The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: I move: That this council condemns the Rann government for its arrogance and inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour.
I move this motion for two reasons, and the first is as a service to other members of the Legislative Council. Its general nature and drafting will allow other members, during the remainder of this session, when inevitably they run into further examples of arrogant, inappropriate or unacceptable behaviour by the government and/or its ministers, to speak to this generic motion. So, as I said, one of its purposes is to act as a service to other members of the council. The second purpose is to allow me—at the five year mark, essentially, of this government—to summarise, at least from one particular viewpoint, the very many examples of arrogance of this government and inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour by the Premier, its ministers and its staffers.
At the outset, I want to note that the view that some of us have had of the Premier, his senior ministers and the government being arrogant has been held for a long time. Certainly, after the 2006 election, part of the strategy adopted was to tag, label or properly describe the Rann government and its ministers as arrogant and out of touch. I note an article written in the Adelaide Review by Mr Michael Jacobs, who was critical of that particular strategy, under an article headed `Liberals running a risk by branding Rann “arrogant”‘. Mr Jacobs went on to say:
This feeds into the apparent opposition strategy, partly in defence of the council [Legislative Council], to try to paint Mr Rann, or the government generally, as arrogant.
“The Liberals’ focus on words like `arrogant’ may reinforce the faithful, who can be expected to include those who will never be too happy with or about the Premier. But the Liberals will need to find themes that resonate with many more people than the remaining faithful if they are to make any headway. Calling a man arrogant at just the moment he is all sweet reasonableness is unlikely to be one of them.”
That is obviously Mr Jacobs’ view but, as I said at the outset, it is certainly not the view that I have or, I am sure, the vast majority of my colleagues have in relation to the Premier, his senior ministers and the government generically.
I will quote just a couple of comments from independent commentators, I guess, over the past 12 months to indicate that the view the Liberal Party has of this government is now being shared by an increasing number of commentators and, we think, some of the community as well. Greg Kelton, in an article last year under the heading `Arrogance. Personal attacks a lowlight in the house. Cocky MPs selling their party short’, said:
“Perhaps he should have [the Premier]. Unless the current excesses are curbed, this government will be vying for the title of the most arrogant I have seen in 35 years of covering politics.”
That comes from, as I said, the senior political commentator from The Advertiser, a man not noted for jumping to excessive conclusions in relation to governments of all persuasions and, indeed, that was a biting, damning and cutting criticism of the Premier and his government.
It is not just the senior reporter from The Advertiser, because late last year Mike Smithson, Channel 7’s political reporter, and Paul Starick, who is the new deputy editor of The Advertiser but at that stage was the chief reporter, appeared on ABC Radio and looked at the year that was, and Mike Smithson said:
“. . . in parliament, there has been a certain arrogance with Messrs Foley, Conlon, Atkinson, the Premier, to a degree. . . that doesn’t come as a great surprise. . . if you’ve got the numbers, you can do what you want.”
Matt Abraham then said:
“It actually comes as a surprise to me. . . I have watched Mike Rann in politics since he was working for Don Dunstan, certainly when he was the press secretary of John Bannon, and his entire time in opposition. . . the first term we had to negotiate a deal and I thought to myself, `This bloke’s smarter than that. This bloke would not let a huge majority go to his government’s head, that he would exert a discipline over his team.’ And maybe it’s just too hard to do that, but there’s something about the mindset of a second term, really guaranteed a third term unless they do something incred¬ibly. . . stupid. . . they’ve got a huge majority. . . you almost can’t stop that from getting into your head.”
Mr Smithson then went on to make some comment. Mr Starrick from The Advertiser was asked for his view. He said: I think the perception of arrogance or whether it is indeed arrogance and the Premier’s lack of control over that—it is interesting to contrast that with the federal scene. John Howard’s been in power for many years and also spent a long time doing the hard yards of opposition but he has been extremely keen at every opportunity to hammer down on any perception of arrogance or hubris in his government, sometimes to the point of going to extremes. For whatever reason, the Premier hasn’t been able to create that public perception after one landslide victory.
There are many other recent examples, but I just highlight Mr Kelton, Mr Starrick and Mr Smithson as three commentators on public affairs in South Australia who have started to share the view and also to put the view publicly that this government—this Premier and senior ministers—are indeed guilty of arrogance; and, as I have said, for the first time we are now seeing some of that being publicly reported.
As I said at the outset, this is not news to many of us involved in politics; we have seen it over many years. I highlighted in the matters of interest today the arrogance of this government—the Premier and others—in relation to questions on notice. Some 400 or 500 questions on notice in the Legislative Council are left up to five years because the Rann government and the Premier are saying, `Well, we don’t have to answer questions from the duly elected members representing the people of South Australia. If we don’t like your questions and if we don’t want to provide the answers, we don’t have to, and we won’t’. Sadly, that is the attitude adopted by the Premier and his senior ministers. We have seen that in relation to question time in both houses but, in particular, this house. I have said before and I say it again: I have seen some of the most flagrant abuses of question time in this chamber by this government and its ministers that I have seen in all my time associated with the Legislative Council and watching parliament.
