The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: I turn now to the second issue that I want to raise in my Address in Reply contribution tonight, and that is to return to the issue of the arrogance of the state Labor Government, Premier Rann and his ministers. We in the parliament see every day the arrogance of the Premier and the Deputy Premier, in particular, and also the Attorney-General and Minister Conlon. We see it every sitting day in terms of their attitude toward the parliament; to questions and question time; and we see it in relation to the refusal to respond in relation to questions on notice.
There are some 500 or 600 questions on notice that have not been answered on issues such as annual leave liabilities for each of the departments; long service leave liabilities; the use or abuse of frequent flyer points by ministers; whether or not departments are re-employing people who have taken retirement packages, contrary to the government guidelines; and the amount of money that the government and taxpayers are paying to people such as Bruce Carter and Monsignor Cappo. These are all issues where there is entitlement, in the public interest, to know where the taxpayers’ money has been spent, and there are some questions on notice that members have raised on which the government just refuses to provide any sort of response.
I was at a function this evening, during the dinner break, speaking with two veterans, I guess, of public service administration in South Australia who have served at varying stages and in various capacities during the Dunstan era of the ’70s, the Bannon era of the ’80s, and later during the Liberal administration of the ’90s as well. They are people with experience of 30-plus years of public service administration in South Australia. Those people were able to say that they had had personal experience where back in the era of Dunstan and Bannon, in regard to questions on notice, they were required with urgency to produce answers. I am sure the Hon. Mr Darley would have had experience of this as well, but those administrators—and one had experience in senior departments in South Australia—said their ministers required urgent and quick responses to questions on notice.
Questions without notice were part of the daily cut and thrust of politics. If a minister took something on notice, that was treated seriously, but essentially if a minister did not answer it and did not agree to take it on notice, that was part of the political game. However, once a question was placed on notice these senior administrators, with over 30 years’ experience, said that previous governments took it seriously. One of them just shook his head in amazement when I said, ‘Well, we’ve got questions sitting there from five or six years ago—500 or 600 questions that Mr Rann, Mr Foley and Minister Holloway just ignore.’ They work on the basis that they might get the occasional lashing from The Advertiser, which is about the only media outlet interested in pursuing the government on this issue, but once a year they are prepared to accept that on the basis that it is too embarrassing to provide many of the answers that are being sought through genuine questions on notice.
As I said, these senior public service administrators just shook their head in terms of the—they did not use the word, but I use the word—arrogance of the current government and its ministers in just snubbing their nose at the parliament and parliamentary accountability. Tonight I will not have time to go through the detail of the problems with freedom of information requests. I will leave that for another occasion, but certainly again there have been and there continue to be significant problems, both from media outlets and from members of parliament, in terms of getting details under freedom of information. The government is now (to use a colloquial expression) embedding Spin Doctors in government departments and agencies—highly paid PR and communications experts or journalists within government departments and agencies to help manipulate the media on behalf of the government in terms of its public spending.
I refer also to the attitude of the ministers’ media advisers in terms of monstering the media whenever there is any criticism. I have lost count in the past four to five years of the number of journalists, senior and junior, including the journalists from The Messenger who are just starting, and the new chums at the electronic media outlets with The Advertiser who, the very first time they write something or produce something which is critical of the Premier or one of the ministers, immediately get a telephone call from one of the Spin Doctors in the minister’s office, bawling them out about how outrageous it is and what a disgrace it is.
I know of a number of cases of calls to the editors or the chiefs of staff of those journalists demanding they be sacked or removed from covering politics or those particular stories, making threats and, in some cases, placing bans on providing information to journalists for press conferences, distribution of media releases or bans. The Premier and the Deputy Premier did this for almost two years on Matthew Abraham and David Bevan’s program on ABC radio because they happened to say something which offended Premier Rann and Deputy Premier Foley and, for almost two years, they just banned them.
