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Constitution Amendment (House of Assembly Electoral Boundaries) Bill 2018

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 23 August 2018

Tags: Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I indicate the Greens will be supporting the Constitution Amendment (House of Assembly Electoral Boundaries) Bill 2018.

Premier, why was this legislation not brought into the House of Assembly in the final sitting weeks of last year? The process that led to the redistribution of boundaries and the renaming of the electorate of Denison to Clark began an extended period of time ago. It was well known by the time we went to the state election on 3 March this year that the federal boundaries would have changed. The only rational and honest explanation is because the Liberal Party machine determined it was in their best interests not to go to the state election on altered boundaries. We had no valid explanation at the time from the Premier and he knows that.

Tasmanians went to the polls on 3 March and a number of people in places such as West Tamar, Richmond, north of the Huon Highway, people voted for candidates and members who do not represent them. It was an act of electoral dishonesty, using your power and numbers in this place not to ensure there was absolute integrity around the boundaries before voters went to the state election on 3 March. The lights are out in the House of Representatives today. They are on here and there is clearly chaos in Canberra. It does point to an unfortunate trend in federal parliament of the major parties particularly, but today the example is the Liberal Party, which operates in a climate of cynical self-interest.

Members interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - We have a bit of chatter going on both sides of the House.

Ms O'CONNOR - On this same day that Peter Dutton is looking for numbers for his second tilt at the prime ministership, another 12-year-old girl on Nauru is fighting for her life. She tried to set herself on fire. As we have discussed in this place in recent days, and was highlighted by the CEO of World Vision, Claire Rogers, there are children who have given up hope and given up on life.

What a puerile state our country has come to when you have federally elected representatives more concerned with petty leadership squabbles, not because there is a problem in the polling for Malcolm Turnbull but because you have a nasty, hard right rump in the federal Liberal Party that wants to take the party even further to the right - if you could imagine that was possible. The next step to the right is absolute authoritarianism. I am so proud to be a member of the Tasmanian Greens and to have a national leader like Richard Di Natale, who in the Senate today said:

We have kids in a catatonic state because they have given up hope locked away in those offshore hellholes. What is the Liberal Party doing? Focusing on vengeance, on payback, focusing on themselves.


He goes on to say in what was a blistering speech in the Senate a short time ago:

There are 100 000 people in this country who are homeless. There are women who fear going home tonight because one woman a week is killed at the hands of a violent partner - and what have we got? We've got this spectacle, this disgrace.

Federal politics, the national political scene, is an embarrassment to us globally. We were questioning last night how many other countries in the world recycle or reject their prime ministers and party leaders with the frequency that Australia does and the only one we could come up with was Italy in the time of a corrupt prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. There is something sick in our national body politic and, in part, it comes from the kind of cynicism that has brought us to this place today where we are debating legislation that should have been brought into this House at the end of last year.

I am on my feet as the current member for Denison and soon to be member for Clark - as are you, Madam Speaker and we have Ms Archer here who will soon be a member for Clark. As members of this beautiful electorate that encompasses greater Hobart we should all be very pleased at the name change from Denison to Clark. Governor Denison was not a son of Tasmania, as Andrew Inglis Clark was. He is widely regarded as a person who brutally treated convicts, was a hardliner and he certainly did not play the profound role in the building of our nation that Andrew Inglis Clark did.

I thought to honour one of the founding fathers of our constitution, who we are now honouring by changing the name of this electorate, I would read for members a little bit of Andrew Inglis Clark's remarkable story.

He was born in Hobart Town in 1848 and was a barrister, a politician, a judge and an ardent republican. He stood for this House of Assembly in 1878 and was attacked by the Mercury at the time for:

… holding such very extreme ultra-republican, if not revolutionary, ideas that his proper place was among communists.

The Launceston Examiner described him as 'a mere fledgling and a stranger from Hobart'. He was elected unopposed in July of that year. Andrew Inglis Clark really was a committed humanitarian and socialist and he wanted to be sure that no government favoured any particular class.

I will read a bit from Justice Michael Kirby's lecture titled 'Reviving the Memory of Andrew Inglis Clark, an Unfinished Federal Project', for the University of Tasmania's Law Review. He says:

Andrew Inglis Clark grew up with an antipathy for class divisions, which made him quite unusual in his day, a dislike of class-inherited power and a belief in the abolition of every institution that confers political power on personal privilege as an appendage of birth from a particular parentage.

