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Tuesday, 3 April 1973
Page: 989

Mr OLDMEADOW (Holt) - I rise to support the Bill. We have just been treated to a most enjoyable piece of oratory by the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen).

It was pleasing however, that in his last 3 or 4 minutes he came back to the point of what the Bill is all about. The crux of the Bill is concerned with a matter which is at the heart of the democratic parliamentary process, namely, that as far as possible the value of a man's vote should be the same wherever he lives. This is far from the situation today.

Mr Garland - Tell us about the 10 per cent.

Mr OLDMEADOW - If the honourable member waits with patience he will get his answer. From the debate on this Bill one can only be amazed at the stand being taken by Liberal Party speakers. In an attempt to maintain the Liberal-Country Party alliance they have abandoned the basic democratic principle which is incorporated in this Bill. They have talked about everything else but this; and the Bill is concerned with one vote, one value. The speeches made by Liberal Party members have been tongue in cheek affairs.

Mr Garland - Tell us where the 10 per cent comes in.

Mr OLDMEADOW - If the honourable member has patience, I will tell him. The demands of political convenience should not be placed above issues of principle and the principle with which we are concerned is equitable electoral boundaries. It is no surprise that speakers from the Country Party have opposed this Bill vehemently. After all, they are fighting for their political survival and undoubtedly this Bill will remove from the Country Party the favoured electoral conditions that it enjoys at present. We on the Government side accept that this Bill does not go all the way - this was made clear in the second reading speech of the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) - in achieving equality of representation. What we are saying is that this is a necessary first step. We know that it is impossible to have electorates of exactly the same size at this point of time. We believe that it would be far more democratic if representation were on the basis of number of people in an electorate rather than numbers of voters. Again, we concede that this is not possible. We further concede that the Constitution Act itself restricts the principle at which we are aiming. Section 7 of the Constitution provides that all original States, irrespective of population, shall have equal representation in the Senate. Section 24 requires that original States, irrespective of population, shall have a minimum of 5 representatives in the House of Representatives. These provisions have meant that in the 73 years of the Federal Parliament there has been an inflated value for the voters of Tasmania.

Members from this side do not accept the provisions of the Electoral Act which allow and, in fact, direct the redistribution commissioners to set boundaries enclosing populations in particular electorates up to 20 per cent above or below a State's quota figure. We contend that a much fairer figure would be 10 per cent. We contend also that matters such as disabilities arising out of remoteness or distance, density or sparsity of population and the area of a division are totally out of place in any parliamentary system which purports to reflect democratic pr, nc, p es.

The principle which is embodied in this Bill is one vote one value. This is not some new idea we are striving to impose on the people of Australia. It is one that has been espoused for more than 100 years. In fact as early as 1838 the Chartists, a group well ahead of its time in Britain, enshrined this principle in its 6 point charter. It went further than wc propose to go. It stated that constituencies should be made up of an equal number of voters. One section of the preamble to its charter relating to just government, on which members of this House should reflect, stated: . . this responsibility is best enforced through the instrumentality of a body which emanates directly from, and is immediately responsible to, the whole people, and which completely reflects their feelings and interests.

I would remind honourable members that it was the Chartists who in their 6 points came out strongly in favour of payment to members of Parliament - a new concept in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Similarly, the politics oF bending electoral boundaries is nothing new. It was introduced in 1812 by the Massachusetts Governor of the time, Eldridge Gerry, when he re-drew the electoral boundaries within his State to give his party an unfair advantage. In Australia it has been the Country Party which has shown itself to be the master of the gerrymander.

Let us look in more detail at the disparities that exist today as a result of the present provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. Let us compare my electorate, Holt - a metropolitan electorate but one which most definitely has a rural component - with Wimmera, a country electorate. Taking the figures as at 26th January 1973, we find that Holt has 69,898 voters enrolled whereas Wimmera has only 45,574, a difference of 24,324 voters. Expressing this in percentage terms, it means that Holt has 51.18 per cent more voters than Wimmera. Examining the 2 electorates in terms of population and taking the 1971 census figures, Holt had 128,211 people and Wimmera had 77,526 people, a difference of 50,685 or, in percentage terms, there were 65.38 per cent more people in Holt than in Wimmera. I am not suggesting that I am doing 65 per cent more work than the honourable member for Wimmera, but what I am stating is that the people of Holt are not receiving equal and fair representation, and that is what this Bill is all about. I am stating that this is just one example of the rural gerrymander that has been perpetuated by the Liberal and Country parties when in government.

The standard reply of the Country Party over the years has been that over representation of rural areas is justified, firstly, because of the area that a local member has to represent and, secondly, because rural economic interests, particularly the rural export industries, are so important to the national economy that they must have adequate representation. The second argument is, of course, sectional special pleading for which no objective or determinate measurement of justification can be found. The first is of greatly diminished significance since 1900 with the transport and communications revolution of the 20th century, together with the social revolution. Surely these changes have so transformed the work of a member of Parliament as to make the number of his constituents rather than the dimension of his electorate the key to the burden of his works.

