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Tuesday, 20 November 1973
Page: 1908

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral and Minister for Customs and Excise) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

At the Australian Constitutional Convention held in September this year in Sydney, the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) said on behalf of the Australian Government that we would propose to the Parliament, for decision by the people, an amendment of the Constitution which would write into it the principle of substantial equality of electoral divisions for all the Parliaments of Australia. There is no such equality to-day. It is time there was. This Bill therefore seeks an alteration to the Constitution so as to establish electorates within each state in which the number of people is, as nearly as practicable, the same. The Prime Minister also said that the Government would want to include a provision that the State Houses of Parliament be elected directly by the people. There is to-day no uniformity of practice in the Australian States in this. It is time there was. We propose also a new provision for this purpose.

The Bill therefore, simply stated, is a Bill for an act 'to alter the Constitution so as to ensure that the members of the House of Representatives and of the Parliaments of the States are chosen directly and democratically by the people'. I remind honourable senators that on 10 April of this year, I brought before the Senate the equality of electorates question in the course of debate on the Commonwealth Electoral Bill (No. 2) 1973. That Bill could not, for practical reasons, include any proposal to change the basis of representation from numbers of electors to numbers of people. But in very clear terms, I referred to the provision in the Australian Labor Party's Platform that in electorates the number of people should be as nearly as practicable the same. I went on to say:

Section 24 of the Constitution requires the number of members in the several States to be in proportion to the respective numbers of their people. The Constitution thus ensures equitable representation of the people in the House of Representatives, State by State. Applying similar constitutional provisions, the United States Supreme Court has, for the last 9 years and more, declared any form of malapportionment within a state to be unconstitutional. We should not accept regional discrimination for or against particular regions within States any more than the Constitution allows us to accept discrimination as between States. Honourable senators will know of very great variations in the numbers of people in the different electoral divisions. For example, Aborigines, migrants and electors with young children are not uniformly dispersed throughout the various regions.

The principle was there proclaimed- that representation should be based on numbers of people, not on numbers of electors. The Prime Minister has in the past also drawn attention to the inequality of electorates. In 1968, for instance, in a submission to the Chairman of the Distribution Commissioners for New South Wales he gave an example of what had happened in the far western and southern suburbs. He said then:

The two post-war groups of Distribution Commissioners have failed to anticipate the growth of population in the far western and southern suburbs. In each distribution they have recommended divisions with enrolments only slightly smaller than the quota; but the maximum permissible number at each distribution has been exceeded before half the rime has elapsed for the next distribution; and by the time of the next distribution the enrolment has been grossly in excess of the new quota and the permissible margin of allowance.

Honourable senators may recall that in 1 968 in the Senate, in my capacity then as Leader of the Opposition in this House, I initiated legislation to provide for the establishment of electorates within each State in which the number of people is, as nearly as practicable, the same, and to democratise the election of the members of all Houses of State Parliaments.

I referred earlier in this speech to the Commonwealth Electoral Bill (No. 2) 1973 which honourable senators will also recall I introduced in this House first in April of this year to moderate the blatant malapportionment of electorates. These measures have twice been frustrated by those sitting opposite. Now it is proposed that the people should decide- by referendum at the time of the Senate election. As things stand today we have no reasonable equality amongst electorates. At the time of the last census- 30 June 1971- the Division of Werriwa in the House of Representatives had a population of 142,568; Chifley, 138,665; Kalgoorlie, 135,790; Burke, 135,547; and Melbourne, 131,127. At the other extreme, and excluding Tasmanian divisions, the Division of Wakefield had a population of 77,195; Wimmera, 77,526; Lyne, 80,475; Maranoa, 81,500; and Hume, 82,365. Between censuses, the malapportionment of electorates can be readily discerned from the number of electors enrolled. For example, the Divisions of Diamond Valley and Macpherson currently have enrolments of 83,970 and 81,835. Maranoa has 45,800 electors and Darling has 46,8 1 5.

We propose that the new provision in the Constitution should deal with State Parliaments also. In the States, unfair malapportionment is no less rife. Let me cite examples based on recent enrolments for State lower Houses. In New South Wales the average enrolment is 26,980 with variations between 32,977-23 per cent above- and 19,0 1 1-29 per cent below. In Victoria the average enrolment is 29,192 with variations between 63,396-1 17 percent above-and 17,825-39 per cent below. In Queensland the average enrolment is 12,692 with variations between 20,062-58 per cent above-and 6,391-50 per cent below. In South Australia the average enrolment is 15,646 with variations between 27,197-74 per cent above- and 8,510-46 per cent below. In Western Australia the average enrolment is 11,617 with variations between 19,971-72 per cent above and excluding the north west zone 6,935-40 per cent below. Similarly, in those States with upper Houses elected directly by the people very large inequalities exist as the following examples show.

In Victoria the average enrolment is 1 18,391 with variations between 200,868-70 per cent above- and 50,621-57 per cent below. In Western Australia the average enrolment is 39,497 with variations between 84,999-115 per cent above- and 5,457-86 per cent below. In Tasmania the average enrolment is 10,7 1 8 with variations between 18,760-75 per cent above- and 5,362-50 per cent below. The New South Wales upper House is elected not by the people but by the existing members of the 2 Houses.

The Bill also proposes an amendment of the Constitution so that each House of each State Parliament will be elected directly by the people of the State. Thus the amendment will require New South Wales to alter the voting system for its Legislative Council so that all of its members are elected by the ordinary voters of the State. Also, it will make it necessary for States to do away with the remaining cases where election of members is by only a privileged class of voters. These reforms which the Government proposes to put to the people will require action in the

Australian and the State Parliament. For that reason- to allow time for this action to be taken- the date when the new arrangements will come into operation is proposed to be 1 July 1976.

Mr President,section 25 of the Constitution provides that if by the law of any State all persons of any race are disqualified from voting at elections for the more numerous House of the State, then in reckoning the number of people of the State or of the Commonwealth, persons of that race resident in that State shall not be counted. This is an archaic provision and not within the spirit of the amendments we are proposing, and the Bill provides for the repeal of that section. By these measure, Mr President, I believe we will add much to the durability of our parliamentary systems, and remove injustices which have lived too long.

Before closing, I draw the attention of honourable senators to a further provision in the Bill. It is designed to ensure that cases can be brought before the High Court in relation to matters arising in the electoral provisions of State or Australian law. The way in which this is done is to include a new section of the Constitution that will permit an elector of the Commonwealth to bring a relevant matter before the High Court, and an elector in a State to raise a matter relating to that State. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Withers) adjourned.

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