In the last parliament we had the extraordinary situation where government backbenchers actually asked dorothy dixers of upper house ministers on issues not relating to their portfolio interests. We had government backbenchers asking questions about portfolio interests of lower house ministers, and asking upper house ministers to read out, in essence, the press releases from those lower house ministers. At least, after criticism, the ministers and the backbenchers’ dorothy dixers now relate to particular portfolios. We saw earlier this year an embarrassing circumstance where the leader of the government was answering a dorothy dixer reading from a press release, and the opposition was parroting every word, because it was going word for word, until the leader of the government realised that the opposition was reading out exactly the same press release at exactly the same time, enraged as the leader of the government was. That, to me, is an abuse of question time.
We have a situation where ministers in this upper house, in an arrogant way, are abusing the privileges of the upper house, the privileges of upper house members, and the requirements of members of the opposition and also the crossbenches to ask questions in the parliament on behalf of their constituents. I will not go into all the details about that; I have touched on some of them before, but they are things that we can recall. Certainly, the abuses in relation to freedom of information processing are well known to any who have actually been through that particular process, and it has become much worse in recent years.
I think the change that we are seeing, at last, as I said, is that the media, or some commentators, are noticing this. Certainly, some in the community are recognising this and, hopefully, we will see more recognition and reporting of the arrogance of the Rann government by the media and com¬menting by the community. Perhaps through that mechanism we can achieve change in terms of the Premier’s and the government’s response to the criticisms that they are starting to receive. The next manifestation of this government’s arrogance has been the both public and private verbal assaults on any individual or group that either opposes or questions any aspect of what this government does or is about.
In the last 24 hours I have put together a list of 10 or 15 examples of that, the first of which is the Land Tax Reform Association. Mr John Darley, a very respected former Valuer General in South Australia, together with a group of others, came together to protest against land tax. The Hon. Mr Xenophon assisted, as did a number of other members, in their push for reform of the land tax system in South Australia. I do not think that anyone could rationally criticise the Land Tax Reform Association and Mr Darley as being anything other than interested in genuine reform of the tax system because they believed that it was not in the public interest and, of course, they did not believe that it was in their own interests in terms of investment properties here in South Australia.
Some members will be aware of the occasion in March 2004 when Mr Darley and a number of other members of that group met with the Treasurer and a number of senior officers and staffers in the Treasurer’s office. Mr Darley recounts in a statutory declaration that he was told that the meeting would go for approximately half an hour. He says that the first 20 minutes of that meeting with the Treasurer the Treasurer took up by abusing him and others for criticising the Commission¬er of State Taxation for a particular issue and that the Treasurer took the opportunity to abuse Mr Darley for what he alleged were his associations with the Liberal Party and with me, in particular, as the shadow Treasurer. Mr Darley made quite clear that he was not a member of the Liberal Party nor a member of the government party and that he had made representations to all parties in relation to land tax reform.
The harrowing aspect of this particular tale is not the abuse that Mr Darley had to go through but the threat at the conclusion of the meeting. Mr Darley said in his statutory declaration that, as they left at the conclusion of the meeting after some 60 minutes, as it turned out, the Treasurer had turned to him and said `There will be further consequences for you.’ That was how the Treasurer concluded a vigorous and verbal discussion with Mr Darley and others in the Land Tax Reform Association, with a clear intimidatory threat from him personally to Mr Darley that `there will be conse¬quences for you.’ Mr Darley had the courage to stand up to that and sign a statutory declaration and the issue was taken up. As we will see with a number of these claims, the Treasurer, on this occasion, said that he could not recall having made that particular statement.
There are a number of other examples. In 2003 the Cora Barclay Centre was abused and attacked because it ques¬tioned the government’s decision and, in particular, Mr Foley’s part in it. With regard to the DPP, I do not think I have time to go through the many examples of where the government’s very own appointment, its very own Eliot Ness, has had the courage to stand up to what he believed originally was a verbally abusive phone call, as I understand it, from the Treasurer in relation to funding and budget issues, and how, on a variety of other occasions too numerous to mention in the past year or so, he has continued to be pilloried by the government and its ministers.
The hotel industry and investors have been attacked as `robber barons’ and a variety of other words and descriptors have been used to attack them. As to lawyers in particular and judges generally, we have had `mullet headed lawyers’ and a variety of other descriptions applied to the legal fraternity. Mr David Holst, on behalf of Dignity for Disabled, someone who worked tirelessly for that organisation prior to the election, was accused by government representatives of being a front for the Liberal Party. In more recent times the real estate industry was described by the government as real estate barons in a grab for cash, in terms of their approach to a particular issue.
There are many other examples, including the RAA, which the government, prior to the election and then soon afterwards, decided that it was going to abuse verbally and attack. Just one example of that is when the Hon. Mr Foley on 28 April last year described the RAA as follows:
“The RAA, who is nothing but an anti-government pro-Liberal lobby in this state, keep putting out misinformation when it comes to what the government may receive from GST revenue.”
