load of this place have multiplied and become more diverse. In recent years senators and members have had some increase in staff and facilities. There are some who advocate more staff and better travel arrangements for parliamentary members and their staff as an alternative to increasing the size of this Parliament. Although there are grounds for some additional assistance-I do not deny that, because members do tell me of their problems-the increase in staff should be no alternative to increasing the numbers of elected representatives. To surround elected representatives with staff will not provide better representation. Staff are not elected by the people; they are not answerable to the people. It is often claimed by people outside this place that the Government has become far too bureacratic. I believe that there is more than a vestige of truth in the assertion. Simply to add further staff to the offices of members and senators would only enhance the bureaucratic system in this country. In any event, it may be no less costly to taxpayers simply to increase staff members rather than increase the numbers of elected members of this House and to increase the number of senators by 12.

Since the size of the Parliament was last increased there has been an increase of approximately 70 per cent in the number of ministries. The pool of members and senators from which the executive of the Government and the Opposition are to be drawn has not grown to the same extent. It is obvious that a larger pool from which to select the Executive should improve the range of talent in ministries. No one can deny that the pressures faced by the Parliament and the issues imposed on parliamentary members are more extensive than they were in 1949. Since that time there has been a growing involvement of this Parliament in such matters as ethnic affairs and environmental issues. Whoever heard of the word 'environment' in 1949? There has been far more interest and involvement in Aboriginal affairs and so on.

The honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) listed a range of matters that have become features of the responsibility of this place since 1949. I shall mention some of them. They are: Aboriginal affairs; uniform legislation such as company law; education; conservation and the national heritage; family law; the status of women; ethnic affairs; child care; tourism; small business; sport and cultural affairs; federal affairs and local government; and electronic communications matters such as the satellite about which a statement was made today.

It is all very well to say that we need smaller government. I think it is a sound argument. I think government has become too big. Does any political party or any politician really believe that we can retreat from such issues as women's affairs? Do we think the women of Australia will allow that to happen? Do we think the greenies around this country will allow the Parliament to absolve itself from the responsibilities of our heritage? Not one bit! We have responsibilities that were undreamed of in 1900 and in 1949. Those responsibilities in a complex, modern society will not get any easier. The parliamentary committee system has grown enormously to cope with these affairs and will continue to do so. For instance, what has happened in the Senate in the last 20 years? It more than doubled in size. There are those who say 'What a pity,' but the fact is that it has happened. I do not think any senator would be prepared to see the abolition of any Senate committees.

A larger parliament would enable more adequate staffing of the entrenched parliamentary committee system. There is no doubt that the committee system is here to stay. It is unlikely to diminish; it will probably become more extensive . An enlarged parliament, of course, would give greater oversight of the Executive, increase the importance of the back bench and help to achieve a better balance between the Executive and the Parliament. I believe that a moderate increase in the number of senators and members, which is what we are talking about, as provided in this legislation will make for better and more efficient government. I believe that it will give electors more leverage and say in the actions of government.

The average House of Representatives electoral enrolment rose from 39,948 in 1949 to 74,989 in 1983. Indeed in some electorates the increase has been far greater. The enrolment in the electorate of the right honourable member for Richmond increased by 105 per cent since 1958. In 1969 there was an enrolment of 45,104 in the electorate of Gwydir, the electorate I am proud to represent. On 4 February 1983 there were no fewer than 73,111 electors as against 45,104 in 1969 . However, in 1969 the electorate covered 77,000 square kilometres. Today the area of the electorate of Gwydir happens to be 242,672 square kilometres and the enrolment has increased by 62 per cent. Therefore, in the 14 years I have been a member of this House not only has the enrolment of the electorate of Gwydir increased but also its area has increased by 312 per cent. The problems for the constituents-forget about the ruddy member-in such a large electorate are enormous indeed. There are over 100 different towns and communities, including one city, 20 local government authorities and no less than six State electorates either in whole or in part within the boundary of the electorate.

Indeed, New South Wales has lost four electorates since 1949, falling from 47 to 43, despite an increase of 70 per cent in the number of voters. Since the 1968 redistribution we have seen the complete elimination of two rural electorates in western New South Wales, namely, the old Darling electorate and the electorate of Lawson. Today, three Federal members represent 70 per cent more voters than five federal members did in 1949 and, indeed, in 1968.

