18th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Eon. J. 8. Rosevear) took the -chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
.LEAVE OP ABSENCE.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be given to the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) on the ground of ill-health.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley ) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn to Wednesday next, at 3 p.m.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is a fact as alleged yesterday by’ the honorable member for Herbert that approximately 250,000 tons of unrefined sugar is held up at Queensland ports? Is it a fact that manufacturers throughout the Commonwealth areimpeded in their production because of the shortage of sugar, and that housewives are seriously inconvenienced for the samereason? Will the right honorable gentleman tell the House what special actionis being taken by the Government to ensure that sugar awaiting shipment isspeedily loaded and transported to therefineries in the southern States?
– I dealt with thismatter at some length in reply to a question last Wednesday by the honorablemember for Cook. I am not aware that as much as 250,000 tons of unrefined sugar is being held up in Queensland ports. I understand that the new season’s harvest will commence to come forward at the end of June. I am speaking on information supplied to me by Mr. Hanlon, the Premier of Queensland, who, when he spoke to me a fortnight ago, gave me a statement of the position showing that at that time 130,000 tons of raw sugar was held up at Queensland ports. Apparently, that sugar was held at far northern ports.
– Some sugar may be held up at the mills.
- Mr. Hanlon: detailed the qualities of raw sugar waiting to be shipped from northern areas to southern ports. When the industrial trouble in Queensland ceased, as I intimated’ to- the honorable member for Cook, all ships suitable for the transport of sugar- were already loaded with cargo and these had’ to be despatched to their destinations and unloaded. The one exception was Ocean Valour, which was sent in ballast to Mackay, but when the vessel arrived’ there no berth was available, and it was also found that sufficient sugar was not available at Mackay to load the vessel. Lt then had to proceed to Cairns, whereeight ships have moved in for the purpose of loading raw sugar. I discussed1 this matter with the. Premier of- Queensland, the Minister for Shipping and Fuel: and Mr. Hetherington, the Director of Shipping. Every endeavour is being made to get as many ships as possible to pick up raw sugar. Even if Ocean Valour could have been loaded at Mackay, it could not have been despatched to southern ports before the 4th May. I understand that the loading of vessels at sugar ports takes approximately a fortnight. That information has been supplied to me in documents. I assure the honorable member, as I assured the honorable member for Cook, that everything possible is being done to expedite the transfer of the 130,000 tons of raw sugar now awaiting shipment from Queensland to the refineries - the honorable member for Herbert has suggested that there may be more - so that the storage sheds may be free to take the new crop in the middle of the year.
– I wish to address a question to the Minister for the Interior. By way of explanation, I remind the honorable gentleman, that during the life of the last Parliament a public meeting of 800 people was held at Tumut to press the claim for a direct road from that town to Canberra. The meeting was attended by Commonwealth and State Ministers and representatives of several adjoining shires. The outcome was a definite promise by the State authorities that a survey of the proposed road would be made from Tumut to the border of the Australian Capital Territory. I should like to know whether the Minister has taken into consideration in his plans for the development of the National Capital the provision of a more direct road from Canberra to Melbourne through Brindabella and Tumut, to link up with the Hume Highway somewhere north of Albury ?
– Recently the Government undertook to confer with the New South Wales authorities in connexion with the construction of an all-weather road from Canberra to Jervis Bay. I have already approached the State Government in regard to the date of that conference and I give the honorable member for Hume an undertaking that the proposed road in which he is so greatly interested will also be discussed. Should an amicable agreement be reached in regard to that road, which I consider to be essential, the Commonwealth Government will be prepared to carry out its portion of the work.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is correct, as suggested by the latest Treasury progress returns, that Commonwealth expenditure for the current year will be met almost completely from revenue, and that a balanced budget is in prospect. If this information is correct, what is the necessity for the large public loans that the Commonwealth is continuing to issue? Is the Commonwealth borrowing in excess of its requirements, and, if so, what is being done with the money so obtained? Is portion of this loan, money being used to fund treasury-bills? If so, what is the value of the treasury-bills so funded?
– The questions asked by the honorable member for New England could best’ be answered in writing. I point out, however, that the Australian Government does not control the issue of these loans. The loans are raised under the auspices of the Australian Loan Council. The amount and rate of interest, and term of the loans are matters for agreement between the State Premiers and myself as Treasurer, acting on behalf of the Australian Government. It is not fully understood by many honorable members that the business of the Loan Council is not a subject for discussion by this Government at all. We are entitled to put our case to the Council for such loan money as we think is required. The States do the same, and an agreement is reached regarding the amount that it is thought desirable to raise. Loan raising is not discussed even by the Cabinet because it is recognized to be a matter for the Loan Council, of which the six State Premiers and myself are members. The present loan of £23,000,000 is primarily for the States, although a part of it is for the Commonwealth. However, so that I shall not take up any more of these precious 35 minutes of question time, I shall furnish the honorable member later with a written reply to his question.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral institute inquiries into the recent ballot of the Seamen’s Union, in order to ascertain -
If these charges are sustained, will the Attorney-General do what is necessary to ensure democratic rights to members of the union? Will he review Elliott’s position as a member of a government board controlling the maritime industry ?
– If there have been irregularities or improprieties in the election of office bearers of the Seamen’s Union, at least two remedies are available to those who complain. The first is provided in the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, which enables a member who is aggrieved to take the matter before the Arbitration Court, and if his allegations are proved, an appropriate order can be made. The second remedy is for the aggrieved member to take action in the ordinary courts of the land. I do not think, therefore, that this is a matter for inquiry by the Government, but rather one to be dealt with by application to the available tribunals.
– The members of the AustraliaFirst Movement were not given the opportunity to apply to the ordinary tribunals of the land.
– The honorable member has referred to members of the Australia First Movement who were interned, during the height of the war with Japan, by the Army authorities under regulations’ promulgated, not by this Government, but by a government of which he himself was a member. I am quite willing to debate the Australia First Movement cases at any time with the honorable member, but that matter is somewhat removed from the subject-matter of this question. I shall consider the last two matters raised by the honorable member.
– Is the report correct that the Government intends to introduce frequency modulation broadcasting, but only in so far as national broadcasting stations are concerned? As the general public, radio manufacturers, and commercial broadcasting stations are all vitally concerned in this matter, and as the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral some little time ago promised to make a statement on this very point, is the honorable gentleman now in a position to make a statement which will clarify the intentions of the Government in relation to frequency modulation?
– If I answer the last question I shall, I think, satisfy the honorable member in regard to the first question.. The Government is not in. a position to make any announcement in connexion with the use of frequency modulation, as it has not yet considered the matter.
Statement by Mr. P. C.Spender, M.P.
– Did the AttorneyGeneral read the report in this morning’s Sydney Daily Telegraph of an address by Mr. P. C. Spender, M.P., in Sydney, in which he said -
There seems to be little doubt the Federal Government, if it could, would shackle free press reporting.
In view of Australia’s fight at the United Nations Freedom of Information Conference in the interests of freedom of press reporting, both national and international, does not the Attorney-General consider that the statement of the honorable member for Warringah is sheer impertinence?
– The answer to the second part of the honorable member’s question is “ Yes “. With regard to the substance of what the honorable member for Warringah is reported to have said,I have already endeavoured to explain that, so far from endeavouring to put shackles on the press in any way, the Australian Government and its delegates have always fought against any form of censorship or anything opposed to the principle of freedom of the press. On the contrary, we have made a positive contribution to a system under which encouragement will be given to the press of the world to report international events fairly and accurately. Our aim is to ensure that the press shall not be used merely as a vehicle for systematic attacks upon other nations which are calculated, according to the unanimous decision of the United Nations, to lead to a breach of peace or to war. The statement by the honorable member for Warringah only darkens counsel on the matter.
– Will the Minis ter for Trade and Customs indicate whether an investigation has yet been completed into the cause of the recent fire in Sydney which resulted in the destruction of raw cotton of an estimated value of £650,000? If the investigation has been completed, will a report be furnished to this House? What quantity of cotton, if any, was salvaged?
– I shall be glad to convey the text of the honorable member’s question to the Minister for Trade and Customs, together with a request that the information be furnished.
Mr.CONELAN. - Has the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Minister for Social Services read the following statement which appeared in this morning’s issue of the Sydney Daily Telegraph : -
The British Medical Association will boycott the Federal Government’s scheme to provide free medicine under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act passed last year.
