Senate debates

Thursday, 3 December 2020


Electoral Amendment (Territory Representation) Bill 2020; Second Reading

11:01 am

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Given that we've had a fairly hectic morning here with previous bills, I'm absolutely delighted to be able to get to my feet on behalf of the people of the Northern Territory and speak about a bill of absolute importance in preserving the seat of Solomon and the seat of Lingiari for the people of the Northern Territory. That's what the Electoral Amendment (Territory Representation) Bill 2020 is all about.

My speech today is really to the people of the Northern Territory and also to the people on Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Thank you for your support in ensuring that we did not lose our voices in the Australian parliament. Many of you provided submissions to the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Matters and spoke so passionately about the need for democratic fairness and the rights of the Territory and the Indian Ocean Territories to be heard in the House of Representatives, so this speech goes out to you: our First Nations communities; our organisations; our ranger groups; our farmers; the cattle industry; the mining industry; the fishos, amateur and commercial alike; our health workers on the frontline, whether you're working in our hospitals, in our clinics or in the remote and regional areas of the Northern Territory and the Indian Ocean Territories—this is about you. It's about your voice. It's about ensuring that the Australian parliament never forgets the people of Lingiari and Solomon.

I thank the Senate for this opportunity, and I certainly thank colleagues on all sides who've stood very strongly in pursuing this. In particular I thank, in the House, Warren Snowdon, the member for Lingiari, and Luke Gosling, the member for Solomon, and, in the Senate, Senator Sam McMahon. It is important that, no matter our political ideologies, our parties or where we live, we have come together very strongly to say this must not happen, where we lose a voice.

In 2022 it will be 100 years since the first member for the Northern Territory came into this parliament—nearly 100 years now. So, nearly a hundred years later, you wanted to keep it at one? It really is a shame job that the Northern Territory has not progressed even more. Two is not enough, but for the purposes of this bill we are enormously grateful that what seemed impossible at the beginning of this year is now becoming very real. I urge all senators to wholeheartedly support the passage of this legislation today, because the people of the Northern Territory—and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island—have many issues to battle. Whether it's the cashless debit card, whether it's the Community Development Program, whether it's jobs and infrastructure or whether it's COVID-19, we want to know that we have voices in this parliament to represent us.

This should never have been an issue. It should never have distracted us to the extent it has, but boy am I enormously grateful to those who stood by us to make sure we never gave up on these voices for the Northern Territory and the Indian Ocean Territories. So this Christmas it is, hopefully, an important gift that we can be certain about as we go into next year. Who knows what next year is going to look like? Are we going to have an election next year? It's a big question, isn't it, for 2021? And the people of the Northern Territory and the Indian Ocean Territories want to make sure we have our voices ready to go.

I'd like to acknowledge a couple of people in particular. I think about the seat of Lingiari. Lingiari, as hopefully everyone does know, comes from the name of Vincent Lingiari, the late Gurindji elder. He fought for land rights—not just for the Northern Territory but for all First Nations people right across Australia—and for our country, Australia, to treat First Nations people with the dignity and respect that we have forever been calling for. Dignity and respect come not only in the way we treat one another but in the financial ways in which we treat each other: in the economic cycles, in the ability to have decent homes—families living not 20 to a house but comfortably in one home, knowing they have families in another home, without feeling overcrowded. That's the dignity and respect that Vincent Lingiari stood for, and his message lives on in his children and grandchildren.

It was Vincent Lingiari's family that I drove out to. I got in my four-wheel drive and went out to Wave Hill, and I spoke to so many people, all these communities—pastoralists, the road workers, the families at Wave Hill—and said: 'Listen, I really need your support here. We have to fight this.' When I got out to Wave Hill, the Gurindji mob got together and we sat down and we talked. I went through and explained: 'This is the Senate. This is how many senators there are. Over here, this is the House. This is how many members there are in the House. And this is us four—Warren, Luke, Sam and I, four of us—in these two houses of over 200 people.' When I sat down with people and explained—'This is our voice'—they looked at me and they said: 'What? And they want to take one of you away?' They said: 'That's not right. We should have more than that.' And I said, 'Yeah, you're right we should, but we definitely shouldn't be losing any.' So the Gurindji got together and they wrote a letter to the Prime Minister. I'm going to table the letter and just read a little bit of it because I think it's important to acknowledge what the children and grandchildren of Vincent Lingiari did on this particular occasion:

Dear Prime Minister,

We are the grandchildren of Vincent Lingiari. In 2000, we gave permission for the Australian Electoral Commission to use our grandfather's name for the electorate of Lingiari. We were proud to see the achievements of Vincent Lingiari and the Gurindji people recognised in this way.