Further on he described the RAA, again, as a front for the Liberal Party or a Liberal Party anti-government lobby group. There is a consistency in the abuse from the Treasurer, in particular, that anyone who is opposed or questions is a front for the Liberal Party, associated with the Liberal Party or a Liberal Party lobby group, whether that be the RAA, Dignity for the Disabled or, indeed, anyone—they are attacked verbally both publicly and privately. I am referring here in many respects—although in some cases I will refer to private attacks—to public attacks, which pale into insignificance compared to the verbal attacks that go on over the telephone or one-to-one from the government and its representatives.
Another example is the Victoria Park grandstand issue. Again, I will not go into great detail, but this issue was raised as a matter of privilege in the House of Assembly. There was the infamous meeting in Rundle Mall on a weekend as a result of which a number of people signed statutory declara¬tions complaining about the behaviour of the Treasurer. A Mr Hudson signed a statutory declaration which states:
“The Treasurer at one stage turned around from the cameras and shouted, `I’ll get you. I’ll fix you.'”
These words seem strangely familiar. This is the Treasurer attacking one of the protesters—`I’ll get you. I’ll fix you’. Another statutory declaration from a Mr Groves who attended the meeting said:
“Mr Foley reacted violently at one stage, threatening members of the public around him stating, `I’ll fix you. You’re the rudest group I have ever encountered.'”
There was another statutory declaration as well. As I said, there is a consistency from the Treasurer and from the government—that is, `I’ll fix you. I’ll get you’—and there will be consequences in relation to the position that you happen to have adopted. One of the more famous examples in recent times is what is called the industry leaders advertise¬ment, which was raised by The Australian journalist Michelle Wiese-Bockman back in June last year. It took some courage from the journalist to write that article as a reference to the article will highlight. The journalist said:
“Premier Mike Rann allegedly tried to blunt private sector dissent over a new bridge by making abusive phone calls to industry leaders interpreted by some executives as a potential threat to funding for the South Australian Freight Council.”
Just to remind members, this advertisement was from a group of industry leaders. It was a March 2005 advertisement signed by the RAA, the South Australian Freight Council’s Chairman, Business SA’s Chief Executive, the then president of the South Australian Farmers Federation and the South Australian Road Transport Association’s Executive Director. The advertisement related to the opening bridge down at the port. The opposition had been critical of the wasting of up to $100 million on an opening bridge as opposed to a fixed or closed bridge.
These industry leaders took out an advertisement and the government was very unhappy with it. Michelle Wiese-Bockman spoke to one of those industry leaders, and he was quoted as saying:
“The message we took from those phone calls, that is, from the Premier, was, `Don’t go to the media again if you want funding for the freight council to continue.'”
That came from an industry leader among a group briefed by some of the executives. The article further states:
“`We decided it was better to have a freight council that was muted than no freight council at all’, said the industry leader who described the calls as `abusive’.”
It was interesting because in her article Michelle Wiese-Bockman also said:
“The Premier’s chief spin doctor Ms Bottrall threatened to sue The Australian if it published the allegation about the calls. `Our legal advisers tell us if you are going to print an unsubstantiated allegation we would have little choice but to pass any article printed into the hands of our lawyers’, she said in an email.”
Surprise, surprise, that bullying and intimidation did not work—at least not in that case. The Australian printed the story, and it is my understanding that the newspaper has not been sued in relation to it. I will turn to what happened a little later on, because there was retribution—there always is when the Rann government does not get its way in terms of spinning a particular story.
The final example in terms of any group that has the temerity to question or oppose any aspect of what the government does relates to the revered Salvation Army, an organisation which is much loved, I am sure, by all members of parliament. However, the Premier, in all of his arrogance, labelled one of the Salvation Army’s officers a liar; he accused the officer on FIVEaa of lying to the people of South Australia about a particular issue. To his credit, this particular Salvation Army officer stood up to it and, indeed, took up the issue. Unsolicited, he rang the Pilkington/Conlon FIVEaa radio breakfast program and forcefully rebutted the claim made by the Premier that he had lied. I cannot believe that any premier would have the temerity to attack the Salvation Army by calling that organisation a liar or accusing it of having told a lie about this particular issue. However, the arrogance of the government knows no bounds and, as I have said, the Salvation Army joins a long list of those who, if they do question the government, are both publicly and privately attacked and abused.
What happened as a result of that incident is that there was a fearsome row in the FIVEaa talkback studios. Mr Rann, who was at the studio for his regular fortnightly discussion with Pilko and Conlon, believed that he had been set up by FIVEaa, with the Salvation Army person ringing in. Pilko and Conlon professed their innocence and said that it was indeed not the case. This person had phoned in unsolicited and he had been attacked, so the producer made a decision to put the person to air. Mr Rann, it is fair to say, did not believe that and engaged in verbal abuse of Pilko, Conlon, the producer and anyone else who was within earshot, and stormed out of the studio. We are indebted to John Blake, the resident comedian or funny man of FIVEaa, who went on to do an interview with the Leon Byner program, outlining the fact that Keith Conlon had said words to the effect of `on your bike’, and Rann had stormed back into the studio and there was another vigorous verbal stoush between the Premier and Mr Conlon and Mr Pilkington.
