The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: The major issue that I want to address in the Address in Reply debate is the whole issue of the Legislative Council and its future, given the announced policy position of the Rann Labor government in relation to the abolition of the Legislative Council.
I addressed this issue in May last year in the Address in Reply and I do not intend to repeat all of that argument in relation to the importance of the Legislative Council and rebutting, in some detail, the lack of intellectual rigour and honesty in the arguments that people like the Premier and others use in trying to mount a case for the abolition of the Legislative Council. The oft-made claim by the Premier and others who seek the abolition of the Legislative Council that it has been an impediment to development and economic growth and appropriate debate in South Australia is certainly wide of the mark.
On that occasion, I quoted some statistical information which I had incorporated in Hansard (for those avid readers of Hansard it was on 3 and 4 May 2006) which, in summary, highlighted the fact that 98 per cent of government legislation (both Liberal and Labor) over the past 15 or 20 years had passed through the Legislative Council either wholly or in an amended fashion and was obviously of a nature acceptable to the government of the day. Those figures relate to Liberal and Labor governments during that particular period.
I placed on the record in particular the detail in relation to the last four years, as it was then (March/April 2006) which highlighted the fact that, again, 98 per cent of the legislation introduced by the Rann government had passed through this place. I stated at that time:
“. . . 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 amendment.
“That figure of approximately 98 per cent of legislation being passed through this council has been maintained under the period of the Rann Labor Government.”
As I indicated on 24 November 2005 when a particular witness was appearing before the Legislative Council Select Committee on the Atkinson/Ashbourne scandal, as a diversion, the Premier gave a statement to the morning paper. I think it led the front page of The Advertiser on that particular day. It said that he was going to hold a referendum at the 2010 state election to abolish the upper house of parliament. In that exclusive story to The Advertiser he went on to explain the reasons for that, which I will not repeat, and then he said:
“I will also be putting an alternative option into the referendum, that if the people do not agree to its abolition, that they agree to substantial reform of the upper house, which includes: reducing its terms from eight years to four; reducing the number of members, say from 22 to 16; and reducing its ability to indefinitely delay legislation that has passed the lower house.”
“The third and final option in the referendum would be no change at all.”
That was the Premier’s announcement on 24 November 2005. On a number of occasions since then he has repeated that. Soon after his re-election on 27 April 2006, in a press release under the heading `Will the Legislative Council work with us?’ he said:
“The government will also be introducing a bill to hold a referendum to coincide with the 2010 state election to determine if the Legislative Council should be substantially reformed, its members cut, and terms reduced from eight years to four; whether it should be abolished; or if it should stay the same.”
The first point that I want to make is that I do not believe the Premier actually understands the Constitution Act of South Australia and the provisions that relate to the capacity of governments to put a referendum to the people of South Australia. Certainly, it is my view, backed up by advice that I have received, that it is not possible for the Premier to do what he has promised to do publicly, that is, to have a pick-a-box referendum and go to the people in 2010 with the three options that he has outlined: keep it the same; abolish it or reform it—he would use that word; I would not—or make changes.
In essence, what the Premier has said on a number of occasions is that in 2010 he will be seeking to put a referendum to the people which is, in layperson’s terms, a pick-a-box referendum, that is, voters will be able to choose one of three particular options. I refer the Premier, his legal advisers, political advisers and other members to section 10A of the Constitution Act—special provisions as to referendum—which provides:
(1) Except as provided in this section—
(a)the House of Assembly shall not be abolished; and
(b)the Legislative Council shall not be abolished; and
(c)the powers of the Legislative Council shall not be altered; and
(d)sections 8 and 41 of this act shall not be repealed or amended; and
(e)any provision of this section shall not be repealed or amended.
(2) A bill providing for or effecting—
(a)the abolition of the House of Assembly; or
(b)the abolition of the Legislative Council; or
(c)any alteration of the powers of the Legislative Council; or
(d)the repeal or amendment of section 8 or section 41 of this act; or
(e)the repeal or amendment of any provision of this section,
shall be reserved for the signification of Her Majesty’s pleasure thereon, and shall not be presented to the Governor for Her Majesty’s assent until the bill has been approved by the electors in accordance with this section.
(3) On a day which shall be appointed by proclamation, being a day not sooner than two months after the bill has passed through both the Houses of Parliament, the bill shall, as provided by and in accordance with an act which must be passed by parliament and in force prior to that day, be submitted to the persons whose names appear as electors on the electoral rolls kept under the Electoral Act 1929, as amended, for the election of members of the House of Assembly.
(4) When the bill is so submitted as provided by and in accord¬ance with the act referred to in subsection (3) of this section, a vote shall be taken in such a manner as is prescribed by that Act.
(5) If the majority of the persons voting approve of the bill, it shall be presented to the Governor for Her Majesty’s assent.
Subsections (6) and (7) are of no significance to the point I make.