Now, the Australian Electoral Commission has declared the Northern Territory will lose a seat in the Federal Parliament at the next election.

Losing a seat will make our voices softer not louder.

Government talks about Closing the Gap and a First Nations voice yet in the Northern Territory, where almost 30% of the population are Aboriginal, we are losing our voice.

The fight for Land Rights began here on Gurindji country. Our Grandfather Vincent Lingiari fought against power and privilege for the betterment of our people, and all Australians.

We'd love to welcome you, as our Prime Minister …

In fact, they've actually invited not only the Prime Minister but probably most senators and members at some point to come to Wave Hill and walk. I know that Senator Penny Wong has spent time with me out there walking the walk and talking the talk on the importance of what the legacy of Vincent Lingiari is about—the fight against power and privilege. The Gurindji hold that flame so strongly, as they do here in this legislation before the Senate.

I'm enormously proud that, through the combined efforts of so many, we stand here to do the right thing, to make sure the voices of the people of the Northern Territory and the people of the Indian Ocean Territories grow louder in strength, not softer. Bauji Barra.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Are you seeking leave to table the letter?

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, I am seeking leave to table this letter from the Gurindji Aboriginal Corporation.

Leave granted.

11:12 am

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise on behalf of the Greens speak to the Electoral Amendment (Territory Representation) Bill 2020. This is a really exciting day and we hope for these reforms to be passed today. With that in mind, I intend to keep my remarks nice and short because we're coming up against the motions hard marker at 11.45 am.

I am really pleased that we are here today. People will recall that the history of this reform. The AEC, based on small population changes in the Territory, ruled that there was to be only one lower house seat to cover the whole Territory rather than the current two. In a very welcome display of chamber unity, we saw both Senator McCarthy and Senator McMahon sponsor a bill to fix that situation, to restore the right to two seats for the Territory and to ensure that the voices of First Nations people wouldn't be further downgraded in this system that has already underdelivered so much. It was a little bit awkward, because the government didn't actually want Senator McMahon to be collaborating. Through discussions behind closed doors, that bill was withdrawn. But I'm really pleased that the government has now put its own version on the table. We don't actually mind whose name is on the front page; the important outcome is that now we will see that two seats in the lower house will be restored for the Northern Territory and also for the ACT. The way it will do that is slightly different to the original bill. It was suggested by Antony Green to use a harmonic mean. The end result is a strong one. At least two seats will be guaranteed, with the possibility of more going forward.

We strongly support this bill. I want to particularly congratulate the efforts of Senator McCarthy and Senator McMahon in pushing this issue, which has led to this excellent outcome.

I have just a few more comments to make. I think everybody understands that the seat of Lingiari—which Senator McCarthy has so beautifully given us the history of—is made up of 40 per cent First Nations people. What an affront to potentially have had that seat abolished. When 27 per cent of the population of the Northern Territory are First Nations people and 40 per cent are in the seat of Lingiari, and when we already see a system here that has so far been pretty deaf to the needs of First Nations people, that would have just been adding insult to injury.

The other issue is the downgrading of regional and rural issues. In proposing to amalgamate it with an urban seat, the seat of Solomon concentrated around Darwin, you would have seen those rural and regional issues again further diluted, with an inevitable focus on urban issues at the expense of those rural and regional areas where 40 per cent are First Nations voters.

We are thrilled to be supporting this bill today. This is a crucial time in our nation's history. Our relationship with the first peoples of this country remains a festering sore that we here could and should be doing so much better on. Our newest Greens senator, Lidia Thorpe, gave a very powerful first speech last night when she talked to these issues in a way that I hope made everyone feel proud and hopeful for the potential for these issues to be resolved. We need to work on treaties, we need to recognise sovereignty, we need a voice to parliament, we need truth-telling, we need justice, we need healing and we need reparations.

