State Electoral Redistribution
STATE ELECTORAL REDISTRIBUTION
Matter of Public Importance
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Mr O’FARRELL (Northcott) [7.30 p.m.]: I was saying before debate on this matter was interrupted that there are two issues in this debate. The first is the delay which is occurring within the redistribution process and the second is a matter of principle that, clearly, is unknown to the Government, that is, the principle of electoral fairness. It has been clear for the past 12 months that factional squabbling within the Australian Labor Party has caused it not to commence the redistribution process. It seems unwilling to commence the redistribution process until such time as Sussex Street gets both factions to agree to a central submission. That may seem reasonable, but I have to say that the redistribution legislation does not state that redistribution shall occur at a time of convenience to political parties; the redistribution process states that redistribution shall occur either when there is malapportionment, which currently exists, or after the second election from the last redistribution occurring, which also exists.
A redistribution has been due in this State since the day after the last election. It does this
Government no good to keep delaying that process. Over Christmas there was an outrageous slur against the New South Wales Electoral Commissioner, Mr Ian Dickson, who had to publicly declare that he would not retire, as many Labor officials had hoped, and that he would participate in the forthcoming electoral process. The Opposition welcomes Ian Dickson’s participation in the forthcoming redistribution. We simply urge this Government to get on with the job. The second issue is one that I am sure Government members have problems with, that is, the principle of one vote one value. We know that Labor traditions are not very principled; we know that the New South Wales Right, which runs the Labor Party and government in this State, is unprincipled; but central to our democracy is the principle that my vote is equal to that of the Minister for Local Government, who is in the Chamber.
It is upon that basis that redistribution should occur. It is clear from Labor’s leaked plan - a leaked plan that has not to this stage been rebutted by anyone in the Labor Party hierarchy, in Parliament or out of Parliament - that the Labor Party seeks to set about a reduction in the size of Parliament, not to save money, not to guarantee a one vote one value principle, but to ensure that this Government is returned at the next election on a minority vote; a vote of 47 per cent of the population. I also note in passing that if a reduction of this House occurs it will represent broken promise No. 346, because at estimates committees only last June the Premier said, "There will be no change in the number of seats in the lower House in the forthcoming redistribution." I make a plea on behalf of the Opposition for the Government to get on with the job. The Government must remove politics from this process.
The Government must examine immediately redistribution legislation to ensure that two things occur: first, that in future there is an automatic start to the process and that we do not have to wait for a government to decide when a redistribution will occur; and, second, that the Government should consider legislation that takes patronage out of this issue and ensures that the Chief Justice, not the Government, appoints the chair of the Electoral Commission, so we can do away once and for all with the issue of political patronage. I have spoken in this House previously about the issue of electoral fairness. I again urge this Government to consider the South Australian legislation introduced under the Bannon Government, which ensures that the party which gets 50 per cent, plus one, of the vote forms government. A great Labor politician said:
That is not the case in this State. We do not have good, clean, honest government because we do not have a good, clean, honest electoral system. Our concern is that we cannot trust Labor with this redistribution process. [Time expired.]
Mr E. T. PAGE (Coogee - Minister for Local Government) [7.35 p.m.]: I thank the honourable member for Northcott for raising this issue. What is the real situation? Somehow the honourable member latched on to a single article in the Sydney Morning Herald which, somehow or other, has gospel-like significance. I am certain that when an article is published in the paper which is not favourable to the honourable member’s party he would not give it the same validity. A statute which covers redistribution is triggered under the two circumstances described by the honourable member for Northcott. Those two triggers are now in place. There will be a redistribution between now and the next election. The honourable member for Northcott was correct when he said that there could have been a redistribution once this Parliament first assembled, but there is a finalisation date. As long as that redistribution occurs before the next election it will be valid.
That redistribution has to be carried out before the next election; it cannot go beyond that date. It is quite stupid for the honourable member to suggest that, somehow, there is some magic date by which it needs to be done, other than the calling of the next election. I was amazed when the honourable member said that there were two significant issues in this debate. He referred first to the delay. The delay does not matter. The redistribution becomes operative at the next election. It will be done before then and that will be the end of it. The honourable member referred second to a matter of principle, the matter of electoral fairness. The honourable member impugned the reputation of the three commissioners. Later in his speech he said that Ian Dickson, the Electoral Commissioner, was a great guy, but he impugned his integrity by saying that there was a matter of electoral unfairness in the way in which the system operates.
