Adjourned debate on motion for adoption.
(Continued from 3 May. Page 78.)
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Leader of the Opposition): I was speaking yesterday afternoon and evening about the importance of the Legislative Council and the various groups that are working at the moment to either abolish or destroy the Legislative Council. In summary, I indicated there were two broad groups, the first of which I have referred to as the Rann/big business leader/Advertiser/Rex Jory group, which is advocating the abolition of the Legislative Council because they argue that it impedes economic development, stops the creation of jobs—
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS): Order! Members might like to have their conversations somewhere else in the building.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: —and stops growth in South Australia. The second group is represented by Dean Jaensch and others who just oppose the Legislative Council on the basis, put simply, I guess, that, in their view, we are over-governed; they prefer the multi-member proportional
representation mess that exists in jurisdictions such as Tasmania. I then moved on to argue the importance of the role of the Legislative Council. I summarised the difference of the Legislative Council in terms of both its voting system and the way in which it is structured and composed, and I will make some further comment on that later in my contribution.
I indicated that, over the years, good governments Labor and Liberal have managed to achieve most of what they wanted. On average, about 98 per cent of governments’ legislative programs have passed either completely or amended through the Legislative Council. I highlighted the important role of the Legislative Council being a check and a balance on the excesses of executive arms of government, whether they be Labor or Liberal. In particular, within that role of the Legislative Council, I referred to the important role of an upper house—or the Legislative Council—keeping the executive arm of government accountable. I concluded my remarks yesterday afternoon by highlighting that, if the Premier was to be successful with the abolition of the Legislative Council, no select or standing committee, judicial inquiry or royal commission would be able to be established no matter how heinous the crime that might have been committed by the government or one of its ministers or officers because there would not be the capacity within the parliament for the Executive arm of government to be called to account.
Along those lines, I will refer briefly to the experience of some of the other states in terms of the importance of having a house of review or a check or a balance. For example, in Queensland, the Fitzgerald Commission on Corruption showed the dangers where a government was able to avoid
any effective parliamentary scrutiny. Similarly, in Western Australia the WA Inc. royal commission looked at the scandals associated with the former Labor government, and its report actually recommended the strengthening of the house of review role of its Legislative Council. The reality is that, as I highlighted earlier, for more than 26 years in South Australia voters have refused to give either major party majority control in the Legislative Council. By conscious choice over those 26 years, South Australian voters have not given either the Labor or Liberal parties the majority in both houses of parliament. In the most recent election we saw one of the more significant examples of that. The government had clearly been elected in the House of Assembly, but nearly two-thirds of voters in the Legislative Council voted against the government party representatives and for either Liberal Party representatives or other minor parties and Independents. So, 65 or 66 per cent of voters in the Legislative Council deliberately chose to vote against a Premier and a government that had received significant support (although not a majority in terms of primary vote support) in the House of Assembly.
The Hon. Nick Xenophon: Voters are very savvy like that.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: They can be on occasions, but it is a deliberate choice. It is not, as I said, against just a Labor government in the lower house. Certainly, equally there was a movement against the former Liberal government in 1997. A significant vote was achieved by the Liberal government in 1997; but, because of a campaign conducted throughout the community about not giving the Liberals the power in both houses, there was a significant reduction in the Liberal Party Legislative Council vote in 1997, similar to the occurrence that we have seen in the 2006 election. So it is a conscious decision that voters take; they want a check and a balance, they want accountability to the executive arm of government, they want a Legislative Council and, if the Legislative Council is maintained, they do not want to see a council that has had its powers or effectiveness gutted through other changes—and I will address those possibilities in a moment.
One of the important roles of a Legislative Council is the detailed breakdown and analysis of legislation. Members who have been here for a while (and I invite new members to monitor this themselves) would have run into members of the House of Assembly who would say, ‘The bill that has just passed the House of Assembly is a real dog’s breakfast, but we can’t achieve anything down there and we are relying on you lot up there to fix it.’ Those of us who have been here for a number of years will have any number of examples where both Liberal and Labor members of the lower house (this is not something that is party political) have said that they are relying on the upper house to fix something. This is no criticism; it is just one of the reasons I have always been a passionate advocate of the role of the Legislative Council.
Whilst there will inevitably be some blurring of the role of upper house and lower house members with the involvement of party machines and the media, there is—and there should continue to be—a critical difference, particularly with the increasing number of marginal seats as a result of changes to the Electoral Act and the operations of the Electoral Commission. There are increasing numbers of marginal seats in the lower house, which means that for a significant number of those members the vast majority of their time is appropriately spent servicing the needs of their constituents through their electoral offices. Constituency work is a critical part of the work they undertake, and one of the advantages of the Legislative Council is that generally the first recourse of a constituent is to his or her local member of parliament, whether that be Labor or Liberal. We know that if a constituent is unhappy with their local member or they think they will get better service elsewhere they will, on occasions, go somewhere else—and they may approach a member of the Legislative Council.
