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Condolence Motion: Raymond Steele Hall

19 June 2024

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:38): I rise on behalf of the Greens to speak on this condolence motion and in so doing I would like to begin by extending our condolences to Steele Hall's wife, Joan, his six children and six grandchildren.

Raymond Steele Hall is a significant figure in the history of South Australian politics. His government's achievements were significant and other members have reflected on those, but I do just want to talk a little bit about the significance of electoral reform to our state. Premier Hall recognised the longstanding inequalities in the South Australian electoral system, colloquially known at that time as the Playmander, which was an electoral malapportionment that favoured rural areas over the city.

It was one of the bravest political moves that our state has ever seen. Premier Hall introduced legislation to reform the House of Assembly to provide a more equitable system of representation and he did so knowing it would be detrimental to himself and his own party. Surely that is the great test of political leadership: we take actions that benefit not just ourselves politically but are actually about the whole community. I think that was one of the trademarks of Premier Hall.

The esteemed political scientist the late Professor Dean Jaensch AO characterised the 'Playmander', named after Hall's predecessor, Sir Thomas Playford, as the best gerrymander the world has ever seen. Years later, Mr Hall told The Advertiser, and I quote:

There were some strong Labor seats with 40,000 voters and some Liberal seats with 5,000 voters. It was totally undemocratic, totally wrong. We could not continue with the boundaries the way they were. The changes we made in the electoral boundaries were immense and we knew that we were sacrificing government at the following election, but it had to be done.

In addition to electoral reform, Premier Hall introduced improvements in social welfare, Aboriginal rights and abortion. He also began the process of adding fluoride to our water in South Australia in 1968.

Steele Hall's parliamentary career spanned three decades. As has been observed, he served as Premier of our state but also led two political parties, one of which he founded, and served as a member of the South Australian House of Assembly, the federal House of Representatives and the Senate—a significant achievement, a significant career. Indeed, he is the only Australian to have served as a premier of the state as well as a member of three legislatures.

During the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, as a Liberal Movement Senator, though he was opposed to the Whitlam government, he joined with the Labor Party and an Independent Senator at that time, Cleaver Bunton, in voting against the deferral of supply bills. This was a significant moment in our state's history and, again, Mr Hall showed the leadership that the time called for in terms of exercising and voting in favour of his conscience.

In August 1988, as the Liberal member for Boothby, after the then opposition leader, John Howard, expressed his wish to control Asian immigration, Steele Hall, along with Ian Macphee and Philip Ruddock at the time, dissented by crossing the floor of parliament and voting with the Labor government on a motion against the use of race as a criterion for selecting immigrants. When he addressed the parliament at that time, Mr Hall said:

The question has quickly descended from a discussion about the future migrant intake to one about the level of internal racial tolerance. The simple fact is that public opinion is easily led on racial issues. It is now time to unite the community on the race issue before it flares into an ugly reproach for us all.

Again, this is an example of the leadership of this man in terms of speaking out in favour of his conscience and doing what he considered to be right. He leaves behind a reputation for integrity and political courage, and as someone who has truly put his state ahead of party-political interests. So we, on the Greens side of politics, express sadness at his passing and convey also our thoughts to our Liberal colleagues, many of whom, I know, knew Steele Hall and his family.