Is the honourable member saying that Ian Dickson will be unfair? I do not believe that. Is the honourable member saying that the judge who will be appointed will be unfair? Is the honourable member saying that the Surveyor General will be unfair? It is appalling for someone of his stature to pour scorn on intelligent people in this State. The
honourable member referred to the matter of principle but he did not refer - and I am sure from the tenor of his speech that he believes in it - to the concept of one vote one value. He referred to the requirement in South Australia for the party that gets the largest number of votes to form government. Neville Wran provided for the abolition of the zonal system in New South Wales. He brought in one vote one value, or equal electorates. John Mason, the Leader of the Liberal Party in those days, and the forebear of Opposition members said:
You only get good, clean, honest government when you have good clean honest electoral systems where it is known that if 51 per cent of the people vote for a party that party will form government.
John Mason went on to say:
I have never heard anything more immoral or improper.
That is what John Mason had to say about one vote one value. Reference was made earlier to minority votes. It is true that the Labor Party got more seats in this Parliament and it did not get as many votes as the coalition. That was not my redistribution or the redistribution of my party; it was the coalition’s redistribution. Opposition members carried out the redistribution before the 1991 election; they provided the basis for the votes which took place in 1991 and 1995. While there is some validity in the fact that the coalition received more votes than the Labor Party, it does not take into account the fact that the Labor Party can run marginal campaigns. We know the seats that we need to win. We have candidates and campaign managers who know how to operate in marginal seats, so we win the seats that count.
Mr ACTING DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Strathfield to order. I call the honourable member for Coffs Harbour to order.
Mr E. T. PAGE: The office I took over when I became the Minister was previously occupied by Ted Pickering, who was in the upper House and who was the guru of the Liberal Party as far as campaigning in marginal seats was concerned. Out the back there was a phone - and the phone is still there - and programmed on that phone were the marginal seats. Whoever was sitting in the back room in that government-funded building running their Liberal campaign had only to press a button to get through to the candidate for Coogee, or the candidate for Bathurst, or some of the other marginal seats. But there were two seats missing: Badgerys Creek and Gladesville. The Liberal Party did not even realise that they were two marginal seats. Of course, that is where the Labor Party was campaigning.
By the time the Liberal strategists woke up, it was too late; we had won those seats before they realised that they were in jeopardy. The reason that we could win government, even though we had fewer votes than the coalition parties, is that we know how to campaign - and we will do that in the next election. Now the Opposition says that all sorts of rules and regulations should be brought in, yet it was the coalition parties that were in government for seven years. Suddenly the Opposition says that for a party to win government it must get 50 per cent of the valid vote. They were in government for seven years, and did nothing about this, but now that they are no longer in government it is a big problem. They say that the Chief Justice should appoint the redistribution commissioners. That was never an issue when the coalition parties were in office. Suddenly they find all sorts of spurious reasons for these changes - spurious reasons, but they do not give a tinker’s cuss.
Going back in history, one of the most dastardly things that happened in this Parliament was done when Willis was the Premier. I think you, Mr Acting Deputy-Speaker, would recall this episode. In the lead-up to the election in 1976, realising the coalition parties were in trouble, he put a motion to the House for a redistribution. The motion was introduced at midnight when the Parliament was sitting, and it finally passed through the House at 2 o’clock in the morning. Where is the fairness in that? What were the predecessors of the honourable member for Northcott doing when that was being pushed through this Parliament? One of the regrets I have about the next election is that the honourable member for Northcott will not be the campaign manager for my opposition. I think this will probably cost us a few votes. In all fairness, by and large Liberals in this State do not know how to run campaigns, so I doubt if they have anyone who could do a better job than he can.