Members of the Legislative Council have a greater amount of time to devote to the consideration of detail in legislation. In my experience, and in the experience of members prior to my time in the parliament, the vast majority of amendments to legislation are achieved through the Legislative Council process—and that is not just because there is the capacity to amend, although I acknowledge that that is an important part. In my experience the brutal reality is that the vast majority of members who detect flaws or problems in legislation are those who have the greatest amount of time to devote to close analysis of the legislation, who have the time to meet with the various groups and organisations that have an interest in it, and who are prepared to sit down with them, listen to their arguments and work with parliamentary counsel on amendments. Clearly, members in a safe seat in the House of Assembly also have that capacity, and I do not decry the fact that there are a number of examples on both sides where members of the House of Assembly are in a position to do that. However, my experience is that in this chamber we do have the time and should have the capacity, with the expertise that we have available, to provide much greater analysis and a closer forensic investigation of the individual provisions of the legislation that goes through the parliament—it is an important role of this council.
In the speech I referred to earlier, the Clerk of the Legislative Council indicated that there were some 2 200 amendments moved in the first term of the Liberal government from 1993 to 1997 (with a Labor and Independent opposition at that stage). I am not talking just about a Labor government needing to have its legislation scrutinised. A Labor opposition with Independents and minor parties during that period moved significant amendments to government bills. Not all of those were errors, of course, or unforeseen consequences. In some cases, they were just different policy approaches and the government had to compromise, and I accept that. With the greatest respect to governments both Liberal and Labor, they are not infallible. The ministerial advisers are certainly not infallible, and their lawyers and parliamentary counsel are perhaps closer to being infallible, but even they are not infallible in terms of their drafting of government bills. Having been on both sides, I know how bills are forced through the party process and so do not always get the consideration that they would otherwise warrant. A role and responsibility for this chamber is that all members, to the extent that they can, ought to be closely analysing legislation, even if it is your own government’s legislation. It is a question, then, of not embarrassing your government in an open forum but quietly highlighting the problem by saying, ‘Is this what we really intend in relation to this bill?’ In some cases, you would hope that the minister would then file his or her own amendments to the legislation. Of course, if you are in opposition or an Independent member, part of the committee process is to file those amendments and have that debate. That is a critical role of the Legislative Council, so abolition of the Legislative Council or other changes which gut the capacity of this chamber to do that, in my view, will severely weaken our democratic processes in South Australia.
I have touched upon committees and will not go through those again in detail but, again, this council with its composition has the capacity to establish committees and terms of reference which the executive arm of government might not want or would actively oppose, and that again is an important role for the Legislative Council in terms of keeping the executive arm of government accountable. Also, in some respects, it can throw light on important public interest issues. It was this chamber, 20-plus years ago, that established a select committee on random breath testing with former members such as Martin Cameron, the Hon. Legh Davis, and others. That committee investigated the issue of random breath testing and presented the government of the day with a very powerful argument as to why we needed to support and implement random breath testing in South Australia. There have been other Legislative Council committees, both standing and select, which have investigated matters of public interest or public importance and, because of the time that is available to those committees and members, have provided insight in terms of possible policy reforms in those particular areas.
One of the other important advantages of the Legislative Council is the capacity for members and parties (members, in particular, if their party rules allow) to look at particular issues from a whole-of-state perspective and what is in the public interest in relation to a particular legislative proposal. I accept from the Labor Party’s viewpoint that that is a very difficult path, although in 20 years we have seen the Hon. Norm Foster, the Hon. Trevor Crothers and the Hon. Terry Cameron make judgments which they believed to be in the public interest in relation to the Roxby Downs mine, electricity privatisation and the reduction of the state’s debt and vote according to their conscience, even though it led to their expulsion. However, for Independent and other party members, and certainly for members of the Liberal Party, there is the capacity to vote according to one’s conscience on particular issues from a whole-of-state perspective.