Dr. Norman Sherwood, Queensland President of the B.M.A., said to-night that the B.M.A., was not prepared to co-operate in the scheme in its present form.
In view of the widespread speculation in the press regarding the operation of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act, will the Minister ask his colleague to prepare a statement for honorable members setting out his intentions regarding the operation of the act? In conveying this request, will the Minister also direct his colleague’s attention to the statement by the president of the Queensland Branch of the British Medical Association that members of the branch will go on strike against the scheme? Will appropriate action be taken against the association?
– I have read the statement published in the press this morning, but I have not yet had an opportunity to discuss it with the Minister for Health, who is absent from Canberra on other business. However, I understand that the scheme, like all other parts of this Government’s programme, will be implemented on the date fixed whatever the actions of the British Medical Association may be. I shall bring the question to the notice of the Minister and ask him to have a statement prepared.
– Has the
Minister for Commerce and Agriculture read a statement by Mr. Butler, the United States Ambassador to Australia, reported in yesterday’s newspapers, that there is a large market for Australian live-stock in the Philippines and in other Pacific centres and that this market offers to Australia a splendid opportunity to earn dollars? Has the Government given any consideration to this market in its survey of the dollar situation? If so, what steps have been taken or are proposed to be taken to make use of it, or, if the Government has decided adversely, on ‘what grounds was such a decision made ?
– I have read the statement attributed in the press to Mr. Butler. This Government is aware that a market exists in various countries, particularly in the Pacific area, for Australian live-stock, especially dairy stock. However, as the result of the impact of war on the dairying industry in Australia, our herds have been depleted. In addition, there is a very great demand in all States for first-class dairy stock for land settlement schemes for ex-servicemen. This Government desires, and I believe I am justified in saying that the State Governments also desire, that our dairy herds shall be increased to the maximum number of the very finest types of cattle as soon as possible. The Government also wants Australia to be in a position to supply the United Kingdom with the maximum possible quantity of butter. All honorable members are aware of the action that was taken recently to provide a sum of money for the stimulation of dairy production in order to achieve that end. Having regard to these circumstances, action has been taken to limit severely the numbers of first-class dairy stock, particularly stud stock, that can be made available to any area outside Australia.
– I understood that the statement referred not to dairy stock but to beef cattle.
– To my knowledge there is not a great demand for stock other than dairy stock outside Australia for breeding purposes. The main demand that has come to the notice of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, even from dollar areas, is for first-class dairy stock. Action has been taken to permit the export of beef stock from the Northern Territory in oases where such exports will not impose a drain on supplies to the eastern meat works for the purposes of the contract with the United
Kingdom. “We are very alive to the fact that the trade, within certain limits, is justified as long as it does not interfere with the United Kingdom contract. We believe that, in the present circumstances, we should severely limit the export of dairy stock and other stock which I think Mr. Butler had in mind.
– Will the Minster for the Navy inform me how long the Slazenger Construction Company will continue building vessels for the islands trade at the Phoenix shipyards, Stockton, under contract to the Australian Government? The reason why I ask this question is that on the 1st August, 1944, the Newcastle Council requested the firm to make arrangements to have the shipyards connected with the sewerage system. In November, 1945, the company advised the council that its contracts had finished. However, the company is still using these yards, which are not sewered, and the Newcastle Council has written on three or four occasions to the Department of Munitions and the Department of the Navy asking how long the company proposes to continue operations there. In view of the necessity for protecting the health of the employees, does not the Minister consider that the departments concerned should give some indication of the period that the company will continue to occupy these premises?
– I ‘ shall discuss the matter with the Department of the Navy, and inform the honorable member of the exact position.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister a question relating to the encouragement of tobacco-growing in Australia. In other circumstances, this question would be directed to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, but on this occasion I address it to the Prime Minister, because it has a dollar significance rather than an agricultural significance. I have asked a similar question on a number of occasions for more than a year. In view of the expected continuance of the dollar stringency, and our substantial purchases of tobacco from the dollar area, does not the
Government consider it desirable, and, indeed imperative, to plan, in cooperation with the State governments and tobacco-growers, a big expansion of this Australian agricultural industry? The plan should take into account various technical problems of production, the combating of diseases, and the price incentive.
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture will answer the question.
– The honorable member for Indi will recall that the House debated this subject thoroughly when considering the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
– But the Government has never answered this question.
– The Government is alive to the importance of stimulating to the maximum extent the production of tobacco in Australia, and has given a good deal of encouragement and assistance to the industry through the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the Department of Commerce and Agriculture and the Prices Branch of the Department of Trade and Customs. This week, officers of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture have been attending appraisals in Queensland. I remind the honorable member that the State governments also have a considerable measure of responsibility for the stimulation of tobacco-growing in Australia.
– I recognized that in my question.
– We are doing everything possible to stimulate tobaccogrowing, and we hope that beneficial results will accrue from our efforts. The position of all the agricultural industries was most difficult during the war, because of the shortage of labour and materials and other factors, and it is only now that tobacco-growing and other branches of agriculture are returning to normal.
– I understand that an interesting, educational film, entitled Always Another Dawn, which relates to activities of the Royal Australian Navy, is to be exhibited under the auspices of the department which administers that service. Can the Minister for the Navy give the House any information regarding the arrangements for the exhibition of the film?
– The film to which the honorable member has referred is not a documentary but one which was made by a private company in conjunction with various units of the Navy during naval exercises last year. The film has .been viewed by members of the film industry and representatives of the press and has received very favorable comment. Because of the part played by the Royal Australian Navy in the making of the film, the company concerned has offered to give a preview of it to members of the Parliament and their wives at the Capitol Theatre, Canberra, at 9.15 a.m., on the 29th April.
AustrALLAN REGULAR ArMY.
– Can the Minister for the Army inform the House of the results secured to date in the campaign to obtain recruits for the Australian regular army? How many men have enlisted so far?
– I am under the impression that I gave honorable members an indication of the progress of the campaign a few days ago, when I stated that approximately 5,000 recruits had been secured.
– Of a total required of approximately 19,000 !
– That total includes a number of civilians who will be employed. The number of recruits secured during the short period in which recruiting has been proceeding is excellent, and I think that we have every reason to be pleased with the response. Indeed, I understand that the number of recruits now totals almost 6,000. If recruiting continues at the present rate, I have no doubt that we shall secure the required number in the time expected.
– I preface my question by stating that I have received a letter from a woman who has been posting parcels of food to Great Britain for some time. In a parcel which she proposed to send to the United Kingdom this week, she included a tin of dripping which weighed 5 lb. When she presented the parcel at the local post office, she was informed that she could not send more than 2 lb. of dripping in a parcel, so that the parcel which she had prepared could not be despatched. .She has informed me that the dripping had been properly clarified and that the soldier’s cake tin in which it was packed had been sealed with solder, but apparently the postal official concerned did not question the method of packing. The person concerned is a member of a club which has sent more than 400 food parcels overseas. Because of the urgent need of fat in Great Britain to-day, I ask the Minister representing the Postmaster-General whether lie can inform the House of the reason for the limitation which has been imposed on dripping in food parcels. Would it be possible to revise any direction which has been issued ito postal officials in regard to this matter ?
– I shall bring the honorable member’s question to the notice of the Postmaster-General and inform the honorable member of his reply.
– Can the AttorneyGeneral say whether officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service have submitted reports in regard to Communist activities in Australia ? If so, will he inform the House whether the officers of that service have made inquiries as to (1) whether members of the Communist party hold executive positions in important trade unions; (2) the degree of Communist infiltration into trade unions ; and (,3) the manner in which Communists have created industrial disturbances and strikes involving members of trade unions? If the Government is sincere in its claim that it is not an ally of the Communist party, will the AttorneyGeneral state what action, if any, it has taken in regard to those reports?
– Reports have been furnished covering the activities, not only of the Communist party, but of extremist parties of the right.
– What are the parties of the right?
– There are quite a number of them, and as I indicated during the recent debate on the activities of Communists, serious reports have been furnished concerning those parties.