The Hon. Sandra Kanck interjecting:
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Well, very touchy and very sensitive. I put all those incidents together, and I am sure all honourable members will be able to add other examples of non-government organisations in particular that have taken the verbal abuse, criticism or attacks quietly, whether it be from a minister, the government generically, or one of the government’s spin doctors or others—because whenever anyone at any stage questions an aspect of government policy there is retribution from this government.
We have seen a number of examples where the government has attempted to bully or intimidate sections of the media. I return to the example of Michelle Wiese-Bockman and the story she ran where she accused the Premier of having verbally abused a number of industry leaders. She was threatened with being sued by the government, I assume, if she ran the story. What happened is that the government then cut off Michelle Wiese-Bockman from the fax stream and from any invitation to government-run press conferences. So, here you have a political journalist in the media in South Australia who, because she wrote an article the government objected to, was threatened with legal action, which was, of course, just verbal intimidation and bullying. The government did not carry out that threat, but what the government did do was to cut her off and not invite her to government press conferences.
Faxes were not sent in terms of government press releases. For the remaining period of time that she was in Adelaide (she is now overseas) she had to operate on the basis of ascertaining information from other sources—other members of the media or members of parliament—about where a government press conference was on or what a particular press release might have been about.
This was not the only time that Michelle Wiese-Bockman had crossed paths with the government. During the early part of 2006, just before the election campaign—this was not her fault—the Strewth column in The Australian made reference to the fact that the Deputy Premier and Treasurer, Mr Foley, had been holidaying in Port Lincoln with his then girlfriend, Emma Forster, a local TV presenter. At the January press conference in relation to the mid-year budget results, Michelle Wiese-Bockman (who was not responsible for the Strewth story) turned up and the Hon. Mr Foley, in front of all the journalists assembled there, demanded to know why The Australian was present at the mid-year budget review press conference. He barked at Michelle Wiese-Bockman, `Did you get an invite?’ to which she replied, `Yes, we did.’ The Deputy Premier then turned to his press secretary and told him to make sure that The Australian was never invited again. That was because a columnist in The Australian had referred to the Deputy Premier holidaying with his then girlfriend, Emma Forster, on the West Coast.
The next example I cite in terms of media attacks and media manipulation is in relation to the Bevan and Abraham show on ABC Radio. Members will probably not realise that this is approximately the 12 month anniversary of the last time the Premier agreed to go on the Bevan and Abraham show to be interviewed. The last interview recorded was on 21 July when he rang in from a COAG meeting in Canberra and, since that date, he has refused to be interviewed by Matthew Abraham and David Bevan.
This is an interesting story in itself, and I am sure Mr Rann and Mr Abraham would not deny it. Going back 20 or 30 years, Mr Abraham and Mr Rann were much closer friends. During his period in the early days of the parliament (and I will stand corrected if this is not entirely accurate), it is my understanding that, when Mr Abraham was on ABC Radio in Canberra, on occasions Mr Rann stayed with the Abraham family at their place in Canberra, so there was a reasonably cordial working relationship or friendship between Mr Abraham and Mr Rann.
In the early days of this government those of us who watched from the opposition would have known about and seen the very close connection that Mr Rann had with that particular program. He was always available for live inter¬views and there were any number of occasions when Mr Abraham, in particular, was in a position to indicate that on that day in cabinet the government was going to undertake a particular action or implement a particular policy. Those of us who were watching from afar believed then, and still do, that Mr Abraham was getting his information about cabinet from the Premier, directly through early morning telephone calls. To Mr Abraham’s credit, he manages to get offside with all governments, because he asks vigorous questions. There were members of the former government who were particularly unhappy with him and there are now members of this government who are particularly unhappy with him and his colleague, Mr Bevan.
We noticed after a year or two that the live interviews became pre recorded interviews because Mr Rann was not available to do a live interview. I have looked at five years of transcripts of the Bevan and Abraham show involving Mr Rann and can see a definite sequence, where it moved from regular live interviews to less regularly, but they were always pre recorded interviews. While Mr Rann is available for every other program for live interviews, he always had a pre recorded interview with the Bevan and Abraham show. That was stage 2.
We have now moved to stage 3. Since 21 July last year Mr Rann is so upset with the Bevan and Abraham program he has refused to go on the program or be interviewed. In any other state that could be a story of some significance. If the Prime Minister of the country refused to go on the John Laws program for a year, or on the Neil Mitchell program in Melbourne (whatever you think of Messrs Bevan and Abraham they are one of the pre-eminent programs in terms of political commentary), it would be commented on by other sections of the media. I gave an earlier example of how Michelle Wiese-Bockman was treated because she had the temerity to question the government. One of the criticisms I have of the media—and one of the dangers for the media—is that they do not publicise these issues enough in my view, so they can be picked off as they need to be by the government and its spin doctors if they have the temerity to criticise. Exclusives and access disappear and you are not invited to media conferences, and so on.