I will give one example of what I mean, and that is the debate back in the early 1980s in relation to the establishment of a casino in South Australia. The Hon. Nick Xenophon might close his ears to this discussion and argument. I think that the vast majority of South Australians—I will not say all, in deference to the Hon. Mr Xenophon—would believe that, in the interests of our state’s tourism, options for development in terms of job growth—everyone can argue about other aspects of social development—and options for recreational gamblers, it is important to have a casino and the related development here in South Australia. I know that, within my own party at that particular time, very many members of the lower house actively supported, in accordance with their own conscience, the provision of a casino in South Australia. Because they represented 15,000 to 20,000 electors in a particular area, and their judgment was that the majority of those people would oppose the establishment of the casino, or they were fearful that they might have lost their seat as a result of a casino being established, they voted against their own personal judgment of what was in the public interest—of their own personal conscience—and reflected the views of their particular part of South Australia.
In the Legislative Council, because of the way we are voted to come to this chamber, we have the capacity to look, to a greater extent, at the state’s interest. Whether or not you agree with those judgments, we do have the capacity to make a judgment on a whole-of-state basis. In my party, our state councillors are elected from 250 delegates from across South Australia—city and country. Therefore, there is a greater mix in their views on something like a casino, although, again, I suspect a majority at the time probably would have opposed a casino. There is the capacity on those sorts of issues for members of the Liberal Party, Independents and others to make judgments from a whole-of-state perspective in relation to issues such as that. I do not give that as the only example; there are a number of others as well. I must admit that I had a slight chuckle soon after the casino legislation went through and it was established that many of those members who had voted against the casino beat me in the rush to get across to the casino and were much more regular attendees and consumers of the casino services over subsequent years than I ever was. As I said, it is an advantage, and it shows the importance of the role of the Legislative Council, that we have the capacity to sit back and make judgments about what we believe is for the benefit of the state.
There are a number of other areas in relation to the role of the council, but I will not go through all of them this afternoon. I believe that that half-dozen or so are a summary of the important role of the Legislative Council and the advantages of upper house members being elected in the way that we are and also in the numbers that we have. One of the other arguments about the abolition of the Legislative Council I was interested to read in a speech by a former Labor leader of the government of the Legislative Council and former attorney-general, the Hon. Chris Sumner. Again, he is someone who I am sure would not have supported the abolition of the Legislative Council. In a speech that he gave in 1982 on the role of upper houses today, he looked at the issue of the impact on the House of Assembly if we did get rid of the Legislative Council. He states:
“However, assuming the Senate were not abolished and given that Queensland, Northern Territory and ACT have no Upper House the number of politicians abolished would only be 225 out of 778. This assumes that the Lower House members are not increased as is often suggested in the context of Upper House abolition. However, if Lower House members are not increased, particularly in the small states, then a government could have virtually no backbench. For instance, in South Australia, the House of Assembly has 47 members. If government were won with a bare majority of 24 and there were 13 Ministers, one Speaker, Chairman of Committees, Chairman of each of the Public Accounts Committee, the Public Works Standing Committee, Subordinate Legislation and the Industrial Development Committee, plus a Whip—a total of 20— there would only be four ordinary backbenchers. The problem of too many politicians in Australia is more product of the federal system than the existence of Upper Houses.”
Whilst those numbers have clearly changed and the committees have changed, the Hon. Mr Sumner was making the point that, if you abolish the Legislative Council and then have only a House of Assembly (we now have 15 ministers), in essence you would have a situation where the governing party would have precious few, if any, backbenchers to service all the committees and do all the necessary work that backbenchers do in any political party.
So the first attack point has been the abolition of the Legislative Council. Some of the groups have made the judgment that perhaps the people of South Australia will not support the abolition of the Legislative Council. This is where they become more clever and look at a range of policies that will gut the Legislative Council or significantly reduce the effectiveness of it through a range of mechanisms. On behalf of the first group I talked about—Premier Rann, big business leaders, The Advertiser and Rex Jory group, who are arguing to abolish the Legislative Council so that we do not stand in the way of economic development and job growth—Mr Rann says that, if we cannot abolish the Legislative Council, plan B is to reduce the number of members of the Legislative Council to 16 and introduce four-year terms. With regard to 16 members of the Legislative Council, the sort of comments the Hon. Chris Sumner made about the House of Assembly would be even more applicable to a Legislative Council chamber of only 16 members. It would significantly reduce the capacity of this chamber to do the work it needs to do to keep the executive accountable. We would have a situation potentially of the government of the day having possibly six members, the opposition having six members and minor parties and other independents having four members, adding up to a 16-person Legislative Council.