Mr Howard —They are very good members though, Ralph.

Mr HUNT —They are good members, but do not expect too much of them, or of their constituents. It is very important not to do that; that is what this discussion is all about. I do not believe this situation represents a fair go for the people living in rural electorates. The failure to increase the size of the House of Representatives, the reduction in the tolerance for redistributions from 20 per cent to 10 per cent, the removal of area and sparsity of population provisions from the former Electoral Act and the requirement for greater emphasis to be given to rates of population growth have all ensured the elimination of country electorates and the rapid growth in the areas of those which are retained. This Bill will at least arrest the rate at which this process was accelerating and an undesirable trend in the size of rural electorates. That is very important; the constituents are important people.

Today most political parties and almost all political analyists support the elusive concept of one vote, one value. Indeed in 1976 the Liberal-Country Party Federal Government amended the Electoral Act to provide for more even electorates. In so doing the 20 per cent tolerance was reduced to 10 per cent, ' the area and sparsity of population' provisions were removed from the Act and the 'area' provision was replaced by the so-called 5,000 square kilometre provision supposedly designed to ensure that no rural electorate would have more voters than the lowest enrolment in a metropolitan electorate. Seven years on, let us look briefly at what happened to the enrolments of rural electorates in New South Wales. This is very interesting. The State average enrolment as at 4 February 1983 was 75,536 yet the rural electorates averaged 77,327 electors. The 30 metropolitan electorates averaged 74,608 electors-

Mr Fisher —The biggest?

Mr HUNT —No, they are the smallest. Therefore, on average the rural electorates were 2.8 per cent above the average while the metropolitan electorates were 1.23 per cent below the State average.

Mr Goodluck —You blokes are twice as good.

Mr HUNT —We take that for granted. Let us look at what happened to the inner metropolitan electorates. On 4 February they had only 70,683 electors while the average bush electorate had 77,327 electors. I compare the enrolment of my electorate with that of the inner metropolitan electorate of Grayndler, the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Leo McLeay) having spoken just before me. The electorate of Grayndler, with only 66,474 voters covering an area of only 28 square kilometres, compares with the Gwydir enrolment of 73,111 voters covering 242,672 square kilometres. So let nobody talk of rural bias or rural gerrymander . It just does not exist. Indeed, seven years after the redistribution only one State, Victoria, is within cooee of the 10 per cent tolerance below the State quota. It is about 5 per cent below the quota. If the Parliament is really serious about the concept of one vote one value, it should support this legislation.

I mention Tasmania, although I do not speak against it. Tasmania has five representatives here. I think it would be good if it had 10, but it is constitutionally required to have five. It has quality people. The average Tasmanian electorate has 56,493 electors while the South Australian average enrolment is 80,000. So there is a 40 per cent disparity between those two States. This proposal cuts the average enrolment by 50 per cent, bringing the variation from 40 per cent to 20 per cent. If we are consistent about the one vote one value concept it will bring the system more into line with the objectives of all political parties. The National Party has had to suffer. It has had to come down the track to that position. I think that is a very important point to make.

There are those who argue: 'Yes, there is a case for increasing the size of the House of Representatives but not the Senate'. It is argued that this can be achieved by breaking the constitutional nexus between the House of Representatives and the Senate. Such people go on to say: 'I will support a Yes vote in a referendum to achieve this objective'. But there is no way in which such a vote would ever be carried, for the reasons I have stressed. There are those who argue that now is not the time-in the next decade, yes, but not now. That argument is a limp one, in my view, when most people in this place acknowledge that the work load has multiplied and there is a case for a moderate increase in representation. I think we should face up to the fact that what is needed to improve the Parliament is not only an improvement in the quality and the facilities of parliamentarians but also a moderate increase in the number of members. The expectation of the electorate and the duties of parliamentarians have grown tremendously since 1949. Every member of this House is supposed not only to be a protector of the rights of his constituents but also to be on top of new legislation and public demands and to participate in policy formulation. Surely now, a time of a major review of the electoral laws and the building of a new Parliament House, is the time to be setting not only the legislative framework for the way representatives are elected but also the numbers to be elected to serve the interests of this nation into the next century and beyond.