The honorable member for Henty appears to be very sensitive in regard to the matter, but what I have said is quite correct. The matters referred to by the honorable member for Swan are included in the reports of security officers, which deal with a number of similar activities. In answer to the third question, for the reasons given by the Prime Minister and myself during the debate to which I have referred, it is contrary to security practice in any part of the world to make reports of that character public. The practice is to ensure that nothing occurs that will in any way endanger the national security. That this Government has done and is determined to do.
– I move -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act 1913-1947, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, and on which the committee has duly reported to this House the result of its investigations: -
The erection of an administrative building for the Entomology and Plant Industry Divisions, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, at Canberra.
This proposal was fully explained to the House on the 29th October, 1947, when I moved that the proposal be referred to the Public Works Committee for investigation and report. The statement is to be found in Hansard of that date at page 1438. Briefly, the proposal envisages a building, approximately 70 feet in width,. 80 feet in depth and of a total height of 43 feet, to form a physics. link between the two existing laboratory buildings, thus forming an administrative centre. It will comprise a full basement, ground floor, first floor and second floor. The total floor area will be approximately 23,000 square feet. The construction of the building will be of reinforced concrete for floors and columns and of brick for all walls. The estimated cost is £72,258.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from the 22nd April (vide page 1084’), on motion by Dr. Evatt -
That the bill be now read a second time. Ma-. HOLT (Fawkner) [11.8].- This bill and the Commonwealth Electoral Bill, if passed, will have the effect of increasing substantially the number of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The number of voting members in this House will be increased from 74 to 121, and the number of Senators will be increased from 36 to 60. This is the first proposal for a substantial increase of the size of the Parliament since federation in 1901, and has profound implications of a social, economic and constitutional character. No emphatic mention of this matter was made by the Government prior to the last general elections; nor was very much heard of it, if anything, at all, for a considerable time after that. It ranks with the nationalization of the banks as the second great issue introduced by the Government during the life of this Parliament for which no authority was received from the people and of which little was heard before the general elections took place. It is, therefore, proper to ask what are the reasons that have actuated the Government in bringing forward so hurriedly this proposal for a major constitutional change. For the first few moments of my speech I propose to examine the reasons put forward by the Government through its spokesmen who have already addressed themselves to the bill. Those reasons appear to fall under three heads. First, it is claimed that so great has been the growth of the Australian population since federation that it is reasonable that there should be more members, and other English-speaking countries, notably Great Britain and Canada, are cited as illustrations of larger national parliaments in relation to population. Secondly, it is argued that the work of members of the Parliament has greatly increased since federation. The third reason was advanced with emphasis last night by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman), who claimed that the issues with which we have to deal to-day are very much more complex than the simple matters, as he put it, presented to the founders of federation. Because the Government’s case principally rests on those arguments, it is appropriate that we should examine each of them. I think it will be found that the case made out by the Government rests on a flimsy base. Undoubtedly, the population of Australia has greatly increased since federation, but a mere increase of population is not the proper test of what a member of Parliament has to do. The population has grown substantially, but so have the means, conveniences and amenities that enable us to cope with the increased numbers of people. The men who went to the first Australian Parliament in. Melbourne in 1901 travelled by horse carriage, Cobb’s coach, slow trains and slow ships; but the men who come to the Parliament to-day from Perth or the northern parts of Queensland fly to Canberra in a matter of hours. The men of those days had no secretaries to assist them in their tasks, no speedy Buicks in which to drive hither and thither and no greatly expanded public service to examine problems, for them and furnish them with the answers. In the first Cabinet there were nine Ministers and in the second and third only eight, whereas to-day the Ministry consists of nineteen men to carry out the weighty tasks that are pressing on them so heavily. But is the test of numbers fair? A cursory examination of the facts will show how hollow that claim is. I represent §3,000 or 84,000 people in my electorate of Fawkner, but there is no part of that electorate that I cannot drive to by car within 15 minutes. I would not argue that I have more to do with more than 80,000. constituents than has my colleague, the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan), whose constituency is only a few miles away from mine. He has a scattered and diverse agricultural area to represent. I have but two municipalities in my electorate and he has twenty or thirty in his. If honorable members consider the circumstances of the representative of a rural electorate with a much greater area, they will see that his task is much more arduous than that of men who represent compact metropolitan areas. But will the Government’s proposal meet that problem? It will not. The Government does not attempt to suggest that - it will. It makes a specious plea to the public that as there are more people to be represented there should be more members of the Parliament, but in the areas where the task of representation is difficult now because of their size the problem will not be met by this proposal.
– The Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) was one of the staunchest advocates in this debate, as was also the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, of the principle of one vote one value.
– That is right.
– I am glad to have the Minister’s confirmation on that point. He wants one vote one value, and, no doubt, the Government, supporting that principle, will endeavour to apply it in the representations it will make to the commission which will he appointed to allocate the new boundaries. The new quota will be 40,000. If we apply the principle of one vote one value on that basis my electorate, which is a simple one to represent so far as the demands of the constituency are concerned, will be cut in two; but the electorate of the honorable member for Wimmera and others which are far greater in area will not be cut in two. In area, those electorates will either remain the same, or, as will be the case in the electorate of Kalgoorlie which in area is the largest in the Commonwealth, will actually be enlarged. ,So we see how unsubstantial the argument based on mere numbers can be.
Having regard to the amenities provided for us, including speedier transport and the assistance of secretaries, we are better equipped to cope with the job of parliamentary representation to-day than were members in the early days of the Commonwealth. On the other hand, far from benefiting honorable members who represent electorates with smaller populations but larger areas, this proposal will benefit honorable members who represent metropolitan electorates.
– All electorates will be substantially reduced in area.
– I do not know what the Minister’s authority is for that statement. I understood that that will be a matter for decision by the independent electoral commission. What inside knowledge does the Minister possess on that point? I say quite frankly that members of the Opposition1 parties are concerned that the Government may endeavour to exercise pressure in this matter and may try to rig the new electoral boundaries in order to gain some advantages for the Labour party. The Minister’s interjection confirms our fears.
– Parliament will decide that matter.
– That gives small comfort to members of the Opposition parties when we think of the regimented forces of the caucus. If the Parliament is to decide that matter we can only sit back, fearing the worst, and knowing that we are going to get it. But whatever the Government may do in that respect, it should not think that it is pulling the wool over the eyes of members of the Opposition parties or that, in the long run, it will deceive the people as to its real motives in introducing this legislation. Honorable members opposite talk about the increase that has occurred since federation in the work of honorable members individually. I admit that during the war the work of individual honorable members increased considerably, but will any one deny that since the war ended, since hundreds of thousands of service personnel and persons engaged in war production have returned to civilian life, the work of individual members has not decreased ? The position in my electorate is a good test of that proposition. Since the war ended, my correspondence has decreased considerably, and from conversations I have had with my colleagues I find that that has been their experience also.
– The work of honorable members has not diminished; the honorable member has a safe seat.
– Apparently, in the electorate of Martin, which the honorable member represents, there are more people dissatisfied with the representation he is giving them than is the case in electorates represented by honorable members on this side of the House. We are told that there has been a very heavy increase of the work of honorable members and of the Parliament. This is the second period of the parliamentary session this year, and the only legislation of any consequence which the Government has brought forward in the two periods is this legislation to increase the numbers of members of this chamber and of the Senate. Where is the rest of the legislation which has been weighing us down for so long? At the moment, the Senate is not in session as, indeed, it rarely is. That is no reflection upon honorable senators, because at the moment they have no legislation to consider. The fact is that at present there is not the weight of legislation which honorable members opposite claim is pressing upon us so heavily. The Senate has sat for three days this year. Can it be claimed that honorable senators are overworked? Most people would think that they are very well paid for the work they ave now called >upon to do. What possible justification exists for the Government’s proposal that the number of senators should be increased from 36 to 60? I am reminded of a story an honorable senator told me and my colleagues in our party room. He said, “ I got a letter yesterday. I am not going to answer it until to-day, and I shall not post it until to-morrow. In that way I will have found something to do for three days of this week anyhow “. Prom what we can see of pur friends in the Senate, most of us would say that that would represent a fair week’s work for most of them. That is not necessarily a bad thing. I believe that senators should be free of the detailed work we in this chamber are called upon to do in our constituencies. The Senate is a house of review, and- it should be able to bring .a detached and leisurely summing up and appreciation to the issues which are bustled through the House from time to time. I do not begrudge honorable senators the role they now occupy in a chamber which consists of 36 members. It is a comfortable role, but the Senate fulfils a useful constitutional purpose. However, I deny that any case can be made out by the Government, either now or at any time, for an increase of the number of senators from 36 to 60. It is farcical to suggest that any such need exists; and the public will not have a “bar” of it. No case can be made out on the score that the weight of work now devolving upon members of the Parliament has increased so greatly that additional members are needed to cope with it. It is misleading to compare our position with that existing in Great Britain. The House of Commons, of course, has a very large number of members; but there are no State parliaments in Great Britain.. In that country there are no State members attending to the many minor responsibilities and functions which State members deal with in this country.