It is not just Mr Rann who has been upset by Messrs Bevan and Abraham; they have also upset the Deputy Premier. The last occasion the Deputy Premier was inter¬viewed by Messrs Bevan and Abraham was the day after the budget last year. I am talking of September last year, nearly 10 months ago. On the Friday after the budget Mr Foley went into the Bevan and Abraham studios and he was very unhappy. I will not put it on the public record, but he was very unhappy. It involved his then girlfriend Emma and a view he believed had been expressed by Mr Abraham on her appearance at the budget lock up that day, which I agree with Mr Abraham was unprecedented. I cannot recall a partner or spouse attending a budget lock up for the media, but that is an issue for Mr Foley.
Staff and others at the ABC heard Mr Foley in loud and vigorous verbal dispute with Mr Abraham as he went into the studio that morning. The interview was conducted and he has not been seen again. We now have a situation where both the Premier and the Deputy Premier for periods of 10 and 12 months have refused to be interviewed, such is the arrogance of this government, by two of the more senior political journalists in South Australia. They take the view that they do not have to be interviewed or answer to the people of South Australia. If Messrs Bevan and Abraham ask difficult questions, then they will not give them interviews, and other journalists ought to learn the lesson to ask questions they want to be asked or ask their questions in a limited fashion. Most other interviews are generally truncated in some form or other, whereas the Bevan and Abraham program and the morning AA program which has also extended interviews are less capable of being managed or manipulated by the Premier and his senior ministers.
The next example I turn to relates to the Premier’s senior political adviser, Ms Bottrall, an example which was highlighted by Amanda Blair in July this year. Ms Blair took a phone call on Friday afternoon at 4 o’clock from Ms Bottrall, who wanted to know what angle she was going to take in her Sunday column (which she writes each week), whether she was going to go in hard on Governor Marjorie Jackson Nelson, and, if so, whether she would refrain from doing so.
So, here we have the government spin doctor coming in hard—before the article is even written—suggesting to a particular columnist that the government wanted her to refrain from being critical of the government’s position on the hospital.
The interesting thing about Amanda Blair’s column is that the following week she wanted to talk to the Premier about homelessness. She had left several messages on Ms Bottrall’s phones and she left messages with her secretary, but Ms Bottrall refused to answer the telephone calls. On Friday, Ms Blair called Ms Bottrall from her mobile phone and it went to message bank. She then immediately called Ms Bottrall’s mobile phone from her home phone and it again when to message bank. She then had the idea of ringing from a mobile phone which was not hers, or identifiably Amanda Blair’s—`I wonder whether I can trick Ms Bottrall into answering her phone then’—Amanda Blair is a smart cookie. So, she borrowed her friend’s mobile phone and called and, what do you know—`Hello, Jill Bottrall speaking.’ `Hi, Jill, it’s Amanda Blair here.’ There is the secret for all journalists, and others, who are being frozen out by the government; that is, do not use your home phone or your work phone number; borrow a mate’s mobile phone to ring the government’s spin doctors.
This is an example of the arrogance of this government and its ministers: `Okay, if you criticise, we’re just not going to answer telephone calls. We’re not going to respond. We don’t have to answer questions from you as members of the media.’ By and large, the government believes that the media will not highlight it. To Amanda Blair’s credit, she actually highlighted it and made both Jill Bottrall and the government look like gooses, or whatever the appropriate word is.
The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins: Geese.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: The Hon. Mr Dawkins advises me that it is `geese’. She made them look like geese. It is just another example. Yes, it is trivial in relation to the issue, but it is indicative of a pattern of behaviour by the government, its spin doctors and its staff right across the board. The next example I want to turn to is something which received some publicity on YouTube. The Advertiser had the temerity to write a story, featured on the front page, which highlighted that some government spin doctors received pay rises of up to 16.8 per cent. After being removed from the position of chief of staff, Mr Chataway is on $180 000, receiving a pay rise of over $20 000 for the privilege of being moved into an adviser’s position.
The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins interjecting:
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Mr Alexandrides got a big pay rise, and a number of others received pay rises of between 8 and 16.8 per cent. After Mr Owen from The Advertiser had the temerity to print that (highlighting it on the front page), another government spin doctor, Mr Lachlan Parker, rang up and engaged him in a vigorous verbal dispute. There are a couple of references to that. Mr Abraham asked Mr Starrick, who is now the deputy editor at the ABC:
“Abraham: How much flack did you get. . . just take us behind the scenes here. . . what was the response to that story from the government?)
“Starrick: There was quite a long shouting match between one of the media advisers and the journalist concerned.”
