Address in Reply: Role of the Legislative Council
Wednesday, 3 May 2006
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Leader of the Opposition): I want to devote the majority of my contribution to the Address in Reply to the issue of the Legislative Council and what I believe will be a major part of political debate for the next four years. In my view, it is a critical period for the Legislative Council for those of us who believe in the importance of this chamber as an institution. In my judgment, this is the first time that we have had a Premier who is committed to the abolition of the Legislative Council. We have a Leader of the Government in this chamber committed to the abolition of the Legislative Council, and we have a President who is committed to the abolition of the Legislative Council. I do not believe it has ever occurred in the history of this chamber when the Premier, the Leader of the Government and the President of the chamber are all committed to the abolition of this institution.
I think that it is a fair indication of the threat this chamber is under when people of considerable influence, such as those three members and others, hold that very strong view. Whilst the past president, the Hon. Ron Roberts, was of course a member of the Australian Labor Party, it was certainly my view that he did not share the view that this chamber ought to be abolished. Whilst I had many differences of opinion with him on many issues, I believe on this matter we shared a similar view in respect of the importance of the Legislative Council as a part of the bicameral system in South Australia.
For those reasons, this debate will be critical. The most recent outbreak of the debate on the future of the council commenced on 24 November last year. With the Adelaide Advertiser banner headline stating ‘Rann to call referendum in 2010: abolish the upper house,’ an exclusive to Greg Kelton stated:
"Premier Mike Rann wants Parliament’s Upper House abolished and will ask South Australians to bring about the greatest electoral system changes in the state’s history. . . Labor, frustrated by legislative delays and the watering down of new laws in the Legislative Council, will begin moves to get rid of it after the March 18 election which polls suggest it is likely to win."
The timing of the announcement was of interest to some of us. Certainly, a number of Labor ministers and members of the caucus (who, I might say, do not agree with the position of the Premier and the Leader of the Government on this issue) have indicated to me that they were unaware of this policy announcement being made by the Premier on 24 November. As I said, it is intriguing that it was on the very day that Ms Edith Pringle was to present evidence to a select committee of the Legislative Council. It was clear that the Premier was anxious about the evidence Ms Pringle would give to the select committee and was very keen to divert public attention away from what he thought would be the evidence given that day. I do not think that the concerns were particularly in relation to Mr Clarke or Mr Atkinson but perhaps related to events that involved Mr Rann on another tangential issue many years previously. I do not want to go into those issues today, as they are for another day.
As I said, it is intriguing that on the very day that that was to occur, unbeknown to many within the Labor Party the Premier made his announcement on the front page of The Advertiser. That was supported, of course, by The Advertiser in its editorial. I will not give The Advertiser the satisfaction of reading the whole of the editorial, but the headline probably gives an indication of the nature of it: ‘High time to burn down the house’.
The first sentence states: ‘The demise of South Australia’s Legislative Council cannot come quickly enough.’ That is certainly a different attitude that is being expressed by the current editor and management of The Advertiser to that expressed over many years previously, which was the importance of a bicameral system of parliament in South Australia and the importance of the Legislative Council as a house of review.
We have also been treated over recent months and years to an ongoing push, not only from Advertiser editorial writers but from a friend of mine, Rex Jory, who writes the Jory Column in The Advertiser. He has led the charge in most recent times for the abolition of the Legislative Council, but he had a different attitude in earlier days. Dean Jaensch, who writes for The Advertiser has in recent times changed his position and supported the abolition of the Legislative Council. Of course, we have also seen the attitude of senior business leaders such as Mr Champion de Crespigny, confidante of the Premier, who supports the abolition of the Legislative Council, and Business SA, in its most recent incarnation, supports the abolition of the Legislative Council as well. So, to be fair to the Premier, it is not just the Premier who supports this issue—there are some senior business people (an Advertiser editorial writer, Dean Jaensch and others) who support the abolition of the Legislative Council.
When one looks at the sorts of arguments that people such as Jory and Jaensch use to support the abolition of the Legislative Council, they approach it from two different directions. The Rann/Jory/business leader rationale for the abolition of the Legislative Council is along the lines that the government is elected to govern and whatever it says should be allowed to be implemented, and that there should not be another chamber or mechanism that prevents the government of the day from instituting and implementing whatever it is that it might choose to implement.
The Rann/Jory/Advertiser/business leader view of the world is that the Legislative Council impedes economic development, such as mineral development. In the past two days, the Premier has claimed that mining has been inhibited or impeded by the Legislative Council, and the only way—
The Hon. P. Holloway: His speech was totally misreported.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Well, there was nothing from either Mr Rann or you indicating that.