To have abolished a seat that was 40 per cent First Nations would have been going in the absolute wrong direction, so the Greens are really pleased to support this bill today which will see the voices of First Nations people maintained. We share Senator McCarthy's view that in fact they should be elevated. We look forward to working on those issues going forward. Thanks again to Senator McCarthy and Senator McMahon for the initial strong move that has culminated in the government's bill today. Well done to the government for actually coming to the table.

11:16 am

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to support the Electoral Amendment (Territory Representation) Bill 2020. I'm pleased with this outcome not only as the assistant minister responsible for electoral matters but also as a senator for the ACT, one of the jurisdictions that is affected by this bill.

We know concerns were raised on sheer geography. It was pointed out that the new division of the Northern Territory would constitute one-sixth of Australia's total land mass, equal in size to the area of France, Spain and Italy put together. If it were a country, it would have been the 20th largest in the world. Notwithstanding the fact that geography is always an issue when it comes to electorates, the real concern is that we have evolved a system that could be considered, in some cases, unduly harsh, unfair and unrepresentative against that backdrop. In essence, a reduction of a relatively minor margin in voters can result in a massive reduction in representation for those areas. In the Northern Territory, dropping below the quota would result in representation being reduced by half. It also exaggerates the differences between populations per representative. For example, the Northern Territory with one representative would have a population 74,743 greater than other mainland divisions, 139,878 greater than a Tasmanian division and 100,529 more than a division in the ACT. As further illustration, adding one seat in Victoria reduces the average population per member from around 175,000 to 170,500, a difference of only about 4,500. By comparison, dropping one seat in the ACT changes the population per member from 143,186 to 214,780, a difference of 71,594. In the Northern Territory, dropping a seat creates a difference of over 123,000 votes.

These risks are not just hypothetical. They are historical facts. In 2003 the Northern Territory's population fell just 294 short of the required quota, yet it threatened to take their representation down to just one seat. This resulted in amendments to electoral legislation that took into account statistical errors in population estimates. The use of the margin-of-error calculation did indeed keep a second seat for the Northern Territory in 2004, but it was a solution built on the acceptance of statistical error as a legitimate tool for representation and it did not address the issue of aligning the number of voters per electorate as closely as possible between crowded city electorates and sprawling regional ones.

The question then was how to create an electoral system that was fair and representative across the whole of our nation but also reasonable and robust as a matter of electoral mathematics. There was the option of simply mandating a minimum number of seats, which was put to this parliament. Upon closer examination, that simplicity is also a flaw. While simple, that option does not fully discharge our responsibility to deliver, as far as possible, the best, principled basis for determining seats for representation. A politically mandated number could easily be seen as arbitrary, and certainly not in the spirit of the founding of our nation nor the interests of finding a genuinely robust methodology. This very point was raised during the 2004 debates when Warren Snowden warned that such a path could:

… undermine the credibility of the Electoral Act and which would create a precedent for future governments to intervene in a very political and partisan way …

It's a wise warning, and it's worthy of serious consideration. It's also a two-edged sword. Mandating a minimum seat number regardless of how low population actually falls could result in the perverse outcome of an electorate being massively over-represented. In either case, there are issues that need to be addressed. That's why, after consultation with colleagues and submissions from stakeholders, another method was considered and is included in this bill.

This bill proposes the adoption of the harmonic mean, or Dean's method, as a fairer, more robust and more reliable solution than others proposed so far. As Antony Green advocated in his submission on this matter, the adoption of the harmonic mean both protects the people of the territories and provides a legitimate, principle-based solution going forward. It removes the harshness and inequity of knife-edge differences in population creating massive drops in representation. It removes the requirement for statistical errors to be included as a safety net to overcome more fundamental flaws in our electoral calculations. It is a system designed to keep the voter-per-member average in smaller population areas more closely aligned with the national average, something Antony Green notes is not a property of the existing method.

Not only am I pleased with the solution proposed as a legitimate, tested and supported solution for all Australians, it's also a sound result for the Australian Capital Territory. Though smaller in size, the ACT does face the same vagaries in terms of outcomes. Despite our population, the ACT was only granted a third seat based on the margin-of-error calculation. According to Antony Green's submission, using the proposed harmonic mean would have given the ACT a third seat for 1993, 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2016, in each case applying the same rules that would apply to the Northern Territory. It is this issue of equal treatment between the territories that has raised concerns not only in the pursuit of electoral fairness but also to ensure it is fair to the ACT as well as to the Northern Territory. As Senator for the ACT I'm very pleased with where we've gotten to. I contrast this with the proposal that was supported by Labor representatives for the ACT. The bill included in its title the words, 'Ensuring Fair Representation for the Northern Territory'; it didn't give the same fairness to the ACT.

