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Wednesday, 4 April 1973
Page: 1088

Mr STREET (Corangamite) - In considering this Bill and more particularly clause 3 we have to ask ourselves what are the essential features of a democratic and equitable electoral system. I think most people would agree that the first requirement in any election is that the Party or Parties which get the majority of the votes should form the government. Let us see how this present system stands up to that criterion. The Minister for Services and Property quoted the results of several elections with the object of showing that although the Australian Labor Party vote had exceeded the Liberal-Country Party vote on more than one occasion this had not resulted in the formation of an ALP government. What he forgot to quote, of course, was the total percentage of votes from all the non-Labor parties. For example, I would not imagine that the Minister, despite his wide circle of friends, would include the Australian Democratic Labor Party amongst his and the Australian Labor Party's most fervent supporters.

To get a true reflection of electoral opinion all non-Labor votes must be taken into account and only in 1954, as has been said on more than one occasion in this debate, under an electoral redistribution done by the Labor Government in 1948 has a situation arisen where the . majority of the votes cast did not result in that Party forming the government. A further confirmation of the equity of the present system can be found by comparing the percentage of votes cast with the percentage of seats won. At the last election, held in December last year under a system which this Government alleges was heavily biased against the ALP, the Labor Party got 49.9 per cent of the votes but won 53.6 per cent of the seats. So there is no question that the present system is not consistent with democratic principles.

The present form of electoral distribution results in equity as between the various sections of the community. Taking New South Wales as an example, 17 extra-metropolitan seats averaged 51,475 formal votes whilst 28 metropolitan averaged 54,709. Remembering that Australia has a rapidly growing population, the question must be asked whether it would be possible to obtain anything fairer than that. The plain fact is that one vote one value is merely a catch cry. It is impossible to achieve in practice, even for one day let alone a period of years. The Government has used this emotional slogan to cover up the fact that the intended amendment to the Electoral Act is highly favourable to it. It is ridiculous to suppose that there is any other reason for the Government's proposal.

What would be the results of a redistribution under this Bill, and more particularly clause 3? The first and foremost result would be reduced country representation. This Government came to office without the need to win country seats. Now country areas are starting to pay the price for that. It is astonishing to me that honourable members such as the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) and the honourable member for Darling (Mr Fitzpatrick) could support legislation which is totally opposed to the interests of their constituents. How are they going to explain away to their electors the fact that they supported and in fact helped, to draw up this legislation which specifically is designed to reduce the effectiveness of country representation? There is no doubt about the Government's intention. One has only to study the Minister's second reading speech to realise his total unconcern for the special problems faced by country members and their constituents.

Mr Daly - I am a country boy.

Mr STREET - If that is so, then I wish the honourable member had more understanding of country problems. Another feature of the Government's proposal is that redistribution would be required at much more frequent intervals and all honourable members will be aware of the great practical difficulties associated with frequent redistributions. It would become impossible to have continuity of representation, whatever Party happens to be in power. Finally, what sort of country do we want in Australia? The answer to this question is critical because it will largely influence our thinking on what sort of government we have. I am not speaking of what Party or Parties comprise the government. I am speaking of what attitude we want our government to adopt. There can be no doubt what sort of government we would get under the Government's proposals. It would bc an increasingly metropolitan, city dominated government. It would inevitably become major city oriented. Not only that, it would be increasingly dominated by Melbourne and Sydney.

I am informed that if this Bill becomes law approximately six-thirteenths of the members of this national Parliament will come from Sydney and Melbourne. What a mockery that makes of the Government's high sounding phrases about decentralisation and regional development? How can this Government expect a properly representative voice in this the Australian Parliament if almost half the members come from 2 cities? I do not think that is the sort of Parliament the Australian people want or indeed what the people of Melbourne and Sydney would want. The inhabitants of the major cities are becoming well aware of the rapidly growing problems of pollution, traffic congestion and other difficulties associated with a huge modern metropolis. There is a new determination amongst the Australian people to make better use of our unique natural advantages. But these aspirations would never be fulfilled if we tie ourselves to a parliamentary system deliberately designed to give an overwhelming weighting of numbers to our major capital cities.

It is no coincidence that we now have before this House a Bill entitled the Cities Commission Bill which seeks to amend the Act which established the National Urban and Regional Development Authority and to change the name of that body to the Cities Commission. I will at least give the Government this: It is consistent. This demonstrates with absolute clarity but probably, I grant, unintentionally the basic philosophy of the Government as compared to that of the Opposition. The ALP is a city based Party and it is determined to try to ensure that the national Parliament will suffer from the same disadvantage. Labor claimed to be interested in decentralisation but it promptly changed the name of the authority charged with the responsibility of creating true decentralisation in Australia - regional development - to the Cities Commission.

The Government's objectives are clear and blatant and they have nothing to do with electoral justice. They are designed purely and simply to favour the perpetuation of an ALP government through the deliberate policy of concentrating political power in the major cities to the disadvantage of all the other areas of Australia, not only the purely rural ones but the regional cities as well. For those reasons I completely oppose this legislation, its objective, and clause 3 in particular.

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