The Hon. P. Holloway: Read question time yesterday in the House of Assembly and you will see it.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: But on the radio news—
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins): Order! Interjections are out of order. The leader should direct his remarks through the chair.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: That has been the general nature and tenor of the rationale for the abolition of the Legislative Council: that the Legislative Council in some way is impeding progress and stopping crucial economic development, that we would get more jobs, development and growth if we could get rid of the Legislative Council and allow the executive arm of government, whoever that is, to implement whatever programs it might wish to implement during its particular parliamentary term. The fact that in the past seven years—three years under the former Liberal government and some of the past four ears under the past Labor government—South Australia has enjoyed some of the more significant economic growth figures that it has enjoyed for many years seems to have escaped the lead writers, business leaders and others. That occurred at a time when either the Liberal government or the Labor government controlled the numbers in the Legislative Council. There is not much intellectual rigour in the argument for the abolition or gutting of the Legislative Council.
Time—the next four years as we lead up to any possible referendum—will hopefully allow the public exposition of the paucity of the intellectual rationale for the abolition or gutting of the Legislative Council.
The Hon. P. Holloway: What about eight year terms? Do you support those?
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Yes, I do. I will address that in a minute. As I said, that is the argument from the Rann/Jory/Advertiser/big business corporate leader view of the world.
However, the Dean Jaensch argument is slightly different. His argument is not that the Legislative Council is impeding growth and jobs development; his view of the world is that we can achieve all we need to achieve through multi-member electorates in the House of Assembly. So, his view of the world is that the reason Rann might want to get rid of the upper house is to get rid of some of the Independents (the Democrats, the Greens, the Family Firsts, the No Pokies and others) so that he can have an unimpeded view of the world to implement his particular programs. Jaensch’s view of the world and those who support his argument is different: they actually like the diversity of the minor parties and they want to see those parties represented in the House of Assembly in one chamber under a unicameral system. So, they support various versions of the Tasmanian lower house system with multi-member electorates and proportional representation which would allow the representation of minor parties and Independents to a greater degree.
I have written on a couple of occasions to The Advertiser, and I must nail my colours to the mast. I think good governments can (and have been able to) achieve much of their program for the past 30 years in South Australia. It is a question of not taking your bat and ball and going home, flouncing off to a corner and complaining about things: it is a question of getting on, negotiating and arguing a case not only to the community but also to the individual members represented amongst the minor parties and the Independents. Part of the argument that relates to the difficulty of getting legislative programs through the Legislative Council relates to this issue of whether or not governments are able to govern. The Dean Jaenches of this world have indicated they want multi-member electorates. I have indicated publicly that, whilst it is difficult and frustrating for governments not to get their legislative programs through the Legislative Council immediately, it is my view that it is almost impossible to run sensible, reasonable and rational government if you do not actually control what is going on in the House of Assembly, because that is the house where governments are established.
Having endured government between 1997 and 2002 where we were held to political ransom by Independents with the constant threat of no-confidence motions, censures, the establishment of inquiries and a variety of other ‘We’ll take our bat and ball and go home’ arrangements in relation to various bills they wanted to see introduced or not, in my humble view that is more of a danger to good governance than the current circumstances. I frankly would not wish that on any government. I think we have seen a little bit of that in Tasmania, where we see the extraordinary situation where Labor and Liberal will do almost anything to prevent the circumstances of our good friends the Greens being involved in coalition government or whatever it might be. In the interest of good governance I am a strong supporter of governments being able to govern in the House of Assembly. That is where they need to be able to make their decisions and implement their programs. We hope they do it without too much arrogance and hubris, but where you have a situation where the government does not control the numbers in the House of Assembly it is difficult. It is not impossible, but it is difficult.
In relation to the Legislative Council, no government since 1979—since we have moved to the 22-person house—has controlled the numbers in the Legislative Council. For 27 years, governments, Liberal and Labor—mainly Labor—have had to work their way through the process of convincing one member, as it was in the period 1979 to 1982 with a Liberal government, or what has occurred in recent times. I disagree with members who have said that this is the largest number of Independents and minor party members. We have six at the moment, but we have had that number or more over recent years, when one looks at the number of minor parties and Independent members represented in this chamber. So, it is no different in this current period from how it has been for a number of years, certainly for the past four years, and it was almost as many as that in the last four years of the Liberal government as well. It has also been the case until recent times in the Australian Senate, where governments have had to negotiate with a range of interests to try to get their programs through the upper house of parliament.