One only needs to look through that to see the sort of committees we have established currently, both standing and select, to find that it would be impossible to maintain that level of accountability and oversight of the executive arm of government with such a reduction in numbers in the Legislative Council. Another point is that we have traditionally had in our forms of government a Legislative Council that has approximately half the number of members that the House of Assembly has, so we have 22 members of the Legislative Council and 47 members of the House of Assembly. If the goal is to reduce the number of members of parliament, whilst it is not one that I would support, the only logic would be that the House of Assembly should be reduced from 47 down to 32 or 35 or something of that order if the Legislative Council were to be reduced to 16 members. Let us hear the squeals from both parties in another place should that ever be suggested!
If the argument is that we have too many politicians and it costs too much, let the cuts be applied equally in the House of Assembly and Legislative Council. I suspect that our colleagues in both parties would immediately move on to plan C if that were to be the policy solution. That is part of Premier Rann’s plan B, because he knows that fewer politicians, paying them less and shorter terms is something for which he might get head nod support out there if people do not think through the ramifications and repercussions, as opposed to his real plan to abolish the Legislative Council. If the Premier cannot achieve his plan to abolish the Legislative Council, his next best step is to gut the effectiveness of the Legislative Council through another mechanism. I will place on record a number of quotes in relation to this issue of eight-year and four-year terms. However, in doing so, I will make a general comment about established parties; that is, whilst it is good fun for the media and other commentators to make fun of major political parties—whether it be Labor, Liberal or, indeed, in recent years, the Australian Democrats—at least one thing one can say about the established parties is that, by and large, you have a reasonable idea—although it is not always accurate—about what they stand for, what is their record and what you are perhaps going to get, within some broad parameters. You are not buying completely a pig in a poke. I think this is important as we move on to the position of potentially looking at four-year terms for the Legislative Council.
With the greatest respect to my very good friend and colleague the Hon. Mr Xenophon—and all credit to the public profile and perception the Hon. Mr Xenophon was able to achieve in relation to his eight-year term—we have seen in the most recent example that, even contrary to the firm promises the Hon. Mr Xenophon gave to his running mates that they need not worry because they would not be elected and, indeed, the commitments he gave to some of us that he was convinced that he himself would not be elected (I must admit that on the second one I did not agree with the Hon. Mr Xenophon’s assessment. Nevertheless, I will put that to one side for the moment), it was his genuinely held view that his running mates would not be elected. The position he has adopted since then (and I can certainly understand that position) is that, whilst the Hon. Ann Bressington and the Hon. Nick Xenophon may well have shared views on a couple of critical issues, to all intents and purposes, on other issues they are two separate Independents. I respect that, and I have no criticism of either the Hon. Mr Xenophon or the Hon. Ms Bressington in relation to that point. The reality is that the people of South Australia voting for the Hon. Mr Xenophon knew very little about his running mates, the Hon. Ann Bressington and John Darley, who was No. 3 on the—
The Hon. Nick Xenophon: They had reasonable profiles.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: They had reasonable profiles but, as with the Hon. Mr Xenophon, who guaranteed them that they would not be elected, there was not much discussion in the public arena about either of them being elected. That is one of the challenges if one moves to a system of four-year terms and 22 members being elected at one time. If one looks at the most recent example, the Hon. Mr Xenophon could have elected potentially up to four or five members of the Legislative Council at the most recent election. So, his guarantees not only to his No. 2 and No. 3 that they would not be elected would not be true, and, possibly, that would also be the case in respect of No. 4 and No. 5 on his ticket. At least with the Labor Party, the Liberal Party, the Australian Democrats and, in recent days, the Greens and Family First, one has an idea of what it is they stand for.
However, a collection of Independents, each guaranteed that they would not be elected by the leader of that team and who is personally very popular and garners a considerable vote at a particular time, means that a number of members of this chamber might be elected with the people liking the leader of that particular team—the Hon. Mr Xenophon in this case. I am using that only as a recent example. It could be anyone else in recent times, although the Hon. Mr Xenophon is obviously the clearest example of an Independent, as opposed to a minor party, garnering such a significant vote. As I have said, this is no criticism of the Hon. Ann
Bressington or, indeed, the almost Hon. John Darley. But, as on a previous occasion, the Hon. Mr Xenophon is probably quite happy that one of his running mates was not elected to the Legislative Council, as a result of subsequent revelations about that. At that time, because no-one probably expected the Hon. Mr Xenophon to be elected in the first instance, let alone a second person on his ticket, the same level of scrutiny was not applied to that particular person. As I said, the Hon. Mr Xenophon has adopted an entirely understandable position by saying, ‘My team is a collection of Independents and we’re not going to be voting en bloc in relation to issues. Perhaps my fellow team mates’ running positions on one or two issues will be similar to mine, but on others the decision will be completely for them.’
