12 October 2021
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise in support of this bill on behalf of the Greens. In so doing, I recognise that, as is the case with all political parties, there are different views within the Greens on this matter. My predecessor in this parliament, Mark Parnell, organised a forum of Greens members when this issue first came on the agenda. I had the opportunity to talk with many members about this issue at that time, and indeed over the months and years when corflutes have been debated.
It is very clear to me that there is strong support for this change within the SA Greens membership. This has also been a strong campaign for the Greens interstate. In the ACT, for instance, the Greens have been campaigning strongly on this issue. Indeed, the parliamentary inquiry into the ACT election has recommended banning corflutes from roadsides. It is a parliamentary inquiry that has involved representation from the Labor Party, the Greens and others.
More importantly, there is strong support for this reform among the South Australian community. Most voters find these signs to be an eyesore and to be visual pollution, not to mention highly wasteful. There are a few exceptions, of course. I know my mum and dad will miss seeing my face on Stobie poles. I know the member for Kaurna, Mr Chris Picton, will be very disappointed, as he has a growing collection of my corflutes dating back to our days together at Flinders University. I can assure him that these signs will still be available for his personal collection, they just will not be in the public realm. He can still display my corflute on his private property or post it on his fan wall or whatever else he wants to do. There is no prohibition on that.
It is worth noting that the views of political parties on this issue have changed over the years as well. Back in 2009, the then Attorney-General, Michael Atkinson, first attempted to ban corflutes from public streets. The move at that time was opposed by the Liberals and the crossbench. I am sure Mr Atkinson will be tweeting in delight to see the Greens have changed our position on this.
Both former Labor minister Kate Ellis and former Liberal minister Christopher Pyne have argued for corflutes to be banned. Back in 2019, the Hon. Kate Ellis of the Labor Party told The Advertiser, and I quote directly from her statement:
It is a massive amount of resources, the public don't particularly like them and it's a huge distraction for the first week of the campaign.
Your office gets inundated with calls about 'you've got too many posters here, or you don't have enough posters there'.
Wouldn't it be great if we had an election campaign where we were talking about the issues that were going to be determined and how that would impact on our community?
She goes on:
There are too many of these signs, they don't serve much purpose and we have this debate every couple of years; the rest of the country do not do this the way that we do…Get rid of them, I say.
'Get rid of them, I say,' says Kate Ellis, former Labor minister. I could not agree more.
For my part, my views on corflutes have been on the public record for many years. As a city councillor, I advocated for corflutes to be banned for council elections. That move was opposed by the majority in Town Hall, but it did receive strong support from the local community. I welcome the fact that this change was legislated as part of the government's local government reforms.
For me, there are three very important considerations in this debate. The first is the impact that corflutes have on the environment. At a time when our state has taken bold and decisive action on single-use plastics, it seems absurd that the political class would be exempting ourselves from this through producing these costly and wasteful plastic signs, many of which will end up in landfill. Not all political parties recycle their candidates in the same way that I have been recycled, so that can lead to increased waste.
I do concede that you could legislate to use other materials less damaging on the environment, but there are also other issues for us to weigh up here. There is another fundamental consideration, and that is: who owns the public realm? The public realm belongs to all South Australians. Intrusion onto the public realm, onto our public streets, is heavily regulated for this reason. The idea that these streets should be populated with election signage in this way is a form of visual pollution and I think it offends that basic principle. I have heard it said that voters will not realise there is an election on if there are not corflutes on the streets. I do not accept that argument.
There are plenty of other ways that candidates and campaigners can engage with their electors. Signs really do not say anything about the policies or principles of a political party or a candidate. I mean no disrespect to anybody in this room but politics is hardly a beauty contest. A sea of smiling faces does nothing to advance the quality of political debate in our state. Under this bill, party members, supporters and volunteers can still display signs on their private property as is the case in other jurisdictions around our country, so there will still be plenty of opportunities for people to get the message out without dominating our streets in this way.
The final issue I want to touch on is equity. I have heard it argued—indeed the Leader of the Opposition made this point—that somehow banning corflutes will damage smaller parties. I do not accept that argument. The current regime is an arms race. It means that all parties are required to invest huge amounts of money and people power into putting up these signs and finding the volunteers to distribute them. This really favours those candidates or political parties who have deep pockets. At $7 a pop, corflutes can blow a very big hole in a campaign budget, particularly for a small party or a candidate. This bill just levels the playing field.
I know the Leader of the Opposition has argued that this would be the end of democracy as we know it in the state of South Australia but the reality is, if the Labor Party feel so strongly about this, they can go into the next election and say, 'Vote for the Labor Party and we will reverse this legislation. We are the bring back corflutes political party.' It is their choice to do that. If they want to run as having that as a key part of their platform at the next election, saying to the people of South Australia, 'We will bring back corflutes and reverse these changes,' then they should do so and let the people of South Australia decide. I suspect what they will find is that there is a huge amount of public support for these changes and that people will be very excited to see the parliament take action on this.
In concluding, the Greens have been in negotiation with the government and I understand that some amendments will be moved in the committee stage. These have been alluded to by the Leader of the Opposition and I will talk to those a bit later. What those amendments do, I think, is provide certainty in terms of ensuring that people can have signage at public rallies and events, street corner meetings and the like and the amendments that the government will talk to later will address those points.
I do hope that this will be the last time the parliament is required to debate this issue and I think that the public would overwhelmingly welcome this parliament's action on the matter.