There are two differing arguments which have different rationales and, when one moves to what plan B might be, I do not think people have thought through the repercussions of the original arguments for plan B, and I intend to outline those in a moment. I want to look at the records of the Legislative Council. As the Hon. Mr Hood mentioned in his contribution, we see quite clearly that, over the past four years of the Labor government, notwithstanding this supposed record of obstructionism and legislative gridlock and other pejorative phrases that have been used over the years by the Premier and the editorial writers against the Legislative
Council, 200 bills have been introduced by the government, three bills have been defeated and one has been delayed because of the government’s view that there was a significant number of amendments. It was not the government’s view that there was a significant number of amendments: it was the government’s view that, in political terms, its inner urban seat candidates did not want to see the government proceed with the development bill, as it was then, because there was significant opposition from community groups against that bill, as well as opposition to the government’s plans from virtually every local government association in South Australia. The bill was supported by the development industry. The government did very well in donations from the development industry during the election campaign, but it did not want to proceed with that bill for those reasons, not because of the significant number of amendments.
The point is that 98 per cent of the government’s legislative program was passed by both houses of parliament, in most cases with the government acknowledging amendments made mainly in this council or sometimes in the House of Assembly that improved the bill, or the government was prepared not to die in a ditch on the amendments, and the significant purpose of the legislation was achieved, albeit that it might have had to accept some amendments at the margins. I am indebted to the work of the then and current Clerk of the Legislative Council, Jan Davis, and a speech that she presented to the 29th Conference of Presiding Officers and Clerks in Sydney in 1998. The paper she presented on that occasion was, ‘The Upper House: A Snapshot of the South Australian Experience 1975 to 1998’. In that speech, the period before 1998 was summarised, and I quote from that contribution:
“Throughout this period of some 23 years, only 1.8 per cent of Government Bills have been rejected outright and this was usually after going through the whole legislative process to a deadlocked conference between the houses.”
That does not just refer to a Labor government; it refers to Labor and Liberal governments, obviously, during that 23 years. That 1.8 per cent figure is strikingly similar to the 2 per cent rejection rate over the past four years. Certainly, this notion that, in the past four years in some way, magically legislative gridlock has developed, quite dissimilar to what has occurred for 20 or 30 years, is untrue, and the facts as outlined there, of course, are proof of that. Jan Davis’ contribution in that speech also went on to state the following:
“In the last Parliament, the Legislative Council made a total of 2 234 amendments to Government legislation, whether introduced in the Council or in the House of Assembly.”
I assume that, when the Clerk refers to the last parliament, it is the period 1993 to 1997 when there was a Liberal government and, therefore, a period of Labor opposition, or non- Liberal control of the Legislative Council, and a total of 2 234 amendments were achieved through government legislation, whether introduced in the council or the House of Assembly.
I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard without my reading it a table at the back of that presentation entitled, ‘The Statistical Summary of Bills Considered by the Legislative Council, 1975—1997’.
Statistical Summary of Bills Considered by the Legislative Council, 1975-1997
Total number of govt. bills considered by LC
Total number of govt. bills that did not pass LC
Govt. bills negatived or laid aside in LC
Percentage of govt. bills that did not pass including lapsed bills Percentage of govt. bills negatived or laid aside in LC
1996-97 106 *6 1 5.6 0.9
1995-96 120 6 1 5.0 0.8
1994-95 118 10 - 8.4 -
1994 59 7 1 11.8 1.6
1993 *41 *12 *1 *29.2 *2.4
1992-93 130 13 1 10.0 0.7
1991-92 100 9 5 9.0 5.0
1990-91 90 8 2 8.8 2.2
1990 51 12 2 23.5 3.9
1989 *39 *9 - *23.0 -
1988-89 104 4 - 3.8 -
1987-88 109 7 2 6.4 1.8
1986-87 157 6 3 3.8 1.9
1986 45 10 - 22.2 -
1985 *51 *7 - *13.7 -
1984-85 133 7 1 5.2 0.7
1983-84 128 4 - 3.1 -
1982-83 71 4 1 5.6 1.4
1982 32 13 - *40.6 -
1981-82 131 8 5 6.1 3.8
1980-81 127 6 1 4.7 0.7
1979-80 72 1 - 1.3 -
1979 *11 *5 - *45.4 -
1978-79 135 10 6 7.4 4.4
1977-78 84 9 2 10.7 2.3
1976-77 *126 *8 *7 *6.3 *5.5
1975-76 95 6 4 6.3 4.2
*These were periods when an election was held and hence a number of bills lapsed due to the prorogation of the Parliament.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: For each of the years from 1975 to 1997 the table indicates the percentage of government bills negatived or laid aside in the Legislative Council. I do not intend to go through all of its detail. In summarising, the point that I am making is that good
governments over the years, through a variety of mechanisms, have achieved most of their policy goals. It is varied. Those of us who were here in the early nineties when the gaming machine legislation went through the parliament will recall the then Labor government and people like the Premier, the Treasurer, and others who were part of the government in those days, placing considerable pressure, if I might put it that way, on the Hon. Mario Feleppa to, on a conscience vote, be in accordance with the conscience of other members to ensure the legislation went through. And that legislation went through in 1993. I can remember in the Liberal government’s time, between 1983 and 1997, this parliament sitting through Friday and Saturday early in the legislative term as the Hon. Graham Ingerson negotiated with the Hon. Michael Elliott and others for an interminable period to achieve amendments to the WorkCover legislation. There have been many examples where governments, through persuasion, cajoling, lobbying, compromise, negotiation, or whatever, have managed to achieve their legislative purpose. Perhaps the most long winded one of all was, of course, the electricity privatisation, when, at the time, there were many within my own party who were frustrated with the role of the Legislative Council, and who, contrary to their own signed declarations, the party’s constitution and platform, harboured and expressed inappropriate thoughts about the abolition of the Legislative Council.