After that bill was referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, this issue became abundantly clear. The committee's report notes:

The private Senators' Bill would introduce a new minimum of two seats for the Northern Territory but would keep the Australian Capital Territory, uniquely, on the lower one seat floor. 1.80 This would institute a two-tier arrangement for minimum Territory representation, rather than modelling the section on the constitutional treatment of Original States whereby all Original States are treated with parity. It would also be a departure from existing electoral arrangements.

It further notes:

By having separate minimum entitlement provisions treating each Territory differently, the Bill departs from this longstanding position, raising parity, equity and, conceivably, constitutional concerns.

…   …   …

Notwithstanding whether this may give rise to legal issues, the Committee considers that on principle alone there ought to be parity in the treatment of the two Territories.

This is a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree. Clearly, Labor, including Senator Gallagher, Andrew Leigh, Alicia Payne and David Smith, supported a solution which would have treated the ACT differently and at a significant relative disadvantage to the Northern Territory. Their proposal was far more favourable to the NT as against the Australian Capital Territory. This disparity guaranteed two seats for the Northern Territory but only one for the ACT. This is not only unfair to the people of the ACT, it raises constitutional issues of treating voters differently in different jurisdictions. As I said, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters made this point in a very sound way.

Lastly, I would note that the bill before us today removes the margin-of-error rule as it is applied to the ACT and the Northern Territory. This rule was arguably only affixed for a specific fault at the time. With better systems, those reasons no longer apply. Far more importantly, the system proposed does not need a second safety net, and certainly not one based on codifying a margin of error as a permanent part of our electoral system. As I've said and welcomed, our electoral systems are vital to our democracy, and faith in that system from the public is dependent on the good faith of negotiations undertaken by this parliament. I believe the bill before us today is a demonstration of that commitment and that good faith.

As Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters, I applaud the hard work and rigour that colleagues and commentators have brought to this discussion. As a local representative for the ACT, I'm very pleased to champion and deliver a system that gives fair representation to both territories: the ACT and the Northern Territory. As a parliamentarian, I welcome a system of fairer representation for all Australians, whether here in the seat of government in the ACT or in the heart of our country in the Northern Territory. I thank everyone who contributed to the development of the bill, and I commend it to the Senate.

11:25 am

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Special Minister of State) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor welcomes this Electoral Amendment (Territory Representation) Bill 2020, which will ensure that the Northern Territory retains two seats in the House of Representatives. Of course, this bill is in response to Labor's original bill introduced by Senator Malarndirri McCarthy earlier this year, which I was a proud co-sponsor of.

Since the introduction of our bill in June, my Labor colleagues in the Northern Territory—Luke Gosling, Warren Snowdon and Senator McCarthy—have fought to ensure that the voices of Territorians are not diminished by having the Territory reduced to one enormous electorate. This bill is the outcome of a sustained campaign. We were able to secure the support of the CLP's Senator McMahon, the Greens, the crossbench, the Northern Territory government, the Northern Territory opposition and even the National Party to ensure that the government was forced to deal with this issue. I'd like to thank all of my Senate colleagues and colleagues in the other place for their support of this bill. I'd also like to thank the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Michael Gunner; the ALP national secretary, Paul Erickson; and the ALP NT secretary, Anthony Brereton, for all their hard work and commitment to securing the Territory's representation. I extend my thanks and appreciation to the Labor members of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters—Senator Carol Brown, Milton Dick, Senator Marielle Smith and Kate Thwaites—for the time and effort they put into the inquiry on this bill.

There was no accounting for community interest—that is, what the people in remote and regional communities need and how different it is from what the people of Darwin and Palmerston need. There was no accounting for demography—that is, the fact that First Nations Australians make up about 30 per cent of the Territory's population. There's only one thing that the AEC can look at, and that's population. On those figures, the Northern Territory fell short of retaining its two seats by around 4,000 people. Labor couldn't stand by and let the Territory representation diminish. The government wasn't acting to save the Northern Territory's second seat, so we in Labor introduced our own piece of legislation. The bill that the government introduced isn't exactly what Labor would have done, but it does fix the problem. And, instead of enacting JSCEM's third recommendation—which is to change the method by which both territories are entitled to a determination—it uses a method that we didn't advocate but that does the job of fixing the issue.