The point is that, under the provisions of the Constitution Act as they relate to referenda, a bill needs to pass through both houses of parliament before a referendum can be put to the people. It is not possible to have a piece of legislation passing through both houses of parliament which essentially says, `Pick a box—tick which particular box it is that you want.’ A piece of legislation will have to determine a particular policy or a course of action—such as the Premier’s preferred course of the abolition of the Legislative Council—or some different course of action for that piece of legislation to, in essence, provide the legal framework for that to occur and, if it were to pass both houses of parliament, under the provisions of section 10A of the Constitution Act it can ultimately be put to a vote of the people by way of a referendum.
It is therefore incumbent on the Premier and those who support that particular proposition to explain exactly what he was talking about in November 2005 and April 2006 and on other occasions when he has made a clear commitment and led the people of South Australia to believe that he is going to put a referendum to them allowing them a pick-a-box choice in terms of the future of the Legislative Council. Either the Premier is ignorant of the provisions of the Constitution Act or he is being deliberately duplicitous in knowing the provisions but nevertheless making the statements knowing them to be untrue—
The Hon. R.D. Lawson: I’ll go for the latter.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: —the Hon. Mr Lawson says that he will go for the latter—or it could possibly be a dangerous combination of both. This is an important matter because the future of the bicameral system of parliament, which in my view the majority of South Australians would support, is threatened by the policy position of the Premier which is supported by the Australian Labor Party at the moment. As I said, the Premier has led people to believe that he will be providing a pick-a-box option. He should now explain to the parliament, or publicly, whether or not he was ignorant of the provisions of the Constitution or whether he was being deliberately duplicitous in making statements which he knew to be untrue prior to the last state election.
I turn now to the issue of the future role of the Legislative Council, and the view that many of us have in terms of how we might be able to reform sensibly the operations of the Legislative Council. I think there is a view from the Premier and others that what the Premier calls reforms—which I call the destruction of the Legislative Council—is the only path that can be followed by anyone who wants to seek change. Certainly, in recent years I believe that the Legislative Council has demonstrated a willingness to reform some of its practices and processes.
In particular, I think that in the area of the committee structure of the Legislative Council in the parliament we have achieved some significant reform. However, I believe that we can achieve further significant reform in the future. In the period of the last Liberal government a wholly-based upper house committee was debated and established, namely, the Statutory Authorities Review Committee. Mr President, you had a period serving on that committee, and I believe that it has undertaken some significant work and a number of significant references.
I believe that, with some future reforms, it can achieve even more significant changes in terms of government operation, procedure and practice. We have only recently established what The Advertiser and some other media commentators are referring to as potentially a very powerful committee of the parliament, the Budget and Finance Committee. I look forward to the early implementation and operation of the Budget and Finance Committee. As I indicated, I will be arguing strongly that, under a future Liberal government, that committee should become an equivalent standing committee of the Legislative Council.
It should be an ongoing and important element of the operations of the Legislative Council and equal in status and stature to the other important committees in the parliament. I have expressed a personal view before that my view, in terms of the reform of the Legislative Council, is that a greater preponderance of solely upper house committees is consistent with the role of the Legislative Council as a house of review. I will not go over it all again, but I have recounted in detail that the joint committees that we have established were a product of the times, with a Labor government and some Independent Labor members at the time supporting reform of the committee system.
That was the best that could be achieved at that time in terms of joint standing committees of the parliament. It is my personal view, not necessarily a party view, that a change in that mix (if that could ever be achieved) in terms of a greater number of solely upper house based committees would be more consistent with the role of a house of review in terms of providing an appropriate review of the operations of whatever government happens to be in power at the time. Certainly, I think that this or the next parliament ought to be contemplating a review of the current layout, number and structure of the committees that we have, whether they be joint or upper house committees.
A number of these committees have grown, for various reasons, at particular times. The Natural Resources Commit¬tee was offered to the member for Chaffey as a result of the need of the Rann government to provide a car and further attraction to that honourable member. Subsequently, that turned out not to be required because she became a member of cabinet and received a car from that particular deal.
It makes no sense to me personally to see the layout of these committees, which were established back in the 1980s with the Social Development Committee, the Legislative Review Committee and the Environment, Resources and Development Committee in terms of joint committees and the Economic and Finance Committee and Public Works Committee in the lower house, which sought to cover the portfolios. There is now a significant overlap in terms of the ERD Committee and the Natural Resources Committee. We have also now established the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee, and in my personal view there could be some rationalisation of the work of that committee with either the Social Development Committee or through some other restructuring of the committees.
One could certainly rationalise a number of those commit¬tees and establish a budget and finance standing committee of the Legislative Council and potentially another standing committee in this place without there being any net increase in the number of paid standing committee positions of the parliament, if that were an issue of concern to either members of the parliament or, more likely, members of the media in terms of commenting on reform.
I can see a capacity in the short term to move to two standing committees of the Legislative Council, and I suggest that to those members who might have similar views within their own party or forums in which they have influence. If they agree with that view, we should look at a mud map of the future in which there are three standing committees of the Legislative Council and a commensurate reduction in the number of joint standing committees in particular. We could then see significant change, reform and improvement in terms of the operations of the committee system of the Legislative Council. I seek leave to conclude my remarks later.