The Hon. Nick Xenophon interjecting:
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Well, you might. If we were to move to a position, which I hope we don’t, of four-year terms, then you would need to. Far be it from me to suggest that the Hon. Mr Xenophon’s current level of support is a meteor blitzing across the horizon; it may well be a permanent part of the political landscape, but then again it might not be. There will be occasions when political meteors blaze across the sky brightly and, at a particular point in time, poll significant levels of support. One only has to look back recently to Pauline Hanson and One Nation to know how popular (for a period) Pauline Hanson and her supporters were. If she had been a South Australian, she might have been able to garner that level of support in South Australia. Again, with the greatest respect, I am much more comfortable with the Hon. Mr Xenophon and his fellow travellers such as the Hon. Ann Bressington and John Darley being here than if it had been Pauline Hanson who, all of a sudden, garnered three or four running mates and we had four or five members of One Nation in our Legislative Council. That is one of the advantages of having longer terms and rotating membership. It means that the passing political meteorites that go across the horizon (such as Pauline Hanson and others) need to demonstrate support in the community for some length of time. So, their views are exposed and they have to answer questions about their policies over a period of time, and we can rely on the good sense of the South Australian voting public, we hope, to ask those questions.
However, if the period is shorter, at a particular point in time, as we have seen, Independents or minor parties can garner votes of up to 15 or 20 per cent. Not too long ago, the Australian Democrats were polling 16 or 16-plus per cent in South Australia. The South Australian community said at that time, ‘A pox on both the major parties; we want to vote for something other than Liberal or Labor; we are going to vote for something else’—and they voted for the Australian Democrats. The advantage of the rotational basis of the Legislative Council, of not having everyone in and everyone out at the same time, is that it gives the people of South Australia time to make a judgment. Even though the Democrats have been wiped out on this occasion because the non-major party vote was absorbed by the Hon. Mr Xenophon and the Greens, they (and Family First) are still represented in this chamber—
The Hon. P. Holloway: Even though the people don’t want them. What sort of an argument is that?
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Well, at the time of the election of the Hon. Sandra Kanck just over four years ago, they supported the Australian Democrats. If, come 2010, the Australian Democrats still poll 1 or 2 per cent of the vote, they will disappear; over a period of time they will be removed from the political horizon. The Greens, particularly in relation to environmental issues, have had a member elected this time; and if the Democrats continue to poll poorly it may well be that the
Greens fill that void in the political horizon. However, what it has meant in terms of rotational basis is that there is the capacity on both sides of that argument to ensure that, over a period, parties and individuals need to demonstrate the worth of what it is they have to offer to the people of South Australia. Again, I think that is something that, as we look at plan B from Premier Rann to gut the Legislative Council and its effectiveness, members need to have a close look at.
The Hon. P. Holloway interjecting:
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Well, as I said, it is the first time that we have ever had a Leader of the Government pledge to abolish the Legislative Council. It is a shame and a blot on the personal CV of the Hon. Mr Holloway that he is the first Leader of the Government to pledge the abolition of the Legislative Council. That is his policy, he is an advocate of it and it is a shame and a blot on his personal political CV.
In relation to the rotation of senators, I want to put on the record a number of quotes. First, I refer to page 17 of Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice, which states:
“The six year fixed term of senators derives in part from the Senate’s character as a continuing house. It stems also from the view that an effective parliament reflects the state of electoral opinion at different stages of its development rather than at a particular date. It is also a feature of the Senate’s character contributing to its role as a house of review and reflection. The six-year term and the principal of rotation were based on comparable provisions in the Constitution of the United States concerning the United States’ Senate. The objectives of those provisions as expounded by The Federalist were to counteract the dangers of instability which would arise if all places in the Congress were contested at biennial intervals, and to create conditions enabling some members of Congress to become expert in legislation and ‘the affairs and the comprehensive interests of their country’.”
The second quote is from Harry Evans, Clerk of the Australian Senate. The chapter is headed ‘The Rotation of Senators, Republican Remedies and the Australian Constitution’ in a book entitled The Constitutional Commission and the 1988 Referendums. I will not quote it all, but one particular section states:
“In a fairly long speech at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention on 26 June 1787, Madison expounded, with his usual combination of robust reasoning and keen appreciation of the work is a practical institutional arrangements, the importance of the tenure of the Senate. The Senate was intended to combine scrutiny of the executive government and review of legislation. The central problem of republican government reappears in relation to the Senate in this form: how can such a legislative body be given continuity and a measure of independence from the other organs of the state, while maintaining its dependence on the people? Considerable importance was attached to continuity as a desirable characteristic of a watchdog of the executive. The rotation of its membership was the answer to the problem: a long term of office but with a portion of the membership being renewed at short periods.”
