Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Electoral Amendment (Territory Representation) Bill 2020; Second Reading
What a delight! It's the best speech I've heard from a government minister for quite some time because it produces an excellent outcome for the people of the Northern Territory, including Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands, which are a part of the Lingiari electorate, as well as people from the ACT. I commend the government and the minister for his outstanding speech. He was able to explain the dark arts of the harmonic mean—well, more or less. I thank him for that.
I won't speak for long, but I do want to acknowledge my friend the member for Solomon, who, with Senator McCarthy, the CLP's Senator McMahon and myself have been driving a bipartisan campaign around this issue for over 12 months. It's come to a conclusion as a result of the government accepting the merits of the arguments which have been put to them around the stupidity that would have arisen had we gone back to one seat in the Northern Territory. I say that as the only person in this parliament who's been the single member for the Northern Territory. I can tell you that the proposition that we should go back to one representative for the whole of the Northern Territory was just an absurd one. The shadow minister talked about the margins of error. I've been in arguments for some years around the way in which the bureau assesses populations in the Northern Territory, including as far back as 2004, when a bill was passed by the Howard government to secure two seats at that time.
I think it's very important to acknowledge what the government has done here: they have provided a basis for ensuring that two seats are retained in the Northern Territory well into the future. Whilst we had an issue around population count at the end of 2019, it is worthwhile noting that, in the current year, we have seen an expansion of the Northern Territory population. Since the middle of the year, 4½ thousand people have relocated to the Northern Territory—principally as a result of COVID, we understand. So it's very important that we acknowledge that this will have a long-term impact upon representation in this parliament for the Northern Territory—including the Indian Ocean territories—as well as the ACT. Sometimes I disagree with Antony Green but on this particular occasion I am happy to say that we support his recommendations, which have been adopted by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, and the considerations the committee has had and the recommendations they have made, which I know will be very well received in the Northern Territory.
It's worth understanding that in the Northern Territory there has been a really big campaign, generated by the member for Solomon and the two Northern Territory senators, around ensuring that we get this representation. The member for New England has just come into the chamber. I want to thank him for his outspoken support for this legislation. His National Party colleagues understand that you need to make sure regional Australia is properly represented in this parliament. By ensuring that we have two seats in the Northern Territory, they have helped to do that. That's partly up to them. I thank the member for New England and his colleagues for their support for this legislation. It has been quite remarkable. We often have division in this parliament, but here there has been cooperation and consensus around something which is very important. I thank again those people who have contributed.
As the member for Lingiari, I have a particular interest in this because 42 per cent of my voting population are Aboriginal Territorians and, had we gone back to one seat, their vote would have been substantially washed out. They know that they have a significant voice in determining who their representative is. I'm fortunate that, over 12 elections, I have received overwhelming support from those people. It is literally why I am here. I thank them for that, but I want to thank the parliament for ensuring that their voice is not dissipated—because that is what would have happened if we had moved back to one seat. I thank the parliament for this legislation.
The second reading speech was a fine speech. At the end, it said that we hope this bill passes through the parliament by the end of the year. By the time my friend the member for Solomon speaks, if there are no further speakers, we will have done it. This will be applauded by people across the Northern Territory, from all sectors. It's remarkable the number of people who've pulled us up on the street and said, 'They're not serious about going back to one seat, are they?' Of course, we said, 'I don't think the parliament is, but the process that has been put in place as a result of electoral law meant that it was going to happen.' As a result of these amendments, that has all changed. We have now secured the two seats for the Northern Territory. I thank all of those involved—my friend the member for Solomon, Senator McCarthy and the CLP's Senator McMahon—for working cooperatively together to make sure we get this outcome. Again, thank you to the National Party.