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Wednesday, 4 April 1973
Page: 1092

Mr HALLETT (Canning) - It is obvious from this Bill and the amendments to it that the Government is not happy to let our democratic way of life proceed. Clause 4 of the Bill deals with redistribution. The Government proposes to alter the tolerance from one-fifth to one-tenth. From listening to the debate on this Bill this evening and previously one would think that the tolerance, which has been 20 per cent, was brought in by the Australian Country Party. If one says something for long enough somebody is bound to believe it. But the tolerance principle has been followed since 1902. Why in heaven's name should those statements have been made in this debate, both before the suspension of the sitting for dinner and afterwards, suggesting that the Country Party was responsible for that part of the original legislation? It did nothing of the sort. The Country Party was not even in existence in 1902. Therefore the remarks that have been made repeatedly in that vein are completely untrue. Our forefathers were very wise. They were dealing with a very big country. I will deal with that aspect in a moment. Those statements have been made repeatedly and they are simply not true.

I want to address some remarks to the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) who is in charge of this Bill. In the course of his remarks before the suspension of the sitting he referred to Western Australia's entitlement to an extra seat, which would give that State 10 seats in all. If I remember his words correctly - I will certainly check them in Hansard tomorrow - he said that he hoped the Parliament would pass this Bill so that he could proceed to give Western Australia a tenth seat. The inference in that remark was that we needed this Bill to give Western Australia another seat. But that is not correct. The Minister and his Government are under an obligation to provide an extra seat for Western Australia immediately the census figures are completed. That is the situation at the moment. There is an obligation on the Government of the day to give that State an extra seat in a separate redistribution. That obligation is on the Minister at the moment, and he does not need this legislation to do that. He knows that as well as I do.

The Minister referred to the Western Australian position in relation to the tolerance. He outlined the position in all the States. When he reached Western Australia he said that there was a tolerance of 10 per cent. I do not think the Minister would disagree that those were the remarks he made earlier today. Let me inform the Committee and the Minister of the situation in Western Australia. There is a Labor Government in that State at the moment. There have been Labor governments in Western Australia on many occasions. Let me inform the Committee of the position in the Legislative Assembly election on 20th February 1971. I have an official document which indicates the. number of voters and the number of seats. This will show that the Minister's reference to 10 per cent was quite incorrect. For instance, let me give a sample of electorates in the metropolitan area. In the electorate of Ascot there were 14,272 electors on the roll; in Balcatta there were 20,269; in Belmont there were 14,742; in the seat of Canning there were 21,346. There are more metropolitan seats but I do not want to bore the Committee by going through them.

I now move to the agricultural, mining and pastoral areas. In the electorate of Albany there were 6,596 electors on the roll at that time; in Avon there were 6,110; in Blackwood there were 6,081. That is another sample. The rest of them in that category are much the same. There are many more seats. Now let me turn to the north-west, to the Murchison-Eyre area. In the electorate of Gascoyne there were 3,285 electors on the roll; in Kimberley there were 3,148; in Mur- chison-Eyre there were 1,840; and in Pilbara there were 5,278. The numbers range from 20,000-odd down to 1,000, yet the Minister said this evening that there was a tolerance in Western Australia of 10 per cent.

We are dealing with Australia. I have quoted those figures tonight not only to answer the Minister's point but also to indicate that we are dealing with Australia and not with some other country such as Switzerland or New Zealand. This is Australia and we should look at the situation from Australia's point of view. It is a very large country. I should not have to remind honourable members that it contains 3 million square miles of territory. 1 have no doubt that when the first Commonwealth Electoral Bill was drawn up in 1902 Australia as Australia was taken into consideration and the tolerance of 20 per cent was laid down at that time. Clause 4 which we are discussing deals with redistribution and tolerance. Since 1902 Australia has been transformed into a very productive country. In more recent times there has been a rapid movement of the population of Australia into the city areas, and if the proposed amendments to the legislation that we are dealing with tonight are written into the Commonwealth Electoral Act the number of city members will rapidly increase and the number of country members will decrease, because the only way new boundaries can be drawn up is by taking out of the present legislation provisions relating to disabilities arising from distance and remoteness, density or sparsity of population and the area of divisions. These provisions are to be taken out. If that is done, obviously in practice in the rapidly growing metropolitan areas and especially around the perimeter of rapidly growing areas the Commissioners will be forced to reduce the quota and increase the quota in the country areas; otherwise we will have a redistribution about every 6 months. That is obvious to anyone who studies the situation. So the present situation will be reversed completely.

Lest honourable members think that since I am a Country Party member I do not have very many people in my electorate, let me remind them that at the last election there were about 65,000 electors in my electorate. The number must have grown by now. So let us not have this suggestion that the Country Party is not representing anybody. I believe that 65,000 electors would be a little more than the average number of people represented by most members in this chamber. So 1 strongly oppose this clause. 1 believe that the proposed amendments to the legislation are nol in the best interests of Australia. They will only force a situation in which there are more members in city areas and they will retard the number of members in the country areas, where in fact a greater membership is required. If I understand the position correctly not only the Opposition but also the Government wants to see fewer people going to the city areas and more people congregating in other parts of Australia. But this Bill does not create that situation, lt will only increase the number of people who will in fact be in our city areas. 1 do not believe that that is in the best interests of Australia.

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