They banned them on the basis that they were arrogant enough to think, ‘We don’t need you: you need us’. Well, it is starting to change. The winds of change are blowing through the nation and they are starting to blow through South Australia as well. I think that the Premier and the Deputy Premier perhaps are starting too late to realise that that is the case. So, those almost two-year bans on Bevan and Abraham on the basis of ‘We don’t need you: you need us’ suddenly have been changed and they are all sweetness and light now in terms of providing some access to their good selves for interviews on that radio outlet.
Nevertheless, as I said, the intimidation and the bullying of journalists and sections of the media continues. Only this past weekend I can give another example where one of the senior media minders rang and abused a particular media outlet for a particular story and sought some retribution from that media outlet in terms of what they believed was an unfavourable story towards the Premier. I think the arrogance of this government and its leaders is systemic at the moment, and I now turn to what I see as the pervasive influence of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDAEA) within the Labor Party and the Rann Government.
We can see the tentacles of the SDAEA everywhere in terms of the government and the party machine. Its influence is growing like a cancer throughout the Labor Party and the Rann Government. It is using the Rann Government’s offices, departments and agencies as a de facto job network for the SDAEA, their friends and relatives. There is growing anger in the caucus from the left about the increasing arrogance and power of the right and, in particular, the SDAEA in terms of the Labor Party. That, of course, is headed by the leadership of the union (the senior spokespersons): now Senator Farrell, Attorney-General Atkinson and, possibly to a lesser degree, although he is formally the convenor, the member for West Torrens, Mr Koutsantonis, ‘the welsher from the west’. He is the only MP in all my experience in parliament who has refused to pay up on a bet when he lost the bet with me. He still owes me $50, but I will put that aside. I will not be embittered by his failure to cough up.
They are the leaders, but when you look at the influence of the SDA and the register of interest of state members who list the SDA as their union, it includes Tom Koutsantonis, Michael Atkinson, Jack Snelling, Trish White, Michael O’Brien, Carmel Zollo, Tom Kenyon, Lindsay Simmons, Bernard Finnigan and Lea Stevens.
There are quite a number of federal members, including Nick Champion, Amanda Rishworth, Kate Ellis, Annette Hurley and Don Farrell, of course, who I mentioned earlier. The Hon. Mr Finnigan, I think, was assistant state secretary of the SDA. Of course, Don Farrell is a former state secretary. A number of the members held various positions within the SDA over the years.
But it does not end there. In looking at the various jobs on boards, agencies, departments and ministerial offices, one sees the influence of this particular union. There has been recent publicity about the rising superstar in the SDA, the new state secretary, Peter Malinauskas. As members would have read in the newspaper, at the ripe old age of about 27, he has just been appointed as a new board member of WorkCover with up to $50,000 a year in terms of board and committee positions associated with that.
What is not known is that the Malinauskas family has done well out of the Labor Government, and not just Peter Malinauskas. Rob Malinauskas (Peter’s much younger brother) is in his early 20s, and, I understand, was just a third year cadet journalist at The Advertiser and, can I say, he is a nice young man and a promising journalist. He is a younger brother of the head of the SDA, and he has just been appointed to a position in Deputy Premier Foley’s office with a salary of almost $90,000 a year, having jumped as a 21 or 22 year old from a salary in the low $40,000s as a third year cadet journalist. As I said, it is a huge jump which comes a result of being the younger brother of the head of the SDA. He pops into the Deputy Premier’s office and jumps in salary from just over $40,000 to $90,000.
The Hon. Carmel Zollo: You just can’t help yourself. You are stirring all sorts of things.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: That is not correct.
The Hon. Carmel Zollo: Why do you do it? He applied for a job.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: And got it. It does not end there; there is more. Elizabeth Malinauskas, sister to Peter and Rob, is also employed in Attorney-General Atkinson’s office as a liaison officer. We have three members of the Malinauskas family all happily employed and ensconced in various positions within the government. As I said earlier, this is basically becoming a job network for the SDA within the Rann Government.