Many others have spoken about the various details of the bill, so I won't go over that again. The bill also sets aside the AEC's most recent determination in relation to the Northern Territory. The determination made in 2017, which allocated two seats to the Northern Territory, will apply. I met with the Electoral Commissioner earlier this week, and he confirmed to me that the current boundaries of Solomon and Lingiari will remain unchanged and there will be no requirement for a further redistribution.

My first visit to the Northern Territory was some 44 years ago, to help Darwin rebuild after the cyclone, and I've made countless trips there ever since. Working with my Labor colleagues in the Northern Territory to help secure this important change has been an honour—and, particularly, working with Senator McCarthy on this issue. Passion and dedication have been the driving forces behind this campaign. Labor has always been committed to ensuring all Territorians continue to have fair representation in our federal parliament. We are glad that the government has come on board. I thank the former minister, Minister Cormann, and Minister Birmingham for the respectful way in which they've handled this issue. This is a win for democracy, and we're all pleased to support this bill.

11:29 am

Photo of Sam McMahonSam McMahon (NT, Country Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this historic and important piece of legislation, the Electoral Amendment (Territory Representation) Bill 2020. It's historic and important not just to the Northern Territory—although that is obviously where my passion lies—but also to the ACT, because this bill includes not just the Northern Territory but our other territory, right here around our nation's capital.

So why is this important to Territorians? Around the rest of Australia, if you suggested to a lot of people that you should take away a politician or two, they would probably say that that's a good thing. That's not so in the Territory. We, obviously, as a territory, have only two senators, and we have two lower house members—four representatives to the federal parliament for the whole of the Territory. So Territorians are very well aware of their need for federal representation. They're very well aware of the role that the federal government plays. They're well aware that Labor, in the Northern Territory, has sent us broke and that if we were a company we would be bankrupt. So they're well aware of the need for the federal government to provide for the programs, the services and the infrastructure that Territorians need. If we look just at the geography of the Northern Territory, at almost 1.4 million square kilometres it's absolutely huge.

As has been said by my colleagues, it also includes Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) islands. To get to these islands, one must actually travel—and one did, pre-COVID, as well; this has not been affected by COVID—via Perth or via Malaysia. I don't imagine there are too many other jurisdictions in the world where you not only have to leave your state or territory but actually to travel through another country to get to another part of your state or territory. It's unique and quite amazing. I know the people of Christmas and Cocos islands value their federal representation and they, feeling so isolated—as they are, sitting out there in the middle of the ocean—realise that, with less representation, they're hardly ever going to see anybody ever. For a group of people who are fairly marginalised and very isolated, you can imagine that that is not something that they would welcome.

As for the rest of the Territory, as I said, it's almost 1.4 million square kilometres and very, very difficult to get around. We have very few roads. Most of the roads that we do have can be cut off, sometimes for large parts of the year. A lot of them are fairly poor and not very easily passed. A lot of the Territory you can't even get to by road for large parts of the year, sometimes even all year. We have quite a few islands as well, such as Groote Eylandt, Croker Island, Melville Island and Bathurst Island, accessible only via barge or air, and, again, difficult and time-consuming to get around. You can imagine that taking one of four representatives out of that mix is going to mean that these people are not going to be able to see or speak to a federal representative or show them their part of the world and their issues, or hardly ever, which would be quite a negative thing for, again, people who are often the most disadvantaged, marginalised people in our country.

We have the two electorates, Solomon and Lingiari. They are very, very different. Solomon is basically Darwin. Darwin is a reasonably modern, cosmopolitan, urbanised city these days, and then you have Lingiari, which is all of the rest—basically, almost all of those 1.4 million square kilometres. Lingiari is approximately 40 per cent Indigenous—again, some of the most isolated, disadvantaged and marginalised people in the world. Having only one federal representative to serve them would be quite unfair and, quite frankly, disastrous for the Northern Territory.