Harry Evans went on to argue the importance in terms of the argument for the rotation of senators.
The Hon. P. Holloway: Yes, but none of them had eight years. In the US it is four and in the Senate it is six.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Is the leader going to suggest two year terms in the House of Assembly?
The Hon. P. Holloway interjecting:
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: No, I’ll bet you don’t. I want to put a third quote on the record with the arguments for and against the 1988 referenda. One section states:
“How does the proposal affect the Senate? Drastically, it will become a mere echo of the House of Representatives through a change to its basic structure—abolition of both its present fixed six-year term—and the staggering of senators’ terms so that half of them face election every three years. This structure is fundamental to the Senate’s role as a house of review and as the voice of the states. The stability of the six-year term enables senators to serve over a period long enough for important issues to be given the full attention they deserve, and not rushed through prematurely without proper consideration. Australians have always recognised the dangers of such a change, proven by their rejection of the same idea in referendums in 1974, 1977 and 1984. Each time, Australians have recognised that such a change would reduce the Senate to a rubber stamp for the government of the day.”
Finally, I want to quote from a debate in the House of Assembly on 9 March last year, which reads as follows:
“I now turn to the Constitution (Terms of Members of the Legislative Council) Amendment Bill. The bill seeks to amend the principal act so that the term of members of the Legislative Council will expire on the dissolution or expiry of the House of Assembly. The government does not support this proposal. It believes that the current system is preferable. Currently, members of the other place generally serve the equivalent of two terms of the House of Assembly. That is eight years. The terms of members of the council (the other place) have always been staggered so that, usually, only one half of the membership is elected at any one election. The amendments proposed in this bill would mean that all 22 councillors would be elected at the same election, meaning a reduction in the quota from 8.3 per cent of the formal vote to 4.3 per cent, or thereabouts. The importance of the other place and equivalent chambers is explained in Odgers’ text as follows:
‘The requirement for the consent of two differently constituted assemblies improves the quality of laws. It is also a safeguard against misuse of the law-making power and, in particular, against the control of any one body by a political faction not properly representative of the whole community.’
“The government believes that the current system is consistent with the role of the other place as a house of review. It has been common for upper houses to be constituted in this way. For example, the Senate maintains a staggered system of appointment. Staggered terms allow members of the other place to be more removed from immediate electoral pressure. It offers stability and balance, as a strong populist vote in the house would not necessarily result in a majority of members in the other place. I believe that this is a safeguard. It has the advantage of ensuring continuity of experience in at least one house of parliament.”
Mr President, I invite members to speculate as to who made those comments in the House of Assembly on 9 March 2005, voting against a proposal for four year terms for the Legislative
The Hon. Nick Xenophon: Is there a prize for guessing?
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Indeed, there could be a prize, Mr Xenophon; free pokie chips over at the casino! Mr President, the quote I have just read out was given by the Attorney-General of South Australia, the Hon. Michael Atkinson, just last year when voting against a proposal for four year terms in the Legislative Council. The arguments used by the Hon. Michael Atkinson, which were supported by all members of the government at the time, are exactly the arguments I have just put to this council in relation to the dangers that are inherent in four year terms for the Legislative Council. So, in 2005 the Hons Atkinson and Rann, as well as other members of this government in the House of Assembly, voted against four year terms for those reasons.
The Hon. Nick Xenophon: So that was the government’s position?
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: That was the government’s position, and all government members supported that position. It was not a personal position, and I use the quote ‘the government’ used advisedly by the Attorney-General. That is why I said, yesterday afternoon, that the reason we are having this debate is that in November last year the Premier of South Australia wanted a diversion from issues that were going to be raised in relation to one of the committees of the Legislative Council, which was going to call him and his executive arm of government to account. We now have the situation where the arrogance of the Premier and his government means they are now proposing a course of action which they all voted against in the House of Assembly just on 12 months ago, for the reasons I have just outlined.
I invite the Leader of the Government in this chamber to have the courage to stand up and defend his position and say why he believes this council ought to be abolished or why he believes that the effectiveness of this chamber ought to be gutted, and why the Attorney-General of this state was wrong in March of last year in the quote I have just put on public record.