The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins: Shame!
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Shame, as my colleague, the Hon. Mr Dawkins, says. None of those came from the Legislative Council. Even at that time, after a period of almost 18 months, the bills were passed, because, as you know, Mr President, former members of the Labor Party made judgments which they believed to be in the public interest to support those bills, which resulted in their being expelled from the Labor Party with all that that entailed for those members. They personally gained nothing out of it. They made their judgment call and accepted the penalty from their former colleagues. But, they are all examples of how governments over the years have managed to achieve, as I said, 98 per cent of their legislative program being passed either in whole or with amendments through the Legislative Council.
The major role for the Legislative Council, which is opposed by Mr Rann in particular, is the important purpose of accountability of the executive arm of government to the parliament. That is the major driving force. In my view, it is not the sort of argument that the business leaders, and others, have picked up on, which is impeding the progress and economic development and jobs argument. I believe that is a furphy that the Hon. Mr Rann has used to get on board credible people and organisations to support the abolition of the Legislative Council.
What is driving the Hon. Mr Rann is his arrogance, in my humble opinion, as a leader and as a member of parliament, in wanting to see no opposition to whatever it is that he wants to do. The Legislative Council is in a position to establish, for example, select committees, or terms of reference for standing committees, which the executive arm of government does not want. And that is the same for a Liberal government. The government in this chamber now squeals when committees or inquiries are established. During the period 1993 to 2002, as an opposition, and with other minor party members, we established a number of select committees which looked at the EDS contracting arrangements, the water outsourcing arrangements, and a variety of other—
The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins: The Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and other inquiries which, as an opposition, it was felt that the public interest determined that the executive arm of government should be held accountable. If there is no Legislative Council, I can assure you, Mr President, there will be no select or standing committees looking at anything which the
Premier does not want looked at. The Economic and Finance Committee will not allow terms of reference to which the Premier and other senior ministers do not agree. That is quite different, of course, from the period 1997 to 2002 when the Independents and others maintained the numbers on those committees. Of course, that is the case here in the Legislative Council. If the Premier and the Leader of the Government get their way, and if you get your way, Mr President, in relation to these issues, we will have the situation where the Premier of the state can do anything and there would not be the capacity for the parliament in any forum to be able to establish an inquiry to investigate it. No standing committee would get up a term of reference. The opposition would move for a select committee in the House of Assembly and it would be defeated. The opposition would move for a term of reference to a standing committee and it would be defeated. Opposition members on the standing committee would move a motion within the standing committee and it would be defeated. The opposition would move for a royal commission or a judicial inquiry and it would be defeated. Mr President, that is the danger that confronts the people of South Australia. Journalists at The Advertiser, business leaders and others are being duped into supporting this notion. They are leaving themselves open, if we go down this foolish path of supporting the abolition of the Legislative Council.
The Hon. D.G.E. Hood: Just like Queensland.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: That is true. It is a frustration and an irritation to governments—Liberal or Labor—and it is an irritation to premiers—Liberal or Labor. Previously, there has never been a premier so arrogant and so full of his own self importance who believes he—and he alone—can determine what is right, what ought to be investigated and what he, as an executive arm of government, ought to be accountable for in terms of the parliamentary process. It will be to the ultimate cost of the people of South Australia if this Premier, the Leader of the Government, indeed yourself, Mr President, and others who support this policy, including journalists at The Advertiser and Mr de Crespigny (who, as I understand it, has fled or is fleeing to the UK), and Business SA, and other fellow travellers such as Rex Jory, succeed with this policy. I trust and hope that they are not successful, because within a period of four years they would rue the day it had been achieved; they would rue the day they had been party to this policy; and they would rue the day they had been duped into supporting this policy.
I seek leave to conclude my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.