The third argument put forward by honorable members opposite in support of this legislation is that the Parliament now has to deal with issues which are more complex than those arising at the time of federation. The founders of federation must stir in their graves when they hear the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction seriously put forward that argument. Would any one seriously argue - and on this matter I appeal to our respected friend, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), who has seen more service in this Parliament than most of us - that the problems confronting the Parliament to-day are any more complex than the foundational, pioneering problems which confronted the founders of federation? The founders of the federation had ‘ to lay down the principles by which this Parliament is guided at present, and also basic policies which have directed Australia’s destiny from that time forward. Therefore, the argument that the issues confronting the Parliament have become more complex is very flimsy. Whatever test we apply to the allegedly constructive arguments put forward by honorable members opposite in their attempt to justify these proposals, will show how feeble such arguments are. It is said that not merely do these arguments commend themselves to us, but, quoting from statements made hy leaders of the Opposition parties, honorable members opposite say that we, ourselves, have already indicated our support for a substantial increase of the membership of the Parliament.
– Is that not correct ?
– Up to a point it is correct. There has been no attempt in this debate to hide what has been said by leaders of the Opposition parties in the past or in the printed platforms of the parties to which we belong. But it is again utter and wilful misrepresentation to drag out of the platform of a party one plank which obviously is linked with others, and to ignore the rest, thus showing a distorted picture. The view of the Liberal party is clearly expressed in our platform. We believe that after more than 40 years of federation, a review of the constitutional responsibilities and the functions of the Parliament is required. We have said that in connexion with every constitutional proposal that has been advanced in recent years. The platform of the Liberal party states -
We put that forward as a balanced approach to this matter because we believe that substantial constitutional changes are likely to have not only constitutional implications, but also economic and social implications, which will be so farreaching that such changes should not be embarked upon hastily or without ade quate consideration. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), in his policy speech prior to the last elections, said that if his party were returned to office, it would examine the question of increasing the membership of the Commonwealth Parliament. That, I suggest, is the proper course. The founders of our federation spent years giving careful thought and close consideration to the problems which the drafting of the Constitution involved. Contrast the care with which these statesmen undertook their task with this clumsy, hasty, slipshod proposal which has been suddenly thrown before thi9 Parliament. No attempt has been made to ensure a balanced discussion between representatives of the Commonwealth and the State Parliaments, or to follow through the tremendously important implications of the measures now before us. While twitting members on this side of the chamber with inconsistency, Government supporters have ignored their own policy as set out in the platform of the Labour party. I remind the House that, far from advocating an increase of the membership of the Senate, the platform of the Labour party includes a proposal to abolish the Senate entirely.
Having established to the satisfaction of most honorable members, I am sure, that the arguments advanced by the Government in support of this legislation are weak, I come now to the real reason for the introduction of these measures. Very little was heard about the enlargement of the Commonwealth Parliament after the last elections. It was not mentioned in either of the budgets that have been introduced since the last elections, although quite clearly, if this move was contemplated, some budgetary provision was necessary for alterations to this building or for the construction of a new parliament house.
– That provision can be made in either of the two budgets yet to be introduced before the next elections.
– I say that no provision was made in the last budget and that, therefore, quite clearly the Government did not, at that stage, intend to proceed in the present financial year with the proposal to enlarge the Commonwealth Parliament. The urgency only developed after the Government had assessed . the public reaction to its bank nationalization legislation. “Within a fortnight, the balmy air of approval which had wafted upon the Government during the previous few years, and gathered in strength at the last elections, changed to the icy wind of disapproval. As they felt this blast around their legs, honorable members opposite started scurrying around to see what could be done about it. There had been a lot of talk about a pensions scheme for members of the Commonwealth Parliament; but suddenly the emphasis was changed, because this was a much more serious matter than the provision of pensions for a few members of the party. This issue could, if public opinion continued in the direction indicated by the Victorian elections, result in the annihilation of the Labour party. Certainly, it could result in the annihilation of those Labour senators who were due to face the electors at the next elections. So, this proposal has been brought forward. The Minister for Information was hailed as the champion of those who favoured an enlarged Parliament, and we read in the press of the discussions that were taking place and of the Calwell faction opposing the Rosevear faction and so on. It was even suggested that so many difficulties had presented themselves, and that the unfairness of this proposal to the smaller States was so manifest that there was strong caucus opposition to it, but when it came to a vote in the party room, what was the real issue that carried the day? In the first place, there were eighteen Labour senators who would have to go to the polls at the next elections, and, on past experience, if public opinion continued to run against the Government, not one of them would be returned.
– That has happened only once in the history of the Commonwealth Parliament.
– It happened at the last elections to all but three Opposition senators, and it could happen at the next elections, as the honorable senators concerned are well aware, to all of them. By introducing a system of proportional representation a miraculous change of fortune for the1 Labour party could be achieved overnight, because, assuming that the retiring Labour senators received the endorsement of their party - I have yet to learn of any course of conduct which can disqualify a Labour candidate for selection - with seven vacancies to be filled in each State, not one of them could fail to* be returned. So, the Minister for Information had eighteen votes “ in the bag “’ for a start. In addition, there were fifteen other senator& who knew that with proportional representation, they would not haveto worry about a pension scheme, becausethey would have an annuity for life in theSenate of this country. For that reason,, a substantial proportion of caucus was prepared to vote for this proposal. Then, of course, there were members like the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) and the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Daly) who held “dicky” seats. I invite any one of them to deny that he voted for this .proposal. They could see security instead of uncertainty, or, in some cases, sure defeat. I say with full conviction that the inspiration for this legislation was not statesmanship, but self-preservation and security.
– A very strong instinct.
– Yes, the most fundamental instinct of all, and it operated strongly in this instance. The Government’s proposals constitute an insurance policy for a caucus already fearful of the wrath to be directed against it in 1949.
– The honorable .member seems to be annoyed.
– I am not so much annoyed as disgusted. I have some regard for the significance of this Parliament, which should deserve the respect of the people. If the Government had been honest, it would have gone to the people and said : “ This Parliament has been functioning for nearly 50 years, and the Constitution has remained substantially unaltered for that period. Let us have a thorough examination of the Constitution, not on a party basis, but by a body of men representing the States as well as the Commonwealth. Let it examine constitutional problems in a detached manner, and then we will submit legislation embodying its recommendations “. Had the Government done that, I would have applauded its action ; but, instead, it has set out to sabotage the Parliament, particularly the Senate. I do not say that the Government wishes to sabotage the House of Representatives, but I do say that it is attempting wilfully to sabotage the Senate. Everybody knows that one of the planks of the Labour party provides for the abolition of the Senate, and the Government is aware that no more effective short cut to that end could be devised, apart from an alteration of the Constitution, than to make the Senate ridiculous by so filling it with unwanted additional members that the public will become thoroughly disgusted at the unnecessary expenditure and the utter uselessness of the chamber so constituted. If the Government had wished to meet the constitutional position properly it would have brought forward a proposal for the amendment of section 24 of the Constitution. It knows perfectly well that we cannot go on indefinitely maintaining the Senate at half the strength of the House of Representatives. Because the founders of the Constitution were considering their own immediate problems, a provision was inserted to the effect that the number of senators should be as nearly as possible half the number of members of the House of Representatives. There is no reason why the Government should not have put forward a proposal for the amendment of this provision. It cannot argue that it wished to save expense, because a referendum is being taken in any case, and it would have been easy to include a provision to limit the size of the Senate. The Government has thrown to its own supporters in caucus the sop of political security for some years to come. Further, it hopes that the public outcry against an enlarged Senate will eventually lead to the abolition of that chamber.