In his office, Minister Foley has Daniel Romeo, who is tied up with the SDA. His wife, Sonia Menechella, is the assistant state secretary of the SDA, and Michael Brown, of course, the State Secretary of the Labor Party, was previously in (I think) both Mr Atkinson’s and Mr Foley’s offices at various stages, or, possibly, Mr Holloway’s. An adviser to Paul Holloway, Anna Bradley, was a former organiser for the SDA, so he has done his bit. Another adviser to Michael Atkinson is Elizabeth Hollidge, who used to be the girlfriend of Peter Malinauskas. When she was his girlfriend, she got the job in Minister Atkinson’s office. Eamon Burke, adviser to Michael Wright (and not a bad cricketer), is a former organiser for the SDA. Michael Atkinson’s wife is an employee of the SDA.
An honourable member interjecting:
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: It depends who you know. I want to refer to two people, Lee Odenwalder and Brigid Mahoney (and I think the Hon. Mr Hunter may have some knowledge of this), who defected from the ALP left to the right in recent times. They had critical votes on the ALP executive at the time of the dispute about WorkCover.
The Labor right promised Mr Odenwalder preselection in the seat for Little Para. Of course, that has caused some problems in the Labor Party because Kyam Maher (known to many of us as a former staffer for Terry Roberts) moved out to Little Para 18 months ago. He bought a house and moved his family there, as he believed that the seat would be one for the left. The SDA (the Labor right) has now done a deal and promised the seat to Lee Odenwalder because it had switched from the left to the right, and Kyam Maher was shafted and left out on a limb.
Peter Louca (whom the Hon. Ms Zollo would know) is now chief of staff to Michael Atkinson and was a candidate for Mayo in 1996. Shannon Sampson is an adviser to Michael Atkinson and a former industrial officer for the SDA. Stephen Campbell is chief of staff to Rory McEwen and a former organiser for the SDA.
I am indebted to my acquaintances, friends and associates from within the broader Labor Movement and the caucus for much of this information, and one of them indicated to me that David Rann (the son of Michael Rann) is also a former organiser for the SDA.
The Hon. Carmel Zollo asked me what the point of this is. The point I make is in relation to the arrogance of this government which, as I argued earlier, is demonstrated now by the arrogance of the Labor right and, in particular, the SDA. They are treating the Labor Party and the Rann Government as their own personal plaything. Their influence on the Party and the government is cancerous in terms of its arrogance, and they are treating it as a job network for friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters in terms of jobs within ministerial offices, on boards, on committees, etc and, less importantly (because it is part of the political game), in relation to preselection in various seats, but that happens in all parties in relation to preselection.
That is the point I make: the arrogance of the people at the top, such as the Attorney-General, Mr Atkinson. As members here know, he would have been gone as a minister two years ago had it not been for the Godfather, as he is known, Senator Farrell, saying, ‘He doesn’t go anywhere, Premier, no matter what he does and no matter how many unions go public and say that this bloke is hopeless and that he should be got rid of,’ and these are Labor unionists. No matter how many of them said he needed to go, he had Senator Farrell and the SDA behind him.
That is the arrogance that is causing the problem for this government and this administration. It is not just the issue of water, and that is a problem. It is not just the issue of country hospitals, and that is a problem, too. The problem with this government is that it is arrogant right at the very top, with people like the Premier, the Deputy Premier, Attorney-General Atkinson and the people who support them in terms of the control of the caucus and the party.
As I have said, the government is now treating this administration, in terms of public service, as its personal plaything, as a job network. It is not an issue of merit; it is a question of who you know. I would suggest that, if you want a job in the Labor Government at the moment, if you are close friends with someone in the SDA, and certainly if you are related to the Malinauskases or to Senator Farrell, your chances of getting one of these jobs within a Minister’s office or on boards and committees is going to be maximised.
This is in addition to the other issues of water, WorkCover and country hospitals and those sorts of problems. That also is part of the problem that this government has and which it does not recognise is causing it grief in the community. The journalists see it and the community is beginning to see it. There is an awakening to the growing arrogance of the government, of its leaders and, as I said, this cancerous influence of the SDA in the government and the Labor Party.