Also, if we look at the socioeconomics, I know there are both ends of the spectrum in every state and territory, but it was certainly typified to me how much that is so in the Territory just last week. I was sitting in a building in Darwin which had lovely 360-degree views all around the harbour and the city with three of the richest people in the Northern Territory. We're talking billions, not millions here. Typically, when you think of someone who is wealthy in the Territory it's someone who can buy a round without taking out a bank loan! But that isn't the case with these people; we had billions of dollars assembled in that room. The very next day, I was sitting in the dirt north of Tennant Creek with a group of traditional owners. We say 'traditional owners', but they don't have the money, the land, the businesses or the education of the three men I was with the day before.

That's very typical of the Territory. We tend to get extremes, and lots of people at those extremes. Those traditional owners who were sitting there in the dirt were getting part of their traditional land handed back to them—600 square kilometres, which is not a lot, particularly in that part of the country. In that part of the country, 600 square kilometres would probably run 10 head of cattle, so it's not a lot. But they were happy that it was getting handed back to them. So I was sitting there in the dirt with severely marginalised and disadvantaged people, compared with the big end of town. Whilst there are extremes in all jurisdictions, that is certainly emphasised in the Territory, and we have a lot of our population at the lower extreme rather than at the top extreme. These people value their representation—they really do. People in remote Indigenous communities think it's a great honour and they're very happy when a federal representative, of whatever persuasion, comes to see them. They really do appreciate it; they put time aside and they want to talk to you about their issues.

I thank senator James McGrath, the chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, for the work that he and the committee did on this inquiry and the report from that, which was handed up to the Senate this week and which recommended a couple of different methods by which we might maintain representation. I'm very pleased that this bill enshrines in law the use of the harmonic mean—otherwise referred to as Dean's method—for determining representation, as that will not only guarantee that the NT retains its two seats currently but also make it easier, as our population grows, for us to move from two up to three. I think this is an excellent resolution. I'm very, very proud to be part of the government that has put this bill forward. I thank all my colleagues, and I thank former Senator Cormann for the work that he did on it and also Senator Birmingham for taking over and carrying on that work, presenting us with a very good piece of legislation.

I acknowledge Senators Farrell and McCarthy for their support—for working with me and for their faith in me and the government to deliver on this. With great pride, and on behalf of all Territorians I commend this legislation to the Senate.

11:39 am

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank senators who've contributed to this debate on the Electoral Amendment (Territory Representation) Bill 2020. In particular, I thank Senator McMahon for her advocacy and thoughtful engagement. I acknowledge Senator McCarthy and Senator Farrell. I also acknowledge Senator Seselja, noting the broader territory implications of the engagement through the debate and the construction of this legislation. I also thank the JSCEM for their thoughtful work and engagement through this.

I shall let the details of the bill stand, noting the time, aside from noting that many other members of the parliament have followed this matter closely and are conscious of ensuring a principled approach in relation to how such matters are handled. The use of a harmonic mean calculation for allocating seats to the territories addresses the types of concerns that had been raised in relation to territory representation and does so through means that maintain principles around the application of electoral redistributions. It also ensures that this parliament is not in and of itself overreaching in the construction of the House of Representatives but that a methodology is applied according to principles consistent with how the House of Representatives is intended to be constructed in terms of determining numerical representation of those seats. We welcome the fact that the result of that approach and the decisions made in this legislation will ensure that at the next election, and based on projections beyond that, the Territory will continue to have two representatives in the House of Representatives and in doing so will not find itself in a situation of having the single-largest electorate, potentially, when you combine population, geography and all the challenges that would come with effective representation in this place.

I note that there's been conjecture in parliamentary committee hearings about the future status of the Australian Electoral Officer for the Northern Territory, and I take this opportunity to put those concerns to rest. The bill recognises that the Australian Electoral Officer in the NT is always to be a member of the redistribution committee for any redistributions in that territory and, for the record, that the process to permanently refill the AEO position for the NT will begin before the end of 2020.

In conclusion, I remind everyone that it's important that we remain committed to improving electoral legislation in a nonpartisan manner that promotes public confidence and ensures strong representation for Australia's territories. We've seen elsewhere in the world in recent times the challenges that can come when politicians undermine public confidence in electoral systems. It's incumbent on all of us to make sure that it is upheld at the highest possible levels. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the bill be read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.