I come now to the proposals of the Government for increasing the number of members in the House of Representatives to approximately 121. The effect of such an increase will undoubtedly be to make a lop-sided parliament even more lopsided. It will enhance the importance of the role already played in the life of the Parliament by the State of New South Wales which, by all accounts, and in the view of all impartial observers, is a most unstable and volatile influence on the political life of the country. It is no answer to say that the proportion of members from New South Wales, as compared with other States, will remain more or less the same. There will be just that many more persons in the House to bring pressure to bear in order to dominate the political future of Australia. There will be 80 representatives from New South Wales and Victoria alone, and we can visualize the effect which such a preponderance of strength will have upon future policy, particularly when effect is given to the Labour party’s policy of one vote, one value, as enunciated by two senior Ministers during the course of this debate. This can only result in increasing the political strength of the industrialized urban districts at the expense of country areas. All parties have for years advocated the decentralization of population and industries so that rural areas would obtain a greater share of each. We are all agreed that the amenities of country life should be improved so that more people will be induced to live in the country, but the Government, far from increasing the importance, and protecting the rights, of country areas, will by this legislation deal another heavy blow to country interests. There can be no doubt that the political strength of metropolitan industrialized areas will be proportionally increased under the new arrangement.
The proposals to the Government include the adoption of a system of proportional representation for the Senate, a system which has earned the commendation of speakers from both sides of the House. It is undoubtedly attractive when we remember how, in the past, one party has enjoyed an overwhelming preponderance of representation in the Senate. However, what we are proposing to do, we should do with our eyes open, and the fact is that we are proposing to introduce a profound constitutional change. In the past, when one party has had an overwhelming majority in the Senate it was because, in the previous election, the public had given overwhelming support to that party. It may be assumed, therefore, that they would not favour interference by the Senate with the legislative programme of the Government thus voted into power. [Quorum formed.’] In the future, however, no matter how strong may be the support given to a political party in the House of Representatives, the operation of proportional representation may result in the election of a powerful opposition in the Senate. Indeed, in the forthcoming election in 1949, the result could very well be that the present Opposition parties would gain an overwhelming electoral victory, only to have their policy frustrated by a Labour majority in the Senate. I do not want to elaborate that point, because, to honorable members with some knowledge of constitutional effects, it is already sufficiently clear. We are making a major constitutional change; we are bringing into the councils of the parties, whether they form the Opposition or the Government, a very much stronger voice from the Senate. That, too, has its constitutional reactions. It will make in the main for a more conservative policy, which may or may not be a bad thing. That is the sort of issue I was stressing earlier when I said that there are profound implications in what we are doing. It is monstrous that the Government should rush through a major change of this kind, when only through the cave and thought given by those who framed the Constitution has that instrument stood up to the tests that have been imposed upon it since federation. This is not a plan brought forward for the betterment of the parliamentary machine; it is a scheme brought forward by the Government for its own preservation and for the preservation of individual Labour members. In the words of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), this proposal is a political racket and the people will not stand for it. For the second time since this Government was elected a great issue, which was soft-pedalled at the time of the elections, has been brought before the Parliament directly against the will of the people. The people were overwhelmingly opposed to the Government on the banking issue, and on this issue, too, a very strong majority of the people oppose the increase of the number of the members of the Parliament in this way. The Government claims to be democratic. The
Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) beats his chest ait the council tables of the world and talks about the high principles for which his Government and this country stand, yet, in defiance of every democratic principle which the people of this country have always upheld, two great issues are forced through this Parliament. What the people want is not more government by more members, but less government by the same number of members as we have now. One reason why the Government advocates an increase of the number of members in the Parliament is that during and since the war it has grabbed functions, powers and responsibilities which could more conveniently and properly be exercised by the States. Having grabbed these powers, the Government is determined to hang on to them, and because of that it has had to enlarge its ministerial machine. There arc now nineteen Ministers by comparison with eight at federation, and 123,000 members of the Commonwealth Public Service as compared with 68,000 before the war. The people do not want more government from Canberra ; they want the States to carry out their proper responsibilities. This issue should be deferred at least until the people of Australia have had an opportunity to vote upon it.
– At the outset I propose to make one or two observations on the speech delivered by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt). One cannot help deprecating the characterization of this proposal by the honorable member and other honorable members opposite, and, indeed, by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) himself, as a racket. Whatever may be said by honorable members opposite, the people and the press of Australia have expressed very definite views on electoral reform. They are of the opinion that the Parliament should be enlarged and that it should accept greater responsibilities. The answer to the assertion of the honorable member for Fawkner that the people want less government from Canberra is furnished by the results of the recent referendum at which the people authorized the Commonwealth to exercise greater powers over social services. The responsibilities associated with the administration of our social service legislation has imposed heavier tasks upon all members of the Parliament, making it necessary for them to devote the whole of their time to the performance of the functions for which they were elected.
– Don’t be so mournful !
– I could never be mournful while I am able to look at the honorable member. The honorable member for Fawkner said that a constitutional convention was advocated by the Liberal party to consider desirable alterations to the Constitution and the means by which they should be given effect. Let us consider what happened in the not distant past in relation to a certain proposal for the alteration of the Constitution. Representatives of all parties in this Parliament and of State governments and -opposition parties met in ‘Canberra to consider a plan for the transference of certain powers from the States to the Commonwealth for a limited period. Agreement was reached that certain powers should be so transferred. When, however, the proposals were placed before the people at a referendum, Opposition members, including the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), stumped the country opposing the very things that were agreed to by their leaders.
– The Government does not administer the powers it now possesses. Why increase them?
– Whilst it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose the Government - and it performs a very useful function when it draws attention to defects in the Government’s legislation - I do not believe that the honorable member for Fawkner has his heart in his opposition to this proposal. We have on record the statement made by the Leader of the Opposition in his policy speech during the last election campaign that the question of increasing the size of the Parliament would be examined by the Liberal party if it were elected to power. The assertion that this Government has no authority from the people to proceed with legislation for enlargement of the Parliament because the subject was not included in the Prime Minister’s policy speech is not correct. The fact is that the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) made a perfectly clear statement on the subject only three or four days before polling day. He said -
If the Labour Government is returned at Saturday’s elections, it will consider an increase in the size of the Federal Parliament after the next year’s census.
That was an unambiguous statement of the policy that would be pursued by the Labour party during the life of this Parliament if it were returned to power. It was published three days before polling day in the Sydney Morning Herald at any rate. Nevertheless, honorable members opposite say to the Government, “ You have no mandate for this legislation; you did not make any statement about it to the people; it was not part of your policy at the last elections “.
– Some of us might be like the Prime Minister, who apparently never reads the newspapers.
– I do not place the honorable member in that category because, judging by quotations which he makes from newspapers in this House from time to time, he reads the press very closely.
– He does not understand what he reads, though.
– I would not do him the injustice of saying .that, because I have some respect for the honorable gentleman. The members of at least one faction of the Opposition said that an enlargement of the Parliament would be considered if they were elected with a majority. According to their policy, they agree that the Parliament should be expanded. Their complaint now seems to be that the Senate should not be enlarged although they concede that the numerical strength of the House of Representatives should be increased. They should know that, under the Constitution, if one House of this Parliament is enlarged the other House also must be enlarged. The Constitution provides that the House of Representatives must be, as nearly as practicable, twice the size of the Senate. There can be no doubt on this point. If one House is to be enlarged, then the other House must be enlarged too.
Honorable members opposite are also critical of the proposal to alter the system of election of senators. For a quarter of a century the present method of electing senators has been the subject of very severe criticism by all sections of the community. The system has been condemned after every election because it tends to give to the popular political party of the day a complete monopoly of seats in the Senate without providing for representation of the minority. Nobody could argue honestly that such a system should be encouraged or even tolerated in a democracy. I agree with what the honorable member for Barker said on this point last night - that proportional representation is the only system appropriate to a democratic country.
– Would the Minister carry that to its logical conclusion and apply the system to the House of Representatives?
– It will be carried to its logical conclusion. In future, all senators will be elected according to the proportional representation system. However, I do not agree with the honorable member’s suggestion that we ought to establish some bogus reason for a double dissolution of this Parliament by sending to the Senate a bill that it must reject.
– I did not say that.
– That is the logical inference to be drawn from what the honorable member said.
– Do not attribute such a suggestion to me.
