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Monday, 11 December 1905

Mr BATCHELOR (Boothby) - It is no wonder that the appreciation of Parliament by the public and the press is said to be decreasing when honorable members themselves are afraid to trust Parliament to do its work.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Parliament has allowed inequalities to exist for years.

Mr BATCHELOR - Courts have also allowed inequalities to exist. The instance cited by the honorable member tells against the present system, but I do not think that a similar instance will occur again.

Mr Lonsdale - Why not?

Mr BATCHELOR - Because the circumstances which created it are not likely to arise again. This Parliament seems to be more afraid than are other Parliaments to trust itself to act fairly and justly. One of our first actions was to prevent the exercise of political influence in connexion with the management of the Public Service, in which matter I think we made a mistake, because we went to an extreme.

Mr Lonsdale - The New South Wales Parliament has removed the control of the Public Service of that State from political influence.

Mr BATCHELOR - The New South Wales Public Service Act is not nearly so drastic in this respect as is ours. Then we took from ourselves the right to deal with disputed elections, and handed it to a Court of Disputed Returns. I do not feel strongly on that subject, though I think that a Parliament elected by,, and re sponsible to, the people is the best Court to try such matters. Now the Senate proposes that the distribution of divisions for this House shall be determined without appeal by a Court of three persons. However much that Court may show itself guilty of party bias - and it is not uncommon for Courts to err in that direction - no matter how much injustice and gerrymandering may have been "done, no appeal will lie from its decision. The representatives of the people will have to sit quietly under injustice, and will not be able even to raise their voices against it. If the work had to be done by Parliament itself, our decisions would go before the people for indorsement, but the proposed Court need not even give reasons for what it does, and will not require any indorsement of its actions by the people. The Court is to be formed of a Judge of a Court of a State, the Surveyor-General, or head of the Survey Department of the State, and the Commonwealth electoral officer of the State, or of two State officials and one Commonwealth official.

Mr Fisher - The appointment of those persons is not mandatory.

Mr BATCHELOR - If any of them are not available, the Governor-General may appoint others. I do not think that a Court so constituted would be a good one. Reference has been made to the inequalities between the present New South Wales divisions, which are certainly gross, and should be altered; but there will be great inequalities between the divisions prepared by the proposed Court, if the margin allowed by the Electoral Act is adopted. South Australia was only recently distributed into divisions by a Commissioner; but one of these divisions contains nearly 36,000 electors, and another only 21,000; and the division whose population is growing the faster contains the larger number of electors. A distinct party spirit was shown in that redistribution, though unintentionally, but it was a distribution made by a Commissioner, and not by Parliament. I do not suggest that he was guilty of party bias, but, strangely enough, that was a case of what looked like gerrymandering, in which Parliament should have interfered. I asked the House to do so, but nothing was done, probably because we were at the time near the end of a session. If this clause were passed as it stands, however, a member would not have an opportunity to point out defects in any distribution, and very bitter feeling would be caused. The case to which I have referred shows the need for bringing these matters before Parliament, because what was done on a small scale in. South Australia might be done on a large scale in another State, and in some instances the Court might be guilty of direct party bias.

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