I want to refer to an analysis that parliamentary library staff member Jenni Newton has conducted of the composition of the Legislative Council should there have been four year terms. I am not aware of the mechanism Jenni used to compile this, and I have not been through the detail of how she has done the calculations, but I can report that she certainly has expertise in this area, which is acknowledged and used by all members of parliament. I want to place on record that Jenni Newton has been through the recent elections and looked at what the results in this chamber would have been if we had had four year instead of eight year terms—that is, 22 members being elected each time rather than 11 members. Going back to the 1989 election, the Labor Party had 10 members in the Legislative Council. According to this analysis, under a four year term it would have had one less member in the council—that is, it would have had nine. The Liberal Party and the Democrats would have remained the same, and there would have been a Call to Australia or an Independent candidate. In the following election in 1993 the Labor Party had nine members on the floor of the chamber. So, if I can rephrase that, after the 1989 election there were
10 Labor members and, if there had been an election in 1989 for all 22 members, there would have been only nine, a reduction of one, and that one would have gone across to a Call to Australia candidate.
Similarly, after the 1993 election, there were nine Labor members. If the four year in and out formula had been used, there would have been only six Labor members in the Legislative Council, a reduction of three members for the Australian Labor Party. There is another model where it might have been only two, but the worst position for the Labor Party would have been a reduction of three. The Liberal Party would have picked up one additional one, the Democrats would have stayed the same and the Independents and other parties would have picked up two additional members. So, the Labor Party would have lost one member after 1989 and would have been three members fewer after 1993. After the 1997 election, the Labor Party would have lost one member. Instead of having eight members, it would have ended up with seven members. The Liberal Party would have lost two members in 1997, the Democrats would have picked up one, and other Independents would have picked up two. So, if you include the Democrats in other than the major parties, there would have been an increase of three in the other parties. After the 2002 election, in only one out of the four elections that I have referred to would the Labor Party have picked up one member. Instead of having seven members they would have had eight. The Liberal Party would have remained the same, and the Democrats would have been one fewer on that occasion. I am not aware of the analysis having been done yet for the 2006 election by Jenni Newton, and perhaps she is in the process of doing it. I know there is at least one hard head within the Labor caucus who has looked at these numbers also (and this person does not happen to be a supporter of the abolition of the Legislative Council) and who is bemused by this bold initiative of the Premier and the Labor Party to propose this plan B of four year terms which would effectively mean a reduction in the numbers, on three out of the four occasions, anyway, of Labor members in the Legislative Council.
As I said, there is at least one hard head within the Labor caucus who has had a look at those numbers and is wondering at its value for the Labor Party. Admittedly, this particular member is not looking at other issues of the importance of the Legislative Council, etc., but in terms of the hard currency of the number of backsides on seats this person is wondering about the value of four year terms if all it means is that there are fewer members such as yourself, Mr President, actually getting elected to the Legislative Council and more Independent members and other parties being elected.
I put that analysis on the table because I want to go back to the original group—the Premier Rann, big business leaders, The Advertiser and Rex Jory view of the world and why we should abolish the Legislative Council, that is, because it holds up progress of the government’s legislative program and holds up economic development and jobs. Whilst one can see that that is the viewpoint of business leaders—Business SA and others, and The Advertiser—if one moves from the abolition (if that was achieved and they saw a government implementing its program, if that is what they want) to plan B, which is where Premier Rann and the others now want to go, in essence the business leaders and The Advertiser and those people who have been currently going
along with Premier Rann would be achieving a situation of no difference at all in relation to the ability of the government of the day in the lower house to jam its program unmolested through parliament. That is because, on a four-year analysis, clearly, the capacity of minor parties and Independents to get people elected is stronger. The quota is just over 4 per cent instead of just over 8 per cent. The Hon. Mr Xenophon, eight years ago, was elected on 2.7 per cent of the vote. If the quota is only 4.3 per cent, it is possible that the Hon. Nick Xenophon, or an Independent, could in certain circumstances be elected on much less than 2.7 per cent. Perhaps 1.5 per cent of the vote may well, with appropriate preference deals, mean election to the Legislative Council.
So, those people who have been freewheeling on the back of Premier Rann’s promise to abolish the Legislative Council to allow governments to jam their legislative program through the parliament I do not believe have thought through the ramifications of what plan B will actually mean when Premier Rann moves to it. It means that what they were seeking to achieve will not be achieved at all: it will be, in essence, the antithesis of what they have been seeking to achieve. It will mean a strengthening of the minor parties and Independents to an even greater degree than we see under the current arrangements. That is what I meant at the outset when I said that a number of these people have not thought through the implications of Premier Rann’s plan B, which is the four year terms and perhaps a reduction in the number of members of the Legislative Council.