– I am not unfairly attributing anything to the honorable member. The logical conclusion of the honorable member’s argument is that this House should submit some bogus proposal to the Senate, have it rejected by that House, and force a double dissolution of the Parliament.
– I did not say that.
– In what other way could a double dissolution be brought about?
– I said that there could not be a double dissolution. There is only one way of causing a double dissolution under the Constitution, and the necessary conditions do not apply in this Parliament.
– That may be the honorable member’s point of view. I shall develop the argument along another line.
– The Minister has the whole Sahara Desert before himbut he cannot find a place to land,
– The Government will find a. good place to land as far as this bill is concerned. It will be passed by the Parliament and, in future, we shall have a democratic system of election for the Senate, providing for representation of the minority as well as the majority of the electors.
Honorable members opposite have complained because senators who were elected at the last general elections will be allowed to continue as members of the Senate until the period for which they were elected expires. It would be grossly unfair to manufacture some means of dissolving the Senate merely because we had decided that the old system must be discontinued on account of its anomalies and inequities. Had I been elected to the Senate at the 1946 elections I should be very resentful of any scheme to throw me out merely because the government of the day, and the Parliament, decided that a new system of election should be introduced. Such a course of action would be most improper. To suggest, as honorable members opposite have done, that the Government has framed some sinister scheme in order to preserve a majority for itself in the Senate is most unfair. Such untrue accusations should not be made. Honorable members opposite should give just as much credit to the Government for honesty of purpose in this matter as they claim for themselves. In all this “ looking into the bowl “ I detect a reason for the Opposition’s concern about the proposal quite different from the one that has been stated. As everybody knows, the Opposition is divided into two main camps - the Australian Country party and the Liberal party. It is fairly common knowledge that there is not and never has been much unanimity among them on a number of subjects. Their respective policies conflict in many respects, and I suspect that the enlargement of the Parliament will bring into the House certain elements which will not please honorable members opposite. That has already been suggested in some sections of the press and seems to be one of the reasons why the Opposition is opposing the bill so vigorously.
I now desire to refer to the position of the less populous States. Although I represent a constituency in one of them, I am not opposing this bill. Indeed, I vigorously support the measure in this chamber, as I did elsewhere, because I believe that the enlargement of the Parliament is proper after nearly 50 years’ experience of federation. At present, the Parliament is too small to perform the functions for which it was originally constituted, and to deal with the everincreasing volume of business. The honorable member for Barker will recall that when he and I became members of this House in 1934, the Commonwealth budget was about £60,000,000.
– It was about £80,000,000.
– Very well ! It did not reach the figure of £100,000,000 until some years later.
– In 1939.
– In this financial year the Commonwealth budget is approximately £4S0,000,000.
– Too much!
– It may be too much, but the fact remains that the Commonwealth budget has reached those proportions. Without attempting to fill the role of prophet, I suggest that the budget is never likely to be reduced to anything like its pre-war proportions. History will repeat itself in this as it has in other matters. After World War I., the responsibilities of the Commonwealth increased rather than diminished, and now, after World War II., they will continue to increase. In addition, the responsibilities of honorable members will continue to grow, and the population of Australia will increase. That presupposes increased responsibilities. The decentralization of industry and the settlement of popula tion will proceed, and, in many ways, the responsibilities of this Parliament must inevitably be greater than they were years ago. For that reason alone, the action of the Government in introducing this bill is justified.
I return to the subject of the less populous States. Tasmania has only five members in the House of Representatives, and the Leader of the Opposition considered that it was worth while making some observations about this matter. The Launceston Examiner, of the loth April last, published the following news item : -
If Tasmania’s representation is to remain at five members in the enlarged House of Representatives of 133 members, its representation will become quite insignificant, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) said last night.
Tasmania, he said, therefore had a special interest in the proposed redistribution of Federal seats and the enlarged Parliament.
When it was suggested that Tasmania would have ten senators, Mr. Menzies replied, “ That will not be much consolation to them. It seems curious to have five in the Lower House and ten in the Senate “.
Mr. Menzies said the Government could easily increase the representation of Tasmania in the Lower House.
This would mean smaller electorates in proportion but it could be done. He said the views expressed by the Tasmanian Liberal party opposing a larger Parliament were not inconsistent with the joint statement made recently by himself and the Leader of the Australian Country party, Mr. Fadden. He indicated that the bil] for the enlargement of Parliament would come in for stringent opposition and criticism.
Of course, the Leader of the Opposition did not mention that, in his own policy speech before the last general elections, he stated that, if returned to office, he would consider the enlargement of the Commonwealth Parliament. However, that is not the particular point which I desire to mention now. The right honorable gentleman said -
The Government could easily increase the representation of Tasmania in the Lower House.
He knows perfectly well that it cannot be increased without an alteration of the Constitution.
– It can, because the Constitution states that a State shall have at least five members and there is nothing to prevent it from having more than five.
– I do not propose to engage in a legal battle with the honorable member on this subject.
– This is not law; it is common sense.
– It so happens that lawyers interpret the law, and, in that way, I suppose that they provide what is the interpretation of common sense. I am advised by an eminent constitutional lawyer-
– Was it “Maxie” Falstein?
– For the purposes of this discussion, I do not need to mention his name. I am advised that the representation of Tasmania in this House could not be increased because of the provisions of the Constitution.
– I hope that the Minister did not pay for that advice.
– Whether that be the position or not, we cannot justify an increase of the representation of that State in this House. Each Tasmanian electorate for the House of Representatives has slightly fewer than 32,000 voters. When this bill becomes law, Commonwealth electorates generally will have approximately 45,000 voters. We could not justify Tasmanian electorates having only, say, 25,000 voters when electorates on .the mainland have 45,000 voters. . The Leader of the Opposition was “ beating the air “, and playing to the gallery on this matter. He was not so concerned for the rights of Tasmania when he had an opportunity to do something practical. Between the 26th April, 1939, and the 29th May, 1941, the right honorable gentleman formed two Ministries, but not one of them included a representative of Tasmania. The Fadden Government, which held office from the 29th August, 1941 till the 7th October, of that year, also omitted a representative of that State. The Leader of the Opposition made the statement, which I have read, for public consumption in Tasmania, because he thought that it would attract support. Presumably, he disregards consistency, and does not mind what he said yesterday. What does matter to him is what he says to-day. But the fact remains that when he had the opportunity to give Tasmania representation in the governments which he led he refrained from doing so. I remind the House that the Leader of the Liberal party and the Leader of the Australian Country party select the members of their Cabinets.
– At the time to which the Minister referred, the Australian Country party did not have a Tasmanian representative.
– That does not matter. The important fact is that Tasmania did not have a representative in any of those Cabinets. Contrast that with the treatment which Labour governments have always given to the less populous States. The present Government includes two representatives of Western Australia, and that State has been represented in the Cabinet by two members ever since the Curtin Government took office in 1941. It is true that South Australia has only one representative in the Government, but Tasmania has two, and this is not the first Labour administration which has included two representatives from the smallest State. The electors of Tasmania can rest assured that while Labour continues in office they will still have a voice in the Government because the Australian Labour party has always recognized the right of all Statesto be represented in the Cabinet. OF course, when the proposed increase of thenumber of representatives of other Statesis effected, Tasmania will still have only five representatives in this House, and’ it may be contended that because of the change that State will not continue to enjoy the same proportion of Cabinet representation. However, I remind honorable members that following the last general elections a representative of Tasmania, which is the smallest State, prevailed over a representative of New South Wales when a selection of members to form the Government was made. In saying that I do not feel that I am divulging confidential information because it is almost common knowledge. When Labour candidates obtain a majority of seats at elections, the people know that the members of the new Government will be selected by exhaustive ballot from members of the party, which is a democratic method. The Commonwealth of Australia is a federation comprising the several States all of which have a moral right to be represented in the Government. The Australian Labour party believesn ththe electoral principle of one value for one vote, and it is convinced that the needs of Australia can best be served by a Parliament elected on that basis. So far as is possible Labour seeks to cater adequately for the needs of the less populous States, but it keeps in mind all the time that in a democracy no State is entitled to more seats than the numerical strength of its electors justifies. I am satisfied that the Government’s proposals are right in principle, and wise in conception, and are founded on a sound practical basis.
