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Wednesday, 4 April 1973
Page: 1076

Mr FAIRBAIRN (Farrer) - Having been ruthlessly gagged last night by the new Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) I am glad to have the opportunity of .speaking at least in the Committee stage of this Bill. I understand that we are discussing clause 3. The Government proposes to repeal all of the disabilities for which the current Act provides arising out of remoteness or distance, and density or sparsity of population. The Government proposes to get rid of those. Qf course, the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Keogh) made great play on what he calls the present situation in Queensland. Let me repeat to honourable members what was said by my colleague, the honourable member for Fisher (Mr Adermann), earlier this afternoon and remind the honourable member for Bowman that in earlier days and under a Labor government, Queensland had probably one of the worst gerrymanders which has ever been seen in the history of Australia and possibly of the world.

I have an article headed 'Fraudulent Electoral Systems in Queensland' written by T. C. Truman which states:

No serious students of Queensland politics doubt that the Electoral Districts Act of 1949 was a schema devised by the Labor Party to keep them in office despite the movement of opinion against them. And it was a successful frustration of the democratic process, for in the elections of 1950 the Liberal and Country Party team won a majority of the votes, actually 49.7 per cent, but gained only 31 of tha 75 seats, whereas Labor polled but 46.5 per cent of the votes yet managed to get 42 of the seats. Very frankly the Labor Premier Hanlon said . . . 'I do not think that on the old redistribution we would have been too secure at all'.

What a masterpiece of understatement. Let me tell honourable members how they did it. In the metropolitan area where there were 24 seats, each seat had a quota of 10,715. Then the quota for other areas decreased until it reached what the honourable member for Fisher described as the shearers seats or, in some cases, the mining seats. There were 10 of those seats in which the quota of 4,613 was less than half of the quota applying to seats in the metropolitan area. The article continues.

Mr Hanlon,the Premier, justified this arrangement favouring the north and the west with arguments based on the vast size of outback electorates. . . .

The devil can quote scripture sometimes. It is interesting to note that a Labor Premier acknowledged that there were reasons why the more remote areas should have a smaller quota. For once, we would be on the same ground as the Labor Party. The article goes on to quote the Premier as justifying this arrangement as follows: . . with arguments based on the vast size of outback electorates, the necessity for special attention to under-developed areas and the need to avoid domination of the State by the capital city.

The person who wrote the article, which I advise all honourable members, particularly the Minister for Services and Property, to read said:

These arguments for unequal electorates and special weighting of country areas came strangely from a party that has always placed great emphasis on the equalitarian aspects of democracy.

It just shows that when there is any possibility of obtaining advantage from a rearrangement of electorates, the Australian Labor Party is in there, boots and all, and it does not matter what its policy is. Of course, that is what the Government is attempting to do in the Bill we are now discussing. No-one believes for a moment that the Government would bring forward a Bill like, this if it thought the Bill would disadvantage the Government or even if it thought the Bill would have no advantage.

A very thorough assessment of this Bill by the Liberal Party organisation showed that, on the same vote that occurred on 2nd December last year, and being most optimistic, that is, optimistic from our point of view, the redistribution we are now discussing would have increased the majority of the Australian Labor Party from 9 to 16. At the most pessimistic, again from our point of view, such a redistribution would have increased the Government's majority from its present figure of 9 to 36. Obviously, the Government is trying to create a situation in which it would not need to get any more votes to win more seats or, perhaps, the Government wants to win the same number of seats with many less votes than it received on 2nd December.

Let me refer to another point. It should not be necessary to repeat this but, unfortu nately, some honourable members are not prepared to accept the situation. The Liberal Party assessment was the result of a thorough investigation of the Bill by the organisation of the Party and our decision to oppose this Bill strenuously was taken as a result of that assessment. Our decision was not taken as a result of any division between the Liberal and Country parties or anything like that. People love to put over that story. The only reason the Liberal Party has adopted the stand that it has is that it believes the present system is fair and that the system being put forward by the Labor Party would be unfair. At present there is no doubt that, with one exception in the last 25 years or more, the Party which received the majority of votes became the Government. We have only to look at the result of the last election where the Labor Party received 49.7 per cent of the vote and won 53.6 per cent of the electorate. That is a fair system.

The proposed system of the Labor Party is only the first of 2 steps. Let us realise that this measure is setting things up sq that the Government can then appoint the Distribution Commissioners. . One would not need to stretch things too far. to say that the new. Commissioners will not come from the Adelaide Club or the Melbourne Club. I . would think that the ones who are. not named certainly will not have pro-Liberal sympathies. But of course, that is the second step. The Government would have a redistribution and create a situation in which the Labor Party, with the same number of votes that it received at the last election, would win a vastly increased majority.

I believe we should include disabilities for remoteness or distance, and density or sparsity of population. Every honourable member who represents a country seat realises the problems of a country seat. Mine is not a large country seat when it is compared with some of the enormous seats such as Kalgoorlie. The electorate of Kalgoorlie represents 92 per cent of Western Australia. Yet, the Government is saying that this area should be larger. The same applies to the electorate of Darling. I suppose that Darling comprises one-third or one-half of New South Wales, but the Labor Party says that that is not enough. The honourable member ought to look after more. In the electorate of Darling there are 45,000 electors. To bring that figure up to the 60,000 quota one would have to me by the. Chief Electoral Officer. They will take 15,000 electors from Riverina. Then of course Riverina would go down to 30,000 and that would mean taking another 30,000 from my electorate or from Hume. So it goes on. The only reason why this is being done is that Labor wins very few country seats and wants to get rid of as many country seats as possible. I think, on a rough estimate, Labor won 12 out of about 44 seats that could be called country seats. Of course, if there are fewer of these there are fewer that Labor loses. What the Government wants to do is so to distribute the electorates that the big majorities in the metropolitan areas are reduced and some of that vote is moved out in order to make what was a marginal seat a strong Labor seat. It is not very hard to see through these proposals.

No-one disagrees with the slogan of one man one vote, but what this really means is that in a democracy the government should be won by the party which obtains a majority of votes. This is What happens now. As I have mentioned, there has been only one occasion when it did not happen and that was on a redistribution which was carried out by the Labor Party. As the Minister said, the results must reflect the will of the majority. The Minister quoted a judgment in the United States of America. But let us realise that there are vast differences in all democracies from the largest to the smallest. We are told that in France there is a very considerable variation in the size of electorates. There may be as few as 25,000 in one seat and as many as 150,000 in another seat. This occurs also in Great Britain, the United States and almost any other country one could mention. The Minister was given the job of perpetuating the Labor Party in office, and this is the way he intends to do it. Naturally, none of us on this side supports what he intends to do.

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