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Don Dunstan

23 March 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion, acknowledging the 70th anniversary of the election of Don Dunstan to this parliament and the significant contribution Mr Dunstan made to our state. As has been observed by other members, Don Dunstan was a trailblazer. His government, a social democratic government, offered our state a bold and transformative agenda, and we still see the consequences of that today. It certainly changed the face of South Australia.

I want to reflect on some of the achievements of Don Dunstan and his government. In 1965, he appointed the first female justice of the Supreme Court, Dame Roma Mitchell, which was a first for our nation. In 1971, he created the ministry for the environment. In 1971, he also lowered the drinking age to 18. In 1972, he established the State Theatre Company. In 1972, he also established the South Australian Film Corporation. In 1973, his government reformed this council, enacting universal suffrage, lowering the voting age and abolishing malapportionment.

In 1975, under his government, South Australia became the first state in the country to decriminalise homosexual acts. As an out and proud gay man, I think people of my generation owe the Don Dunstan government and the politicians at that time a great debt for their leadership. In particular, I acknowledge the leadership of Anne Levy in this place and other members of the Legislative Council who were so integral in achieving that social reform.

In 1976, SA abolished capital punishment. In 1976, we were also the first state in the country to legislate to make rape within marriage a crime. In 1976, under Don Dunstan, South Australia introduced Friday night shopping in the city and Thursday night for the suburbs. In 1976, we saw the first container deposit scheme in the country, which is a model that has continued to be rolled out around the country.

In 1976, we saw the establishment of Rundle Mall. It is interesting, looking back at the newspaper reportage at that time: one would think that would be the end of the world to be closing off that part of Rundle Street to traffic and turning it into a mall. What we have seen, of course, is that it has been hugely successful, a demonstration of good planning and pedestrianisation and certainly something that could be emulated today.

For me, one of the things that really impressed me about Don Dunstan was his decision to wear those pink shorts in 1972—not something that I would ever seek to emulate. I often skip leg day. I have seen the photos of Mr Dunstan—he did not, he looked very good in those shorts. There are lots of things, though, that the Greens would seek to emulate from the Dunstan era and the policies of that time.

Heritage protection was an area of focus for Mr Dunstan and his government. He took action to protect so many of our iconic heritage buildings. I wonder what he would think of the approach that many governments that have followed have taken to heritage in our state. He was a huge advocate for the arts and consumer protection, and a crusader against censorship. He cared deeply about inequality and sought to eliminate poverty—a mission that is more important today than ever.

In 1999, the year of Don Dunstan's death, the Don Dunstan Foundation was established to bring together research, policymakers and community groups to meet social needs in South Australia. During my time on Adelaide City Council I had the privilege of working with the Don Dunstan Foundation on issues to do with homelessness, and I saw firsthand the valuable role that foundation plays in South Australian civic life. The Adelaide Zero Project, which sought to achieve zero homelessness, is a good example of this and certainly a credit to the legacy of Mr Dunstan.

For me, Don Dunstan represents the power of politics and governments to change lives for the better. He once observed, and I quote from his remarks:

We have faltered in our quest to provide better lives for all our citizens, rather than just for the talented lucky groups. To regain our confidence in our power to shape the society in which we live, and to replace fear and just coping with shared joy, optimism and mutual respect, needs new imagining and thinking and learning from what succeeds elsewhere.

Those words were true then, and they are certainly true now as we deal with myriad challenges as a community.

It is certainly the hope of the Greens that Mr Dunstan and his legacy continue to serve as an inspiration for all members in this place and encourages us to think creatively about how we can improve the lives of the communities we seek to represent.