The honorable member for Fawkner referred to the “ rigging “ of electoral boundaries. By that innuendo, he endeavoured to convey to the people the idea that the Government is not doing the honest thing. However, the simple fact is that electoral boundaries cannot be “ rigged “. The Commonwealth Electoral Act prescribes that recommendations for alteration of electoral boundaries shall be made by the electoral commissioners in each State. After presentation to the Government, their reports are laid on the table of the House so that the Parliament is afforded an opportunity to consider them. Members of the Parliament, who possess a greater practical knowledge of individual electorates than do electoral commissioners, have the opportunity to criticize those recommendations, and to decide whether they should be accepted or returned to the commissioners for further examination. Honorable members are aware that maps of the constituencies are exhibited in Parliament House and displayed in places where the public can examine them, so that any one who has any objection to offer may make his objection known. For that reason the allegation that boundaries can be “ rigged “ is just so much nonsense, intended to tickle the ears of the public. The size of the electorates will immediately be reduced if the Government’s proposals are adopted.
Mr. Archie C aimer on interjecting,
– I listened to the speech made by the honorable member for Barker last night, and I heard him assert that the Government would attempt to secure some tactical advantage by increasing the size of some electorates and reducing that of others. He mentioned the electorate of Kalgoorlie as one which would be altered. However, his remarks were right “ of the beam “ because it is a matter of mathematical certainty that when the boundaries are reviewed the size of all electorates will be reduced.
From my own point of view I should not mind if” the boundaries of the electorate of Bass, which I represent, were reduced. Compared with Kalgoorlie .or Barker, it is a mere pocket handkerchief in size, but compared, to Fawkner it covers a substantial area. I cannot go over my electorate in a tram in fifteen minutes, nor, indeed, can I “ cover “ it in fifteen days. It is a matter of sheer impossibility to secure anything in the nature of uniformity of size between city and country electorates, and in any readjustment of electoral boundaries it is inevitable that country electorates will cover much more territory than metropolitan districts. We must remember that large numbers of people are concentrated in extremely small areas in the cities. ‘ The electorate of Dalley, which is represented by Mr. Speaker, is probably the smallest in Australia. The honorable member for Denison (Dr. Gaha) also has a small electorate, but the electorate of the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) embraces almost all the centre of Tasmania, and it takes him days to travel through it. However, those are mere accidents of fortune, and very little, if anything, can be done to rectify such . inequalities. That being so, I deprecate the suggestions made by honorable members opposite that the Government is actuated by sinister motives in introducing the present proposals. I believe that when these measures are properly understood they will be favorably received by the press and the public, and that honorable members on both sides of the House will realize the great advantage which they are designed to confer on the community. Although members of Parliament have at their disposal to-day much more rapid means of transportation to “ cover “ their electorates than did the parliamentaryrepresentatives of a generation ago, the fact remains that the demands upon them are much greater to-day. Constituents have a right to the ear of their parliamentary representative and they should have first call on his time. However, because of the size of the present electorates it is quite impracticable for many people to interview their parliamentary representatives. It has been suggested that Tasmania will not be adequately represented if the size of the Parliament is increased in accordance with this proposal. There will, however, be four more Tasmanian senators and, therefore, four extra voices speaking for that State in one of the Houses of the Parliament and in the party rooms. It is true that Tasmania will have only five members in the House of Representatives, but the view of constitutional experts is that that position cannot be avoided at present In any case, taking a realistic view of the matter, that number can be increased only when the population is sufficient to warrant it. What may be regarded as an anomaly to-day can he corrected when the population of the State has increased considerably, as I am confident that it will, in view of the industrial expansion that is now taking place there. I support wholeheartedly the two measures now under discussion.
– Unlike the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard), I oppose the proposal contained in the two bills now under discussion. At the same time, I concede that there is some justification for a re-organization of electorates in relation to the House of Representatives, designed to improve the representation that it is possible to give under the present system. This problem is not one that can be solved properly by a decision taken at a short meeting of the members of one political party. Many factors have a bearing upon it, and they must all be considered before an equitable solution can be found. Prom the evidence before us, it is evident that the Government has considered only one of the many factors involved in this matter, namely, the increase of popula tion that has taken place since the present system was evolved. I admit that that is an important factor, but it is not the only one and does not of itself justify this proposal for an increase of the number of seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Government has made a deduction from a cursory examination of only one factor, and I say that deduction is unsound.
Under the present system, there are ta number of small and compact city electorates, and the task of representing them is relatively light. The member can easily walk round the whole of his electorate in one day, and his constituents can, by the expenditure of a few pence, attend at a central office to submit their problems. The social requirements of the member can be easily attended to from the comfort of his own home. In those circumstances, 60,000 or 70,000 electors can be effectively and efficiently represented by one man, particularly when secretarial assistance is provided. If need be, that assistance could be increased at a small cost. In such a case, the increase of population is not an effective argument for the enormous expenditure that this proposal will entail. By no stretch of the imagination can the increase of population be used as an argument in favour of an increase of the size of the Senate. The Senate is primarily a house of review, and has a special duty to safeguard State rights. Its function is such that senators are not required to undertake detailed representation of electors in their States. I contend, therefore, that an increase of the present number of senators is entirely unnecessary. The Senate as now constituted should be able satisfactorily to perform the special functions required of it. It cannot be contended that an increase of population alone is an argument in favour of a proposal of the scope and extent of that which we are now discussing.
At the commencement of my remarks I conceded that some increase was necessary. That statement was based upon a consideration of all the factors involved in this problem. I shall refer briefly to some of them in support of my contention that some increase is necessary and to explain what I think should be the extent of that increase. The first factor is the increase of the size of the population. The second is the size of some electorates. I referred to that in dealing with the small city electorates and pointed out that the increase of population does not warrant a reduction of their size. The position is vastly different in country electorates, some of which are so large as to prevent the member from having that close personal contact with electors in all parts of his constituency that is so essential to efficient representation. The close contact that is possible in the small city electorates but not in the large country electorates is, I believe, very important, because it is the only means by which a member can be kept constantly informed of the various movements in his electorate. At present the electors in small city electorates have an advantage over those in large country districts, because they enjoy such contact with their members. It follows, therefore, that the representation of the large country electorates could, with advantage to the whole of the community, be increased. The third factor is bound up with the second. It is the proper representation of the productive capacity of the nation, which relates principally to primary production and is centred in the large country electorates, which have not the same degree of representation as have city electorates. It is unassailable that production generally, but, particularly primary production, should have effective representation in this Parliament - representation at least equal to that of the other sections of the community, which are not directly connected with production, but only handle the products or live by virtue of them. Therefore, the present system, with its large, sparsely populated rural electorates, which produce the greatest part of the wealth of Australia, is a serious impediment to proper representation, and something should be done to improve it. The proposal to alter the system of representation presents the opportunity for that improvement. That does not mean that I endorse the fancy schemes that depart from the basic principle of one man, one vote that one hears about from time to time; but I believe after due consideration that it would be possible to alter the present system slightly in order to ensure the equal representation of all sections and that the time has arrived when it should be done.
It seems that no consideration has been given by the Government to the cost factor. Obviously, it9 main intention is to increase the number of representatives in this House. As the Constitution stands, that can be done only by increasing the membership of the Senate. So the Government has said, “All right, irrespective of the need for an increase of the membership of the Senate and of the added cost that that will entail, we will increase the number of members in the Senate so that we’ shall achieve our objective of increasing the membership of the House of Representatives “. In other words, costs have been disregarded. The proposal means the further crowding of two already overcrowded chambers, the provision of more office space and accommodation in Canberra, together with additional secretaries and other officers. All that will cost a considerable sum of money, the expenditure of which is not justifiable in the face of the crying need for economy in all branches of public administration. The cost entailed in the increase of the membership of the Senate seems to be entirely a squandering of public money and is not justified. The proposed increase of the membership of the House of Representatives is on a far greater scale than I consider necessary and the cost is not fully justified.