It was Mr Parker. Mr Starrick went on:
“. . . this was not perhaps unusual except for perhaps the strident tone and it seemed to last for a fair while.”
Hendrik Gout, in The Independent Weekly, went on to describe it as follows:
“Rann media adviser Lachlan Parker. . . had words with Advertiser journalist Michael Owen over his news reports on an issue that the government is very sensitive about—the high number and inordinate salaries of the Premier’s personal staff. Owen reported the story as fact and without comment. While on the phone to Parker, Owen stood up for the paper.”
To paraphrase, Owen piously—but absolutely accurately—told Parker, `I’m responsible to my readers, you’re responsible to the Premier. Don’t tell me how to do my job.’ At the end of the conversation the newsroom erupted in spontaneous applause.
Video of the animated conversation was then somehow placed on YouTube, and Mr Gout said that there were `thousands of hits before it was mysteriously removed days later “by the user”‘.
My understanding is that there was a vigorous complaint from the government that this particular altercation had been placed on YouTube and, as I said, it was then removed. Mr Gout says:
“Next, in weighed the Premier’s other media adviser, Jill Bottrall (new salary $141 833). She threw petrol on the fire and unpleasant words were spoken between her and a senior editorial staffer.”
That was the reference to that particular altercation. The final one I referred to in relation to the media again related to the Premier, his advisers, and Mr Owen from The Advertiser in a recent incident at the Santos building. To summarise, Mr Owen was keen to `doorstop’ the Premier, who was going to open the Santos building, and the Premier (a) did not want to be doorstopped; and (b) did not want to talk to Mr Owen from The Advertiser, in particular. My understanding of what occurred on that occasion is that, when Mr Owen went to doorstop Mr Rann and put a microphone in front of him to ask him some questions, Ms Bottrall placed her hand on his arm and physically tried to stop him from going ahead with the interview. Mr Owen brushed Ms Bottrall’s arm away and said words to the effect, `You can’t stop me from interview¬ing or asking questions of the Premier.’ Mr Alexandrides, the newly promoted chief of staff, then hip-and-shouldered, or physically tried to move, Mr Owen out of the way (and Mr Alexandrides is a big man, much bigger than Mr Owen) to prevent him interviewing Mr Rann.
So, here we have one media adviser grabbing hold of a journalist by the arm and another one hip-and-shouldering him out of the way—I am not suggesting he knocked him to the ground, but physically getting in the way of the journalist, moving him out of the way, so that the interview could not go ahead. Mysteriously, somehow someone laid a complaint—and I know whom I suspect, and that is the government’s advisers. I do not know whether that was directly or through Santos security, but police were called. Mr Owen was out on the steps, on a public footpath outside Santos, and he was advised by the police to move on. Obviously, he asked under what authority (and I am not sure of the exact words because I was not there and I have not spoken to Mr Owen about the issue) and quite appropriately pointed out that it was a public place and he did not have to be moved on just because either the Premier or his advisers—or someone sympathetic to them—had called in the police to move him on because he was inconveniently wanting to ask the Premier questions about an issue the Premier did not want to be asked about.
That has been referred to by Mr Gout in his story in The Independent Weekly but surprise, surprise: The Advertiser has not touched the story. Obviously, there were very vigorous words from the government to editorial staff of The Advertiser—and I know a bit more about the nature of some of those discussions and what actions The Advertiser editorial staff took but at this stage I will not put all those on the public record. Nevertheless, there was a vigorous verbal response from the government in a complaint to The Advertiser in relation to the actions of one of its reporters who was trying to undertake the job he was paid to do—that is, to ask questions of a senior political leader. I can imagine what would have happened with our media group if the Prime Minister’s senior staffers had done exactly the same thing to a senior journalist from one of the newspapers. Do you think that would have been quietly jettisoned to the pages of history, or would it have been highlighted through any number of media outlets? The accusation would have been of arrogance and excesses of the Prime Minister’s staff, if that had occurred.
They are just a number of examples. Anyone who has been in politics for a while will have heard many other examples of the bullying and intimidatory behaviour of not only government ministers but also of the government spin doctors in relation to the media.
I want to turn to arrogance and abuse as it extends to MPs. The first example I want to give of that—and there are many examples, but time does not allow me to go through all of them—is in relation to the Attorney-General Mr Atkinson. Members will remember the claims made against Mr Atkinson about bullying one of his own government backbenchers, Ms Frances Bedford, Labor MP, in relation to discussions he had with Ms Bedford, and confirmation that a staff member for Ms Bedford had actually organised a Telstra bar on Ms Bedford’s phone to stop unwelcome calls from Mr Atkinson. Copies of emails and a number of other documents are available to back up the particular claims that were being made and which to this day Ms Bedford has never responded to. She was asked on a number of occasions by the media whether or not these claims that were being made were true, and she has, to this day, refused to comment, and I can understand why—because they are accurate. Here is a Labor MP being bullied by one of her own ministers in relation to particular issues and, as I said, the complaints became public because of various inquiries over the past three years or so.
