Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 3 April 1973
Page: 1018

Mr NIXON (Gippsland) - We are debating a Bill tonight that was introduced by the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) on Tuesday, 13th March, and, without question, Parliament reached a new low in its proceedings with the speech by the Minister. Second reading speeches traditionally and correctly are expected to be technical documents of impeccable accuracy that can be used by all as the basis of judgment on the matter under debate but the Minister for Services and Property used the occasion for the presentation of a blatant, political speech not matched in this Parliament. Knowing the complete impartiality and integrity of the electoral officers, 1 hope the Minister will have the decency to clear them from any involvement in the political aspects of his speech. He took the occasion to smear the Australian Country Party with statements that were both misleading and untrue. The Standing Orders do not permit me to brand him a liar but were that not so, the Minister would stand condemned by this Parliament as a liar extraordinary.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MacKellar - Order! I suggest that the honourable member moderate his language.

Mr NIXON - 1 am fully aware that 1 am unable to brand the Minister as a liar. I have made that particularly clear. Such statements as ' ... the Country Party at both State and Federal levels has consistently exercised ruthless control of the machinery of Parliamentary elections, both Federal and State', were contained in the Minister's speech. As far as I can ascertain, I have been the only member of my Party to be in charge of a redistribution in this Parliament and I had that responsibility because members of both parties in the coalition recognised that the matter would be treated with complete propriety. In regard to the States, only in

Queensland in recent years has a Country Party Minister held the responsibility for redistribution. This has never occurred in South Australia, Western Australia or Tasmania; it occurred more than 30 years ago in Victoria and, as far as I can ascertain, it has never occurred in New South Wales.

That is only one example; research shows that at least another half dozen misleading statements were contained in the Minister's second reading speech. That he should so abuse his privilege as a Minister is a reflection on him, so much so as to call into question the propriety of his holding such a position. That a second reading speech should contain false and misleading statements will also lead to reflections against the traditions of Parliament as a whole. The purpose of this Bill is three- fold. Firstly, it is to enable redistribution to take place in Western Australia, following a census of population demonstrating the need for an extra seat in Western Australia as determined under section 10 of the Representation Act. The nub of the matter is that the census figures do not demonstrate that any change is required in other States and so it is to section 25 (2.)(b) of the Electoral Act that the Minister looks to obtain justification to introduce his electoral gerrymander and it is by a reduction of the 20 per cent differential that has applied since Federation to 10 per cent in the number of electors in each seat above or below the quota of each State that the Minister looks for the right to implement his gerrymander.

Let the people of Australia recognise this stunt for what it is - no more than a justification for the Minister to hold a redistribution as soon as possible. Let me quote the figures to honourable members. Under the Act that has been with us since Federation and as proposed by our founding fathers, only 3 seats out of 45 in New South Wales have more than a 20 per cent variation from the quota. There are 3 seats out of 34 seats in Victoria with such variation; 3 out of 18 in Queensland; 1 out of 12 in South Australia; none out of 9 seats in Western Australia, and none out of 5 seats in Tasmania. By reducing the variation as is now proposed from 20 per cent to 10 per cent, the number of seats that would vary from the requirement would be 18 out of 45 seats in New South Wales, 13 out of 34 in Victoria, 8 out of 18 in Queensland, 4 out of 12 seats in South Australia, 4 out of 9 in Western Australia and none out of 5 in Tasmania. Section 25 (2.) (b) states that a redistribution shall be made: . . whenever in one-fourth of the Divisions of the Stale the number of the electors differs from a quota ascertained in the manner provided in this Part to a greater extent than one-fifth more or onefifth less;

So, by reducing the variation in numbers of electors from 20 per cent to 10 per cent, the criteria applying in section 25 (2.) (b) gives the Minister for Services and Property the opportunity for which he says he has been waiting 23 years, and that really is to gerrymander the electorates in favour of the Australian Labor Party.

That really is what this proposition is all about. To achieve that end, the Minister claimed that his entire approach was predicated on the wish to achieve one vote, one value, although he admitted 'that a degree of variation must be allowed, that exact equality in the number for division cannot be achieved, nor is it desirable'. Sensible admission though that is, it is an extraordinary one from this Minister, having regard to the vilification poured out by him and others who have expressed the same view. The only difference is that to obtain the gerrymander the Minister so dearly wants, he suggests that 10 per cent is better than 20 per cent. The 20 per cent variation is a basic factor in the Electoral Act which was no doubt well thought out by our founding fathers and it has stood the test of time.

