Senate debates

Tuesday, 1 December 2020


Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Ensuring Fair Representation of the Northern Territory) Bill 2020; Report from Committee

5:24 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Ensuring Fair Representation of the Northern Territory) Bill 2020. I note Labor members and senators support the recommendations of this report.

To reach the point of bipartisan consensus on this matter with this bill is truly gratifying, but it has not been without substantial effort and commitment from those advocating for the rights of Territorians. I want to acknowledge in this place Senators McCarthy and McMahon for their advocacy. It's also important, I think, to acknowledge the author and co-sponsor of this bill, Senator Farrell, for the hard work of placing this on the table and pursuing this matter of fairness well before the government came on board. I'd also like to thank the chair, Senator McGrath.

This report and the government's subsequent drafting of its own bill has really been a case of the government coming on board only following a sustained campaign by the Labor Party and, indeed, pressure from the National Party. Labor certainly welcomes the fact that the government has now agreed to legislate to guarantee a minimum two seats in the House of Representatives for both the Northern Territory and the ACT. The committee's inquiry into this bill followed the bill's introduction into the Senate by Senator McCarthy on 11 June this year. I do want to particularly acknowledge Senator McCarthy's efforts on this campaign but also the tireless way in which she fights for Territorians every day in this place.

The committee's inquiry received over 60 submissions and heard from over 20 witnesses at its public hearing. It should be noted that all but a few submissions were strongly in favour of Labor's bill. As it noted, while the Constitution mandates the states a minimum representation of five seats in the House of Representatives, it leaves the matter of territory representation in the lower house as entirely a matter for parliament. Therefore it was more than appropriate for this place to take action to prevent one of the most remote parts of this nation, with a high proportion of First Nations people, from effectively having its representation in the place that forms government slashed in half should no action be taken. As the inquiry examined, this would have been the outcome if representation were determined based on the Australian Electoral Commission's population determination as made on 3 July this year. This was particularly concerning to the committee and had troubled Labor for some time, given competing estimates of Territory population projections from the Northern Territory government vis-a-vis the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and ultimately other submissions to the committee. Recommendation 1 of this report deals with this, the key issue of this bill, by recommending a floor of two seats for the territories rather than one—a recommendation that Labor has been pursuing and that many in the Territory had advocated for some considerable time.

It is pleasing to see that the government have listed their bill, which will make this enhanced representation floor a reality, for debate in the Senate later this week. Labor have always flagged our support for this bill. Again, I commend the efforts of the many people who have campaigned for fair representation for the Territory and I commend the report to the Senate.


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