If you are talking about bullying, the pin up boys for the government are the Deputy Premier and minister Conlon. I refer to the relatively well reported example of the Hon. Mr Conlon and the Hon. Mr Foley’s behaviour in parliament towards the Hon. Mr Xenophon. I refer to an interview with my colleague the Hon. Ms Bressington on ABC Radio, which is available on the ABC website under the heading `Claim a drunk senior Labor MP abused Nick Xenophon MLC in a Parliament House bar’. The transcript states:
“Yes, it is. . . it was a disgusting display of out of control behaviour.
“Bevan: You have worked in bars in previous lives, have you ever seen anything like that and in your opinion, how would that person have been treated if he’d turned up in one of your bars?
“Ms Bressington: Well, there’s two points to make to this. In a bar. . . and I worked in bars for 15 years so I’ve seen quite a bit and I’ve seen quite a few changes over the last 15 years. . . bar staff are required to cut people’s drinks off when they get to a point of being abusive or bullying. . . this is a breach of any workplace practice that’s out there. Bullying, abuse, out of control behaviour and consumption of alcohol.
“Abraham: And was parliament still sitting?
“Ms Bressington: No, I think parliament had finished sitting at that stage.
“Abraham: . . . they’ve had a few drinks, I mean, what are we talking, a little bit bleary, slurring or are we talking absolutely blotto?
“Ms Bressington: Well, in my opinion, pretty much blotto. . . it’s not the drinking so much as the behaviour that went with it. . . I think if people can’t control their behaviour when they’ve been drinking, then perhaps they should drink at home..the other thing was, that it was work related matters, private matters that were being discussed in that bar and the abuse was just, it was phenomenal. Every second word was an `f’ or a `c’.
“Abraham: Right. . . we’re going to go to very base language here. . . there was an MP who was involved in the swearing altercation with Mr Xenophon, there was another MP there who was really gone, really shot.
“Ms Bressington: Yes.
“Abraham: And you say that an MP couldn’t even find his hand when he went to shake hands, is that right?
“Ms Bressington: . . . well, there was another fella came in out of the chamber—that other fellow was another member of the Legislative Council—and went in to try and calm things down and shake the MP’s hand and he said to me, `He couldn’t even find my hand to shake it, he was so drunk.’ So, you know, I think parliament. . . ”
And it then goes on for another page and a half of the interview on that program, and also on FIVEaa on that particular day.
There was also a reference in Mike Smithson’s column a week or two later. He stated:
“New Greens Mark Parnell caught some of the heated exchange and claimed that he would have been nervous if he’d seen the alleged offenders rattling their keys ready to drive home.
`It was gutter language not to be used in parliament, in a bar, in the street, or anywhere else’ he said.
`I hope this is a wake-up call. Whether it’s a work premises or parliament, politicians’ behaviour can get out of control when alcohol is involved.’
An intriguing thing in relation to all of this is a story by Michelle Wiese-Bockman, the journalist who, I think, originally broke the story in The Australian. In an article of 3 July she stated:
“She [Ms Bressington] wrote to Mr Foley the next day urging him to control his alcohol consumption `and find more appropriate ways to address your concerns other than in an obvious drunken state’.
Intriguingly, Mr Conlon was asked by The Australian to comment. The same article continues:
Asked if he had been intoxicated, Mr Conlon responded: `Quite a few other people I was with didn’t think so, but there’s not much I can do if someone claims otherwise’.
A cute response—if I can describe it that way—but it does not really answer the question at all. Then, Ms Wiese-Bockman put in the knife, I suppose. She wrote:
“As an Opposition frontbencher in 1998, Mr Conlon had his driving licence suspended for six months after he blew nearly twice the legal limit.”
That is another example of press reporting of that story.
We have also seen more recent examples involving the Hon. Mr Foley and the Hon. Mr Conlon. In an article dated 19 July in The Advertiser this year there was a reference to a recent event in a public place which occurred with Property Council drinks here at Parliament House, after which they extended to the hotel across the road later in the evening. In the article, journalist Mr Michael Owen—I do not think that he will be on the Christmas card list for some of the government ministers—reported:
“After the Parliament House function, some Property Council members, including Executive Director Nathan Paine and member relations manager Chris Hagi, went across the road to Stamford Plaza Adelaide’s Swish Bar for more drinks.
“After a few drinks, Kevin [Foley] had a heated ex¬change—described as verbally aggressive by some witnesses—with senior Property Council staff over whether his relationship with 24 year old—
his then girlfriend—Lisa [Holmen] was appropriate.
“From this point versions differ greatly. Witnesses have told The Advertiser—these are property Council people—hotel security asked Kevin to leave, which he did, but only after he is said to have asked them if they knew who he was. Kevin denies being kicked out of the bar.
“He says he left, and then tried to return to see if his now ex-girlfriend wanted a lift home.
“Hotel security refused him access, he says, so he left before midnight.”