By way of interjection the honourable member for Northcott talks about the credibility of his people in New South Wales running elections. I remind him that it was the Liberal Party that undertook the redistribution, yet it lost the election last year even though the Labor Party polled fewer votes than the coalition did. That is no way to organise elections. It is no way to run elections for a campaign manager, Ted Pickering, to be unaware until it was too late that Badgerys Creek and Gladesville were marginal seats. That is hardly good campaigning.
All sorts of claims have been made about the article in last Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald.
The honourable member for Northcott has forgotten that if there are to be any changes to the procedures for redistributions or the number of seats, that can only be done by this Parliament. It cannot be done by the right wing of the Australian Labor Party, the left wing of the ALP or a combination of the two. It can only be done by a vote of the two Houses of Parliament. Whatever comes up before this House has to be passed by the upper House, where there are seven crossbenchers who no doubt will have a pretty firm view on this.
There is no point talking like Chicken Little about the sky falling in. Any redistribution decision will have to come from this Parliament and from nowhere else. Now the Opposition says there is something wrong with reducing the number of seats. One of the first things that Premier Greiner did upon election to office - a redistribution was not due - was to cut the number of seats from 109 to 99. Apparently that was all right, but for some reason any further reduction is a matter of principle. They are completely inconsistent arguments and not worth debating. In summary, at the moment we are talking about spurious rumours. There is a statutory process that must be followed. If that is to be changed in any way, it would have to be done by an Act of Parliament and that would need the support of both Houses.
Mr IEMMA (Hurstville) [7.45 p.m.]: Honourable members have heard a lot about principle and fairness in our electoral system. I remind the honourable member for Northcott what former Premier Nick Greiner had to say in relation to the current electoral legislation that the honourable member for Northcott finds so unfair. In Hansard on 27 February 1990 the former Premier Nick Greiner had this to say about the system and the legislation that the honourable member for Northcott finds so unfair. He said:
One of the most scurrilous, wicked, gerrymandering, Labor directed acts that has ever been done in this Parliament . . .
that is, his redistribution -
The principles to be applied to a redistribution -
If that was not enough, John Booth, the former honourable member for Wakehurst, had this to say on 26 March 1990 at page 651:
will ensure that there is no scope for a gerrymander in New South Wales.
that is the coalition’s legislation -
That is the legislation that currently applies to the New South Wales electoral system. The Leader of the National Party - and I note that he is in the Chamber - on 20 March 1990 on page 673 of Hansard had this to say:
There is not, and cannot be under this legislation, -
That is a system that the honourable member for Northcott says is a rort, is unfair. The excitable honourable member for Ermington also had plenty to say about the system. On 20 March 1990 he said:
The bill before the House will restore true democracy to New South Wales and will give country people the opportunity for fair representation.
Malcolm Mackerras has also had plenty to say about the sorts of criticisms that the honourable member for Northcott has made. I quote Malcolm Mackerras from an article that appeared in the Australian in March 1995, just one week after the election. Mr Mackerras had this to say:
The level playing field continues . . . the catchcry is not gerrymander . . . Given the small 1.5 per cent variation allowed between electoral sizes, the boundaries cannot be rorted.
that is, the 1991 redistribution map -
Every reputable analyst, every fair minded politician accepted the new map -
as eminently fair. The Liberal Party was so delighted it said to itself: Roll on the election.
that is, their system -
No record exists of Collins or any other Liberal complaining in March 1991. If the system -
was so unfair, why did the Libs take so long to notice?
That is the key. Of course, the honourable member for Northcott does not like the fact that the Liberal Party lost the last election. He raises the point that percentage of the two-party vote that the Liberal and National parties polled did not match the number of seats that they gained. He claims that they polled 51 per cent of the two-party vote, but they did not get 50 per cent, plus one, of the seats. That is nothing new and nothing sinister under single-member constituencies. With single-member constituencies that has happened in every State in this country, except in Tasmania. That State has a different electoral system, a multimember electoral system. But that has happened in every State in this country,
and at a national level. I need to go back only to the New South Wales results for the last Federal election to see the sort of imbalance that can occur under single-member constituencies when a large number of seats are held by a very small margin and there is a sizeable swing. The Federal results in New South Wales showed the following pattern. The Labor Party polled 47.4 per cent of the two-party vote in New South Wales but gained only 38 per cent of the seats.