Furthermore, in the words of L. F. Crisp:

The rural interests have long since established such heavy representation on the boards, commissions and other agencies which supply them with services or regulate the marketing and (within limits) the prices of their products, that they have substantially undercut any claim they may have had in years gone by for a special 'gerrymander' of the Australian national electorate.

As has already been stated in this House by the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly), the answer for the member in the farflung electorate is not to pervert the electoral system whereby the vote of a person living in the Wimmera electorate has much more value than the vote of a person living in my electorate. The answer is to provide representatives of large country electorates with better travelling facilities, increased staff and things such as this to enable them to carry out their work effectively, and steps have already been taken in this connection.

The Joint Committee on Constitutional Review of 1958, with representatives from both sides of the Parliament, clearly supported the proposition which is embodied in this Bill, and this may well be the answer to the question that has been posed consistently by honourable members opposite while I have been speaking. Among its recommendations the Committee said: . . upon the division of a State into electoral divisions, the number of electors in a division in a State should not exceed by more than one-tenth, or fall short by more than one-tenth, a quota ascertained by dividing the total number of electors in the State by the number of members to be chosen in that State.

The Constitutional Review Committee in its recommendations was upholding a principle which is beyond dispute in any democratic system - the principle of equality of representation. In this connection it is not without interest to note that the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Baker versus Carr in 1962 that if congressional electorates were unequally drawn the voters in over-sized electorates were being deprived of their constitutionally guaranteed 'equal protection of the laws'.

Let us now have a look at the reaction of the various parties to the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Committee on which, as I have said, all parties were represented. First, let us take the Country Party. Notwithstanding that the members of the Country Party on this Committee had subscribed to its recommendation of a tolerance of not more than 10 per cent, the then Leader of the Country Party and Deputy Prime Minister, Mr McEwen, prevailed on his colleagues in the coalition Ministry not only to retain the 20 per cent tolerance but also to amend the Act in ways calculated to permit further gerrymander in favour of rural electorates. In 1965 the present Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony), who was then Minister for the Interior, moved and had carried further amendments to the Electoral Act to open the way for increased 'territorial representation'. As a result of these amendments, Commissioners were required to give legality and respectability to a degree of rural gerrymandering, formerly unknown at the Federal level. Considerations to be taken into account by the Commissioners included the matters that I have mentioned - disabilities arising out of remoteness or distance, the density or sparsity of population and the area of the division. So the provisions to be considered by the Commissioners were worded and re- worded in such a way as to sharpen the requirement that rural electors be favoured.

Let us have a look at the Liberal Party which, as the senior partner in the coalition, must accept equal blame for the inequities that exist at present. Its role has been one of acquiescence. The Liberal Party has given way to the pressures exerted on it by its coalition partner, the Country Party. To me it is incredible that any party that bears the name Liberal' could go along with the Country Party in measures which obviously were directed towards a sectional interest in the country. Similarly, it is equally inconceivable that the Liberal Party can find any grounds on which to oppose the principle enshrined in this Bill - that is, equality of representation.

Now let us look at the actions of the Labor Party in this period, and I would say to the House that they are in sharp contrast. While the Liberal-Country Party governments have failed to act on the Constitutional Review Committee's recommendations, the Labor Party consistently has supported this principle of equality of representation in this Parliament. Whenever the matter of electoral redistribution has been under consideration, the Labor Party, as the Opposition, has moved appropriate amendments which attempted to give effect to the democratic findings of the Constitutional Review Committee. There has been consistent adherence to a principle which we on the Government side hold to be inviolate in the total democratic process - that is, one vote one value. It is well for us again to take note of portion of a speech, which has been mentioned previously in this House, which was made by Senator Dirkson, a member of the United States Senate in 1965. On this occasion he said:

The controversy here is not between rural virtues and urban iniquity - but between those who believe that men are entitled to equal representation regardless of their position, and those who feel that certain citizens should be given a greater influence in government than others.

We on the Government side of the House wholeheartedly support this proposition. We contend that where a person lives or what his occupation happens to be is totally irrelevant. We believe that members of Parliament represent not cows, acres, trees or sheep but people. We believe that all men should be equal not only before the law but also in making the law.

Equality of political rights is inherent in any truly democratic system and these rights must be safeguarded by the legislature. The paramount objective of this Bill is to allow, as far as is possible at this time, equality of representation. The decision that members of this House have to make is quite a simple one. It is whether to support the democratic principle that is embodied in the Bill - one vote one value - or whether to continue to support the manipulations that exist in the present Electoral Act whereby one group in the community continues to be over-represented. Those of us who sit on the Government side of the House - included in our ranks are more representatives of country electorates than any other political party has - say categorically that the value of all men's votes should be equal, irrespective of where they live or what they do. I commend the Bill to the House.

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