The final area in terms of gutting the Legislative Council that I want to refer to is the one which is almost as dangerous—I guess it cannot be as dangerous as the abolition, but almost as dangerous again—and that is the view being proffered by people such as Dean Jaensch and the member for Fisher (Bob Such) that the Legislative Council should have its powers gutted in relation to legislation. That is, the Legislative Council would not be able to amend or insist on amendments to any legislation that comes through the house. You would have the capacity to defer a bill for up to three months but, if it had not passed within three months, the government could implement whatever bill in whatever shape or form it wished. Again, with the greatest of respect to Dean Jaensch, I do not believe he and others who support that have thought through its implications. All that means is that the government of the day can set out Legislative Council opposition to any piece of legislation. The government can introduce its bill, wait for three months and say, ‘Too bad; we’re going to implement the program.’ It is tantamount to the abolition of the Legislative Council, anyway.
The Hon. D.G.E. Hood: There could be a worse model.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Well, abolition would be the worst model, I suspect. It is almost as bad as abolition. That is, you would have a Legislative Council—
The Hon. D.G.E. Hood: It’s not even an elected body.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Well, the House of Lords, of course, is not constituted democratically as this chamber is—it is elected by the people of South Australia democratically across the state. That situation is being supported by prominent people, including, as I said, a former speaker, prominent political scientist and commentator, Dean Jaensch, and others, who suggest that we ought to be gutting the powers of the Legislative Council in relation to legislation. There are a number of other models, including plans, c, d, e and f. There is a very clever group out there led by the Premier, the Leader of the Government, and, sadly, supported by yourself and others, Mr President, who want to abolish the Legislative Council, or to destroy its effectiveness. Members in this chamber need to be eternally vigilant in relation to some of these proposals. As I said, some of them are superficially attractive. To go out into the community and say, ‘We’re going to have fewer members of parliament,’ is attractive; to go out and say, ‘We’re going to pay them less,’ is very attractive; to go out and say, ‘We’re going to cut their superannuation, or we’re going to remove their benefits’ is attractive to the people of South Australia. To reduce the length of the term of members of parliament would be attractive as well.
I assure the council that, if the vote was put to reduce the term of the House of Assembly to three years as opposed to four years and to have more frequent elections, we would have a considerable body of people—and I am not sure whether it would be as big a majority as would support a reduction to four years for the Legislative Council—who would support a reduction in the term of members of parliament. Certainly, there would be very strong support for reducing the number of members of the Legislative Council.
In relation to the Legislative Council, I will briefly touch on what I think are some options in terms of strengthening the Legislative Council and its role, and I will expand on those on another occasion. I will be testing the numbers in this chamber for the establishment of an estimates committee of the Legislative Council. As I flagged during the last parliament, I did not move for such a committee to be established then because the previous Liberal government did not have an estimates committee of the Legislative Council, and I believed that it was unfair to potentially impose that on a Labor government in its first four years. However, we have now had four years of a Labor government. I do not see an estimates committee of the Legislative Council replicating the Appropriation Bill debate of the House of Assembly in the form of its estimates committees, but I do see it picking up the role of the Senate estimates committees in terms of the ongoing monitoring of government budgets and accountability throughout the financial year. The proposed model is that, at the time of the budget, there would be the House of Assembly estimates committees in the traditional way, and we would process the bill in the normal way. Our estimates committees would not be involved in delaying the Appropriation Bill on that occasion, but throughout the year they would have the capacity on their own motion, or the motion of the council, to bring in chief executives and ministers, as the Senate committees do, and hold them accountable in terms of budget monitoring and control within those particular departments and agencies. It has worked for many years in the Senate, and I believe it could be an important improvement in terms of accountability of the executive arm of government to parliament and in respect of the Legislative Council’s work. Further, I think that we need to seriously look at the capacity within the parliament for independent advice on revenue and financial and taxation matters. I indicated in the last parliament that a number of the states in America have independent fiscal officers associated with the parliament, and in our model it may well be that, attached to, or part of our library service, there might be significant, high-powered revenue and fiscal advice available to members who might seek to amend either tax bills or such issues in terms of getting advice on budgets and budget matters, which are very difficult for members to understand given the budget papers and other information we have, and also the refusal of this government to even answer the most basic of questions in relation to budgets.
There are other issues that I will flag on another occasion in relation to what I think are future options for improving the operations of the Legislative Council. I flagged those two briefly to indicate that I do not believe that this chamber is perfect in terms of its operations, or, indeed, that this parliament is perfect in terms of its operations. We should always look at potential options for improving our operations but, in my very strong submission, we should do so within the construct of improving the accountability of the executive arm of government to the parliament and improving the capacity of this chamber to act as a check and balance against the excesses of any government, whether it be Labor or Liberal