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Electoral (Control of Corflutes) Amendment Bill

8 February 2024

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (11:07): I rise to speak in favour of the Electoral (Control of Corflutes) Amendment Bill 2023. The Greens have long advocated for a ban on corflutes on public spaces. We have done so for a range of reasons. We recognise, as the honourable member has identified, that corflutes are single-use plastics. Indeed, as my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks remarked the other day, this parliament has banned the use of single-use plastics except, of course, when it features the images of politicians.

I think that is a point of rank hypocrisy that rankles members of the community as they go about their daily business and face the visual pollution that comes from these corflutes, as well as the impact that it has on the environment in terms of them ending up in landfill. That is not the case with a candidate like myself, who has run for office many times and dusts off corflutes over and over—I am all for recycling—but there are candidates who change their corflutes every time and that is not a good thing in terms of the environmental impact.

I think it is worth looking at the history of this reform. I think it is true to say that this parliament has dealt with this matter many times over many years, but we might finally be on the cusp of actually getting something through. The two major parties have often had different positions on this. Indeed, the Rann Labor government tried to ban corflutes under the leadership of the then Attorney-General, Michael Atkinson, but that push tanked with opposition from the Liberal Party.

Then when the Liberals were in government, they tried to ban corflutes. That effort tanked with the opposition of the Labor Party and, I should point out, the Hon. John Darley, who originally I think at one point pointed out that he was in favour of banning corflutes and then performed a miraculous backflip and voted quite a different way for reasons that are still not clear to me or, potentially, the Hon. Mr Darley some could say.

I am pleased that we have finally reached a point where we are going to actually deal with this matter. I think what really has been the catalyst for this renewed push is a letter that I sent to the Premier on behalf of the Greens on Tuesday of this week, urging him to finally take action on this issue, recognising that we were heading into another by-election—yet another election—where the people of Dunstan were going to not only face another election in two years but were also going to face the spectre of more corflutes. I said, 'Look, we've got this by-election coming down the line. Let's finally deal with this. I recognise that the opposition has a bill. Why don't you dust it off and make it happen?'

Well, pressure works: pressure from the Greens works, and we welcome the fact that the government has taken this issue up and made it a priority. We made it very clear that we were happy to cooperate with the government to get this done and the Hon. Tammy Franks and I welcome the opportunity for this reform.

The features of the bill have been identified by the Hon. Heidi Girolamo, so I will not go through all of those, but I might just briefly speak to some of the amendments that the Greens will be moving to save time in the committee stage. Back when the Hon. Vickie Chapman, then Attorney-General, proposed this reform in the last parliament, I had negotiated a number of amendments with her that we saw as being quite important safeguards against unintended consequences.

Some of those amendments related to putting into the act the provisions of the Public Assemblies Act to make it clear that members of the community could still carry signage and posters at public rallies and events. For instance, despite the Labor Party's best efforts to prevent them, we do still have protests happen on the steps of our parliament and we wanted to make it clear that members of the community can still carry signs, so we are putting that into the bill.

We are also making it clear that candidates or indeed politicians can still have A-frames out in public space and that signage would be permitted. Our amendments would also allow for the practice of wobble boarding, which I see from social media some members of this chamber are very keen on, so I expect them to support these sensible amendments as I have seen on social media they have been very active out wobble boarding in recent days. I am sure they do not want to see that activity being prohibited.

The other elements of the Greens' amendments speak to what constitutes an advertising poster. Under the previous Vickie Chapman bill, which I think the Hon. David Speirs' bill has been modelled on, the legislation was to prohibit the corflute material, which is in effect single-use plastics, but I think it was always the intention of the minister—at least by my understanding, the intention of the minister at that time—to prohibit election posters being on public space. It was about the single-use plastics, but it was also about the poster material.

The way the legislation was written meant that people could circumvent that. These provisions were applied to the Local Government Act and so what we saw was some local government candidates using cardboard cutouts and cardboard posters to try to circumvent the rules. This amendment tidies that up, because whilst the Greens have a concern about the environmental impact of corflutes, our concern is also about the equity element and the arms race that this sets off.

If you are a small player and you are wanting to compete in an election, you could be having to spend a fortune on getting these posters designed and getting them up and about. They cost about $7 a pop, so we wanted to close that loophole as well, and stop what is, in effect, a pollution of our public space. We are also wanting to make it very clear that you cannot hold a street-corner meeting outside of a polling place on election day.

One of the other elements that we have sought to deal with is this issue that comes through in the act around posters or signs being placed on behalf of candidates. We could foresee a scenario where maybe an overzealous volunteer is putting up posters or a scenario perhaps where another party puts up posters that are masquerading as another political party's materials, and that could therefore take up the permissible number of posters for a party or candidate. We did not think that was fair, so our amendment is to make it clear that the consent of the candidate is required in relation to that.

We note that, where this occurs in relation to the Legislative Council candidates, the requirement of the lead candidate on the ticket, the candidate whose name appears at the top of the ballot paper, would be required. There are a number of amendments that flow through from that general principle which are consequential.