In conclusion, I referred earlier to the member for West Torrens. I have not seen a copy yet, but I understand that he had some unflattering things to say about me again today. He seems to have a little bit of an obsession with me. I am not sure—
The Hon. D.W. Ridgway: A fetish.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: I hope it is not a fetish, Hon. Mr Ridgway. I am not sure what I have done to deserve that obsession.
The Hon. I.K. Hunter interjecting:
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: It is a very unhealthy obsession; I agree with the Hon. Mr Hunter on that particular point. The point I would make about the member for West Torrens (Mr Koutsantonis) is that he, too, is symbolic of the arrogance of the government and how out of touch it is. I refer to stories in The Advertiser over the past 18 months regarding his inevitable promotion to the cabinet. A story by Greg Kelton on 9 March 2007, headed ‘State Parliament—Koutsantonis star on the rise’, states, ‘Fiery Labor backbencher Tom Koutsantonis is being groomed to take the next Rann Government ministerial opening.’ I will not read the rest of the story, given the time. Again, a wonderfully sore story on 17 June this year—’Factional deal set to elevate backbencher’ by Michael Owen stated, ‘Labor backbencher Tom Koutsantonis will be appointed to the Rann Government ministry in a deal being secured by factional powerbrokers.’ That was the deal that involved the Hon. Carmel Zollo being counselled to step aside to make way for Mr Koutsantonis.
I love this part of the story that Mr Koutsantonis placed with the ‘Tiser. It states, ‘Labor sources also said a decade-long animosity between Mr Koutsantonis and the Premier’s office had recently been resolved, increasing his prospects.’ If ever one could summarise the delusional nature of the member for West Torrens and his supporters, it would be that he believes that, by putting it in The Advertiser, this decade-long animosity—which everyone around Parliament House is aware of—would be resolved. For five years until 2002, Mr Koutsantonis would undermine the Labor leader, Mr Rann to anyone who would listen, Labor or Liberal. He was divisive and disloyal and he was waiting for the end of 2002 to stick the knife into Mr Rann.
Even after 2002, there have been a number of occasions—admittedly, not as many—where he continued to be openly critical of the Premier to people to whom he was speaking. That was particularly the case after he had had a sherbet or two in some of the hotels and clubs around Adelaide, usually drinking with the Deputy Premier and his wing men from the Deputy Premier’s office at that particular time.
The one thing I will say about the current Premier—and I am no great fan of the current Premier, as you probably gathered, Mr President—is that he has a long memory, and he does not forgive. If you are an enemy of the Premier, you are an enemy for a very long time, maybe even a lifetime. It is quite clear that to think that just by getting a story into The Advertiser, with a lovely photograph of the member for West Torrens, looking resplendent in a suit, looking very ministerial, and with a headline that he was going to be elevated to the ministry, the decade-long animosity had been settled was delusional.
It is a pretty sad time for the member for West Torrens. He has been in the parliament for 11 years. He, in his own mind, believes that he is God’s gift to the Labor Party and to South Australia and that he is deserving of and merits a ministerial position, and he sees people like the Hon. Gail Gago, the Hon. Carmel Zollo, even more galling, the Hon. Rory McEwen, the member for Mount Gambier, or even more galling, the member for Chaffey, the Hon. Karlene Maywald, all being placed into ministerial positions before him.
He faces the bitter prospect that, should there be a change in government in 2010—or even if there is not—by 2014, if he is still there, he may well have spent 17 years in the state parliament not having risen beyond the worthy position of a backbencher in government, and opposition, depending on the result of the 2010 election. All that could be resolved if, as I said, the ‘welsher from the West’ would only pay me my $50; I would be prepared to let bygones be bygones and forgive him his sins, or at least some of them.
In concluding, I summarise what I see as the problems of this government: that is, yes, they have had some problems with major policy issues, and I have listed those, but until they recognise that it is their arrogance and the fact that they are out of touch with the South Australian community that is causing them grief in the community at the moment, then their decline will continue.