Then everybody else refused to comment on the particular story. Certainly, my sources tell me that the first version of the story is much more accurate than the second version. When you think about the second version of the story, it does not hold much water at all. The first version of the story is that, having had a little too much to drink, Mr Foley, as is his wont, engaged in a very vigorous verbal disagreement with a number of people on the issue that has been highlighted, and perhaps other issues as well, knowing the Deputy Premier. Property Council sources have indicated that he was asked, because of his behaviour, to perhaps move on and leave the bar, and he did.
If one looks at Mr Foley’s story, he says that he left the bar of his own volition; he was not asked to leave. Then he decided he wanted to go back to his now ex-girlfriend to see whether she wanted a lift and was refused entry. Now, why would security staff at the Stamford Plaza refuse entry to the Deputy Premier of the state of South Australia? That is an obvious question that no other member of the media or anyone has thought to actually pursue with the Deputy Premier.
That is his story. He was not asked to leave; he was not booted out. He left voluntarily and then decided he wanted to go back, and they refused him entry. Why would security staff at a bar refuse entry to the Deputy Premier of the state of South Australia? I ask the Deputy Premier (not that he is likely to answer me) to give us an answer as to why they would do so—unless, of course, they did not believe that his behaviour was suitable for him to be left in a public place in their bar.
That is why I believe, when one thinks about it, that the first version of the story—that is, that he was asked to leave because he was becoming verbally aggressive and abusive in his conversation—is much more likely to be accurate. Indeed, given many other examples that I have heard in recent times, it does not surprise me that he said something like, `Do you know who I am?’ I understand the security guard said, `Yes, I do, and you can still nick off’—or words to that effect (the words might have been more colloquial; I am not sure). Certainly, Mr President, I think you can understand the message that the security staff gave the Deputy Premier in relation to his behaviour in that public place.
The PRESIDENT: Like you, I have no idea.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: I am very surprised, Mr President. As I said, I have watched Mr Conlon and Mr Foley over the last five years. I personally attended a function at Ayers House soon after Labor was elected to government, where Mr Conlon proudly boasted that he had been sharing a bottle of French champagne with a particular person. As is the way when someone has had a little too much to drink, he continued to repeat the same aspect of the story in the speech as he went on. A number of the people who were with me on that occasion—senior business executives—raised their eyebrows and referred to the obvious fact that Mr Conlon on that occasion had certainly had a drink or two before he had risen to speak in that public forum.
A number of other stories have certainly been reported in the media and to the opposition in relation to Mr Conlon and Mr Foley that have never seen the light of day—at a banking briefing; at the West Lakes Hotel in the early years after election; and Mr Conlon, in particular, in relation to behav¬iour at the casino over this period of five years. I will not go into all the details in relation to them. Certainly, if one speaks (as have some people) to former members of minister Conlon’s staff (and there are many people who are former members of Mr Conlon’s staff, I can assure members; they seem to come and go with great regularity and great frequen¬cy), there are a number of examples, and they are concerned about the behaviour of a senior minister of the government in public places. We are talking here not about behaviour in a private place, which is the point that the Hon. Ms Bressington made in her criticism. We are not talking about what someone does in their own place at home; that is essentially up to them and their family, friends and relatives. We are talking about senior ministers and their behaviour in public places.
To summarise my concerns about the behaviour of the government—and Mr Conlon and Mr Foley, in particular—I certainly see them as the Brendan Fervola and Chris Tarrant of the South Australian parliament. Their behaviour, when it occurs on a number of occasions fuelled by the consumption of excess alcohol, has led to inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour on their behalf. In my view, their behaviour on a number of occasions, which I have highlighted (and others which I have not), demeans them, the Rann government and the parliament, the institution that we all represent.
I think that members of the Rann government—and the Premier, in particular—need to think through whether they are prepared to accept a continuation of the behaviour of those two ministers in public which we have seen, as I said, over five years, and which is now increasingly being reported. This is a major problem for the Rann government. The arrogance of a government starts at the top with the premier and its senior ministers. What we are seeing, and what I have attempted in one speech to put together, are just some examples of where, in public, senior ministers, and then extending down to members and staffers and, in particular, spin doctors, all adopt the persona of the leadership of the government.
If the leadership of the government is arrogant and out of touch and engages in inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour, it is not surprising that some staff members will adopt exactly the same approach to any group that either opposes them or expresses concerns.
Increasingly, this behaviour is being publicly reported—not to the degree, perhaps, it would be in Canberra and other states, but increasingly we are seeing some sections of the media poking their noses above the parapets and being prepared to highlight some of the issues. They are being bullied, attacked and intimidated, but some of them are prepared to continue to raise some of these issues. It is not in the public interest that this behaviour continues and, certainly, in my view, it will lead to the downfall of individual minis¬ters unless these excesses at the top of the government are not curtailed.
The PRESIDENT: Sometimes I think people take extreme advantage of the privilege afforded to members of parliament, and I wonder whether they would take what they say in this council outside on the steps and repeat it.