Another amendment we deal with is to increase the number of corflutes that a candidate can display on election day. The previous proposal from the Liberal Party was six. In the Greens we felt that was maybe a little bit too restrictive on election day. If you had a situation where you had lots of polling entrance points, we wanted to make sure people could still get their message out, so we propose to double it to twelve.

I have spoken a bit about the issue around consent. We also wanted to recognise this issue around authorisation of materials. The current rules provide that a candidate would only be liable for an offence of placing additional corflutes where they gave consent for this to occur. That is certainly what we are proposing through our amendment, but we did not want a situation where political parties could try to circumvent the offence provisions by maybe using a campaign manager or a surrogate to permit the placing of the corflutes. We have added in a new provision under amendment No. 15, and I will talk a little bit more about that when we get to it, but in effect it is also making it an offence for a party director or party manager to authorise those materials and have them displayed on their behalf.

To that point, the bill as it currently stands makes the candidate or the lead candidate, in the case of a Legislative Council group, responsible for all corflutes that are distributed in their seat. As I understand it, that is to ensure that there is someone who is ultimately responsible, and that individual volunteers are not being fined for following orders from campaign HQ. I get that, but I do not believe that when we know that a candidate has not consented to the distribution of materials on their behalf they would still be liable, and that is, I think, particularly true where another political party might be pulling out posters as some sort of tactic.

I cannot imagine why another political party would do such a thing, why it would masquerade as another political party, but sometimes these things happen, so it is an important loophole to close. In order to address that issue and ensure there is some accountability the amendment would create a new offence applicable to the person who authorised the material. In most cases that would be the registered officer of a political party, understanding for our party, the Greens, it is the state director. I think it is the same for the Liberal Party. I understand that would be the state secretary of the Labor Party. So that would ensure that there is somebody who is ultimately responsible for the materials that are being put out by the political party, and that occurs under the bill as it currently stands.

I note that there is a scenario that has not been addressed in the bill where unauthorised posters are being displayed, but we also recognise that that is already an offence under the Electoral Act. The bill also gives the power to the presiding officer at the polling place to remove those materials, and we think that is important, so that if someone is doing the wrong thing that material can be taken down.

I suspect that in practical terms, when you are looking the election day itself, the power to remove those materials would be very important. Nonetheless, I think the offence provisions included in the bill, which we are seeking to amend, are also really important in terms of trying to deter parties from intentionally breaking the rules and trying to gain political advantage, so we are trying to close that loophole.

To that end, one of the other issues we are proposing to include is giving the Electoral Commissioner the power to issue a formal written warning to a person who commits an offence under the bill relating to too many corflutes on election day. Again, what we did not want was a situation where you might have a really overzealous volunteer who turns up and puts too many posters in the wrong spot. It is a genuine mistake. Under the wording of the act as it currently stands, the lead candidate would face a significant fine, and it reads as if there is no opportunity to try to caution them and remedy the behaviour.

Under what we are proposing the commissioner would be given the power to give the candidate a caution and say, 'You need to take that down.' If they do not do so, they could issue the fine or they could go straight to a fine in the case of a serious breach, but it is giving a little more discretion to the commissioner so that we are not seeing people being pinged if there has been a genuine mistake or error.

That is a good summary of the amendments the Greens are seeking to advance. I will talk more about those at the committee stage, but that gives a good summary of the key general principles. It is fair to say that we have approached this in terms of wanting to make sure there are commonsense protections for all people who participate in our political process—candidates and members of the community more broadly. We are proposing some powers be given to the Attorney-General as well to make regulations as necessary. That is because there might be some particular exemptions required that we have not thought of.

A scenario mentioned to me is: if someone has a bumper sticker on the back of their car and has it parked on the side of the road, could they be captured under the provisions? It does not seem that they should be, but that is not really clear. We wanted to give the minister the power to make some regulations for those sorts of scenarios. It would be my hope that in crafting those regulations the minister would look at what works in other jurisdictions in terms of coming up with some of those carve-outs.

In crafting these amendments, I engaged with the current opposition, the Liberal Party, at the time under the leadership of then Minister Chapman, but we have also engaged with the Attorney-General's office in relation to some of the other elements as well. I want to apologise to members that the amendments were sent out very late last night. I am genuinely very sorry about that. I would like to have given people more time to consider them, but we were waiting for some of them to come back from the drafters. I did, however, contact the Hon. Heidi Girolamo to give her a general overview of some of the things we were seeking to address. I recognise that some of these will not be new to the Liberal Party, given that they were dealt with during the last period of parliament.

In closing, the Greens welcome this. We have been pushing this for a long time. The community will be breathing a sigh of relief if the parliament finally does away with corflutes. Our political parties' candidates should be judged on the merits of their policies and we should have a political system that puts the focus on that. I was on the FIVEaa Matthew Pantelis program the other day talking about this, and I said that politics is not a beauty pageant. He said, 'You've got that right.' I was not sure what he was meaning by that, but really we should be, I think, judged on our policies, not simple slogans and the like. This brings South Australia into line with other jurisdictions and is something that will be welcomed by most people in the community.