The quota system by which the number of seats in the House of Representatives is determined also bears on the problem. The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) and other honorable members said that the method prescribed by the Constitution must be adopted in the redistribution of seats. The Government has not hesitated to consult the people by way of referendum when it has considered an alteration of the Constitution necessary. If it is thought that the quota system cannot be departed from without an alteration of the Constitution, the difficulty could be easily overcome by referring the matter to the people. The Constitution lays down that a quota shall be determined by dividing the total population of
Australia by twice the number of senators. The number of members to be chosen in each State is determined ‘by dividing the number of people of the State by the quota. That gives the number of seats in each State. The quota is also responsible for the determination of the boundaries of the various electoral divisions, because the boundaries must be so drawn as to embrace within them the number of electors determined for each electorate by the method to which I have referred. Obviously,- as long as that system prevails, we must have a continuance of the state of affairs under which we have in closely settled areas tiny electorates, with little productive capacity, whose representatives are in close touch with the people and, side by side with them, large country electorates which produce most of the wealth of the nation but are difficult to represent effectively. The Government’s proposals set out to perpetuate those conditions. There can be no real step towards more equitable representation of the people - and the Government claims that as its objective - while the system I have outlined remains as the only one available for the determination of the boundaries of electorates.
The final factor to be considered is what the people of Australia think about the proposal before, the House and the problem of redistribution. A principle that has long been regarded as cardinal in the practice of democracy is that the people, not the Parliament, shall have the right to determine how and by whom they shall be governed. That principle is involved in this proposal because it affects the determination of the electorates and the number of representatives in the Parliament. The present system, which has been in operation for many years, was determined originally by the Federal Convention. After considerable discussion, the convention submitted a draft Constitution that was approved by the people. Therefore, the provisions of that constitution should not be changed lightly. In order to deal effectively with the position the Constitution must be altered. Therefore, before the method of dealing with the problem is finally decided, the Government should refer it to a commission divorced from party politics with in structions to take into account all the factors bearing on it, not just the” one factor of an increase of population. When the commission has reported back to the Parliament, its proposals should he submitted to the people by way of a referendum. That is the only democratic way in which the problem can be tackled adequately.
I have enumerated briefly factors which have some bearing on this problem. In determining the course of action which should be followed, the following deductions can reasonably be drawn from them : First, the increase of population which has taken place since federation justifies some increase of the number of members of the House of Representatives, but does not justify any increase whatsoever of the number of senators; secondly, many country electorates should be reduced in area in order to provide more effective and efficient representation of the people living in them; thirdly, greater consideration should be given to the representation of primary producing areas; fourthly, the cost involved demands that any alteration of the present system should be limited to the minimum actually required to deal effectively with the problem; fifthly, the Constitution precludes any alteration being made except by way of an all-round adjustment of all the electorates throughout Australia; and, finally, that the electors themselves are entitled to be heard on these proposals. The solution which flows logically from those deductions is that there should be established a constitutional convention to consider all the factors involved. That body should report to the Parliament and its recommendations should ultimately be referred to the people at a referendum. By that means we could re-adjust the present system on sound logical grounds, and the readjustment could be effected at a minimum, cost to the taxpayers and in accordance with the views of the people as a whole. That is entirely different from the Government’s plan to force these proposals upon the people whether they like them or not. On the other hand, if the Government persists with this legislation it can be fairly charged with foisting upon the country proposals which have been hastily conceived, ill considered and designed to serve not the interests of the nation but those of one political party.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Lang) adjourned.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Bank Act - Appointments - F. V. Fels, R. M. McNiven.
House adjourned at 12.48 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
s asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1, 2 and 3. The distribution of the total strength of the defence forces between the three services, the number of enlistments in the interim forces and permanent forces, and the number of recruits for permanent forces, are shownin the following table: -
s asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
What are the present strengths of - (a) the Royal Australian Navy; (b) the Australian Army; and (c) the Royal Australian Air Force?
– The information asked for is embodied in my reply to-day to another question by the honorable member on this subject.
s asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
Will he inform the House of the present strengths of the Australian, New Zealand, British and Indian forces respectively, comprising the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
The strength of the Australian contingent of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan at the 1st April. 1948, was 8,203. Any statement as to the strength of the United Kingdom and New Zealand contingents does not come within the province of the Australian Government, but is a matter for those governments. As has already been announced, the Indian contingent has been withdrawn.
Immigration : Rural Workers ; Deserters from Dutch Ship “ Muiderkerk “.
n asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 2. On the 20th January, 1948, a conference was held in Canberra between
Commonwealth and State immigration representatives at which, amongst other matters, the labour requirements of both .primary and secondary industries in each State, including the demand for ^migrants for rural work, were discussed. It was decided at the conference that the St.ite immigration authorities would advise my department where their need of certain occupational categories of British migrants was urgent. My department is still awaiting replies froin most of the States. During ray visit overseas lust year, my colleague, Senator Armstrong, then the Minister for Munitions, who acted as Minister for Immigration in my’. absence, replied on my behalf to correspondence from, the Graziers Federal Council of Australia and other affiliated bodies, which made representations for priority of travel to be accorded to rural workers under the migration schemes. A full explanation of the prescribed procedure in operation between the Commonwealth and the States, which receive nominations in the first instance, was forwarded to the Graziers Federal Council, and a letter of appreciation was received from that organization. The council was informed that whilst the questions of introduction of numbers of rural workers, and the .priority of shipment to be accorded them, were primarily matters for consideration by the State immigration authorities in each State my department would assist in every way possible in facilitating passages for nominees recommended for high priority by the State immigration authorities.
The honorable member may also bc aware that I have recently agreed to the allocation of 1,000 displaced persons, who are being brought to Australia under an agreement with the’ Preparatory Commission for the International Refugee Organization, for employment in the sugar industry in Queensland and New South Wales to assist in harvesting the valuable 1D4S sugar crop. In addition, I have undertaken to facilitate the entry into Australia, of SOO northern Italians for employment in that industry. These Italians will, of course, have to be nominated by residents of Australia who are suitable guarantors and in a position to maintain and accept responsibility for the accommodation of these nominees. No government financial assistance will be given to these Italian settlers. The thousand displaced persons who are to commence employment in the sugar-cane harvest are at present en route to Australia in two vessels, the first of which, the General Black, will arrive in Melbourne on or about the 26th April. After a short course of instruction in rudimentary English, in Australian currency, weights and measures, and the Australian way of life generally, at my department of immigration reception and training centre, Bonegilla, they will commence moving to their new employment on or about the 14th May, at the rate of 50 or 60 per day. The second vessel, the General Sturgis, carrying the balance of these people is due in Australia on the 12th May. The cane cutters on this vessel will commence to move to their employment about the middle of June. In reply ing to the honorable member’s question, which particularly relates to Queensland, I do not want to convey the impression that it is the only State in which assistance has been given to rural industries. Bach State has received its share of immigrants and displaced persons have been allocated to those industries, including rural industries, in most urgent need. Examples of the rural industries in other States which have already received valuable help are the fruit-growing industries in Tasmania, Victoria, and South Australia, and the timber industries in New South Wales and Western Australia.
n asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
Is it correct, as stated in a report from Melbourne, that two deserters from the Dutch ship Muiderkerk, who were fined for desertion in Melbourne City Court yesterday, produced certificates from the Immigration Department entitling them to reside in Australia for three months? Is it the policy of the department to issue such certificates to foreigners who have broken the Australian, aa well as their own, laws by deserting their vessels? Does not the Minister consider that the issue of such certificates is an encouragement to deserters?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
On the 16th April, the honorable member for Flinders asked -whether two deserters from the Dutch ship Muiderkerk had been granted certificates allowing them to reside in Australia for three months and whether it was the policy of the Immigration Department to issue such certificates to foreign deserters. I then pointed out that until recently it has not been the practice to take punitive action under the Immigration Act in respect of seamen of European race who deserted overseas ships. Such’ action was not considered necessary as deserters could be prosecuted under the Navigation Act, the number of desertions was not sufficient to impede the movements of ships and generally it was found that the mcn signed on other ships after a stay here. It was the practice in such cases to place the men under exemption to ensure that action could be taken to enforce their departure if they came under adverse notice. Recently, the number of desertions has increased to an extent that shipowners, both British and foreign, have become apprehensive as to their ability to keep their ships moving and if desertions continue at the present rate it may have a serious’ effect on our overseas trade and the flow of migrants to this country. I therefore issued instructions recently that all deserters from overseas ships were to he prosecuted under the Immigration Act us prohibited immigrants. It is expected that this action will prove an effective deterrent and will greatly reduce the existing rate of desertions.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 23 April 1948, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1948/19480423_reps_18_196/>.