The Minister made great play of the fact that, in the last redistribution, the Commissioners had made variations in certain electorates, such as Kennedy of 17.95 per cent below the quota, Kalgoorlie of 18.56 per cent below the quota, Darling Downs of 18 per cent below the quota and Grayndler 14.01 per cent above the quota. He made extravagant claims that these variations occurred as a result of amendments to the Act passed by this Parliament in 1965. As far back as 1948 Parliament accepted variations such as 16.4 per cent below the quota for Kalgoorlie, 15.3 per cent below for Bonython and 13.1 per cent above for Curtin. My own electorate of Gippsland was 14.3 per cent below the quota in the 1948 redistribution. And what Government controlled that redistribution? None other than the great Australian Labor Party - the great one vote, one value Party. What sheer hypocrisy this is. What utter bunkum for the Minister to use figures of that kind and state in such a misleading way in what is supposed to be an accurate, technical document, that the Commissioners were forced to produce figures like the ones he quoted because of changes to the Act in 1965. Such misleading statements do the Minister little credit.

The Minister's only interest in one vote, one value is the belief that there is electoral advantage for the Labor Party in such a proposition. The sheer hypocrisy of the Labor Party can best be pointed out by the actions of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) during the course of the last redistribution. The Prime Minister made a submission to the Commissioners that an extra 4,000 voters should be taken from the seat of Prospect and added to the seat of Reid. The acceptance of this proposal would have been to move further away from the principle of one vote, one value. The proposal of the Prime Minister would have increased the electorate of Prospect from 3.68 per cent to 11.0 per cent below the quota and the electorate of Reid to 16.82 per cent above the quota.

Mr Keogh - There was a good reason for it.

Mr NIXON - Yes, there was a good reason. It emerged that the Prime Minister's son wanted to stand for pre-selection for Prospect and the 4,000 voters included in the area proposed to be shifted to Reid contained the most left wing members of the ALP who were opposed to having the Prime Minister's son as a candidate. Was that a good reason? I consider it a very base reason indeed. But it shows the real attitude of the Labor Party to the principle of one vote, one value that is, that it should be advanced only when politically expediency demands it. There is one other aspect of the one vote one value concept about which more needs to be said. Right through the Minister's speech he kept making statements such as 'we should not accept regional discrimination', 'the principle of substantial equality of representation between electoral divisions was almost eliminated' and 'every worthwhile authority supports the case for one vote one value and equality of electorates'.

If that is the Minister's view, why does he not do something about the fact that on 2nd December the quota for New South Wales was 57,386 and the quota for Tasmania was 43,902? If he believes that all people should be equal in making the law, why is he not first seeking an amendment to the Constitution to abolish this differential between the States? How does he explain the fact that in Tasmania 10 senators represent only 221,000 electors and in New South Wales 10 senators represent 2.6 million electors? Surely the fact that the Minister has not even mentioned such a difference demonstrates his real lack of sincerity on the question of one vote one value. Why not ask the people of Australia by way of referendum to overcome such sweeping differences? Has the Minister sought to have this matter raised at the constitutional review conference? The fact is that, just as our founding fathers provided for there to be variations in the numbers represented by senators from State to State and for variations in the quotas for members of the House of Representatives as between one State and another, so they provided for a variation from the quota within each State. I suggest that we should not consider departing from the latter provision until consideration has been given to the broader constitutional provisions.

Let me deal with the third area of this Bill. That is the removal of the amendments put into the Act in 1965 for clarification to remove the words 'disabilities arising out of remoteness or distance, the density or scarcity of population and the area of the division'. No thinking member would challenge the fact that there are enormous difficulties facing members in large country electorates in being able to make themselves available to meet their constituents. Electors in such electorates are often faced with driving hundreds of miles or making expensive trunk line calls when urgent matters arise which require consultation with their Federal member. Similarly, the Federal member in such an electorate is required to drive thousands of miles a year to give his constituents an opportunity to put their case.

The electorate of Gippsland covers 14,524 square miles. It has 15 local government bodies, more than 200 schools, and 27 towns and cities with no commercial air service connecting any of those towns. Compare that with the electorate of Grayndler which covers 8.4 square miles. It is not even the size of a decent property in some parts of Australia. The honourable member for Grayndler could ride around the electorate on a pushbike before breakfast if he had the energy to do so. I understand that the only difficulty he has is when the lift drivers go on strike. He does not walk up the 12 flights of stairs to see some of his constituents; he makes them walk down the stairs. Equity surely demands that a person living in Gippsland should be able to reach me as easily as a person living in Grayndler can reach the Minister.

The Minister has stated previously that he recognises the great disadvantages and extra cost involved in country electorates and he proposes to assist country members to overcome their disabilities. We all look forward to that assistance. But I noticed the. other night, when a certain Bill came into this House, that he voted in favour of all allowances, whether for city or country members, being the same amount. I wonder just how much he is going to do to overcome the disabilities of country members. It remains a simple fact that Canada a country so often likened to Australia has a variation of 25 per cent above or below the quota. In the United Kingdom, small though it may be it would fit into the State of Victoria at the time of the last redistribution, variations of up to 50 per cent from the quota were given for remoteness, of all things. The Minister has not put forward a satisfactory case to support his amendments reducing the variation from 20 per cent to 10 per cent. AH that would do would be to create the unsettling situation of forcing a redistribution every Parliament.

Suspension of Standing Orders

Suggest corrections