We can fairly safely assume that Andrew Inglis Clark would not have been a member of the Tasmanian Liberal Party as it is today. I am not sure he would have been a member of the Labor Party but he certainly had some Greens and social justice leanings. Andrew Inglis Clark's family home at Rosebank in Hampden Road, Battery Point, Hobart still stands today. It says in Michael Kirby's lecture:

The gruesome conflict of the Civil War in the United States captured the attention of the British settler communities in Canada and Australia. In each place they hastened the federalist movement, stimulated by a belief that divisiveness amongst adjacent English-speaking colonies established in alien soil might lead to brutality of the type of conflict that had been witnessed in the American Civil War.

Michael Kirby goes on to say Andrew Inglis Clark was one of the first political aspirants to actively support the Hobart Trades and Labor council, so there is a tick potentially for his Labor Party belief set. He goes on to say:

Because the Premier was in the Legislative Council, Clark took a great responsibility for introducing government legislation. He introduced a record number of 150 ministerial bills. This was only one less than Sir Henry Parkes had introduced in his long legislative experience. Clark's legislation bore the mark of his progressiveness and humanitarian values. The laws he sponsored included legalisation of trade unions, the prevention of cruelty to animals, providing allowances to members of parliament and reforming the laws on lunacy and the custody of children.

In the process of his work, he became part of the federalist movement and the Federal Council, which met to determine the future of Australia and what progress could be made towards a federal union. A new effort was gathering momentum in the 1890s to breathe life into the earlier desultory endeavours to bring together the Australian colonies in a federal union.

Andrew Inglis Clark, who had been to America and studied the American Constitution, believed it was a much better model for our constitutional foundation than that of Canada, Switzerland or even Britain. Andrew Inglis Clark worked hard to put the stamp of the American Constitution on our document, especially in the draft chapter on the judiciary. In this respect and in a manner greatly defensive for the rule of law in Australia, Clark was to prove singularly effective.

Clark came to be a representative of Tasmania at the conference on federation held in Melbourne in 1890 and at the first Sydney Convention held in1891. He lost office as Attorney-General for Tasmania in the election of 1892, however he returned to that post in 1894 in the government of Edward Braddon.

On his fourth attempt in 1896 he succeeded in amending the Electoral Act of Tasmania. This amendment introduced a form or proportional representation that has been known as the Hare-Clark system after its authors. It introduced a system, still controversial, designed to overcome the fear of tyranny of electoral majoritarianism that Clark shared.

In the 1890s he had warned that power wielded by a majority can be used as oppressively as if it were exercised by a despot or an oligarchy.

As we know, the Hare-Clark electoral system is the fairest electoral system in the country. I will wind up with some more words from Justice Michael Kirby:

Anyone who cares about constitutional law and constitutional rights, about individual liberty and the rule of law, would be drawn powerfully to Andrew Inglis Clark.

Clark was a romantic and sometime poet. He was also a man of the world who got things done as a politician, as Attorney-General of Tasmania, as a Justice of the Tasmanian Supreme Court, as a significant force in the founding and later as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Tasmania, and as an intellectual and a writer.

Australians should be especially drawn to Clark because he was one of the great framers of the Australian Constitution. He was also a loyal British subject who believed the Empire would be best served by an Australia which was fundamentally independent, though technically part of the Empire.

It is worth drawing the attention of the House to the fact that 88 of the 96 clauses in the Australian Constitution are Andrew Inglis Clark's work and they are retained to this day.

In conclusion, we are debating the Constitution Amendment (House of Assembly Electoral Boundaries) Bill 2018 that resets electoral boundaries for Tasmanian state elections. Whist I am on my feet it is an opportunity to remind members that there was a terrible wrong committed against good governance in Tasmania and strong electoral representation where people are given a voice through the Hare-Clark system to a strong and effective parliament that works in the public interest. We are a reduced parliament and that act of electoral perfidy took place 10 years ago. It is unfinished business of this parliament. If you talk to the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, talk to economist Saul Eslake and any other number of enlightened stakeholders in our community, they will agree the numbers need to be restored.

If you talk to members of parliament in this Chamber now in private conversation, across politics there is a consensus that the House is diminished by being only a 25-seat House. I hope that when this House is given the opportunity to correct that wrong, that politics is set aside and we vote on legislation to restore the numbers. That is in the public interest, it is in the interests of good governance in Tasmania, and it will make sure, to the greatest extent possible, that power is held in the hands of the people through their elected representatives.