In the Federal elections in 1954, 1961 and 1969 the Labor Party gained more than 50 per cent of the two-party preferred vote but lost each of those elections. It did so because on occasions the results are skewed by single-member constituencies. Because of the reforms to our electoral system by the Wran and Unsworth governments between 1976 and 1988, those results do not mean that those constituencies are malapportioned or that a gerrymander applies. The Minister for Local Government outlined what the former coalition leader, John Mason, had to say when the legislation for one vote one value was introduced. [Time expired.]
Mr O’FARRELL (Northcott) [7.50 p.m.], in reply: It is true in politics, as in life, that what goes around comes around. Based on figures produced by Malcolm Mackerras, if the 1991 State election, which the honourable member for Hurstville has just been rambling on about, had been held on the boundaries introduced in 1987 by the Unsworth Government, Labor would have been elected with only 47 per cent of the vote. But the House is now discussing a leaked Labor plan that shows that with a further reduction of the number of members to 93 Labor would be returned to office with a minority vote. I address one comment to the honourable member for Hurstville: the accuracy of a redistribution is not known until after it has occurred. Only the test of the ballot box proves whether a redistribution is fair and whether it meets the principles set out in the legislation.
I am pleased that the Minister for Local Government participated in the debate and that he enunciated the principle that delay does not count; delay is not a cause for concern. It is important that electors know in which electorate they will vote at the next election; it is important for members to know which electorates they will represent at the next election. The hardest task that members have is letting their constituents know that they exist and are here to help them. At the end of the day that is what we all do in our electorates. That is why delay in this matter is important, that is why the process should have started and that is why there should be some certainty.
The principle of one vote one value is important. The Minister for Local Government referred to a debate that a former Liberal Party leader had with a former Labor Party leader - Mr Mason versus Mr Wran. Neville Wran did many good things with this State’s electoral system. Like Don Dunstan and a number of other Labor leaders around the country, one of the things Neville Wran stood up for was the principle of one vote one value. It does the Minister for Local Government no good at all to retreat from the position put forward by Neville Wran in 1978 and to endorse a proposal that would result in the re-election of the Labor Government with a minority vote. The Minister did not come into the House and say that John Della Bosca, Peter Sams and the Premier had asked him to say that there is absolutely no truth in that article. The Minister did not refute the article, so we can take it that the article is perhaps 80 per cent true.
The second point I want to make is that not that long ago, in a State to the north of us, there was great controversy about the drawing of electoral boundaries. That controversy was fuelled by Labor Party members. They show themselves to be hypocrites when they attack electoral inequities in other States but do nothing about electoral inequities in this State when they are in office. The third point I want to make about the one vote one value system is that for the past 20 or 30 years it has not been an issue in this State. The honourable member for Hurstville could not name one State election in New South Wales in which a minority vote returned a government. I can name one: the 1995 election of the Carr Government with 49 per cent of the vote.
The former coalition Government endeavoured to make the electoral process fairer. It came to office in 1988 with an electoral system that gave Labor a 3 per cent bias. That bias was reduced in the 1991 redistribution. Mr Mackerras’s prospective comments about the redistribution appear to be fair. As we know from the results of the 1991 election, the system was not fair. It did not equate with the sorts of redistributions that were initiated in South Australia by the Bannon Labor Government. They legislate to ensure that the party that gets 50 per cent plus one of the vote is guaranteed government. The reduction in the size of the Parliament brought about by the Greiner-Murray Government was based on principle. It was based upon a genuine commitment to smaller government, a commitment ultimately accepted by the Labor Party. This redistribution is about the Labor Party hanging onto power; it is about denying regional and rural New
South Wales a voice in the Parliament. I am sure the honourable member for Bathurst would be most concerned about that if he were sitting in the Chamber. The important thing is that Labor cannot be trusted on this issue, as it cannot be trusted on other issues. [Time expired.]
The present procedures produced the 1991 redistribution, which was the fairest that I have examined. If so fair a map can be obtained under the present procedures, what could be the motive for any unnecessary change.