Skip navigation

Pages tagged "Democracy and Accountability"

Public Health Bill: COVID-19 Direction Accountability and Oversight

19 May 2022

ROBERT SIMMS MLC: This is the amendment to establish the SA public health COVID-19 Direction Accountability and Oversight Committee. The intention behind this amendment is to ensure that there is maximum accountability and transparency in this bill. Like the Hon. Connie Bonaros, we had very clear feedback in the Greens that, were a bill like this to be legislated, it was really vital that the parliament have the opportunity to disallow new health directions, and that is what this committee does. It is a powerful committee in that it has all of the powers that a usual parliamentary committee has, but it will be able to review any new health directions relating to close contacts relating to COVID-positive people and be able to make recommendations to the houses of parliament for disallowance.

This, we believe, is a much more effective way of managing the pandemic directions in the long term. It provides an opportunity for parliament to really consider the impacts that these restrictions have on the health and wellbeing of South Australians. It has been based on the Victorian model, which is widely regarded as best practice. We understand there are, of course, some distinctions based on our different jurisdictions.

It is important to know that South Australia does not have a human rights charter to protect human rights, which is something the Victorian legislation has protected. Obviously, for us in the Greens we would love to see a human rights charter being put in place; that would be a very good accompaniment to the other legislation we are dealing with.

This committee will be made up of five members, two from the House of Assembly and three from the Legislative Council. The amendment would ensure there is a majority of non-government members. That is a really important inclusion worth highlighting, because it means the government is not in a position to dominate this committee. It means the committee will be able to provide frank, fearless advice, genuinely independent advice, direct to the parliament for its consideration.

The committee will be in place only for the duration of the bill. We agreed earlier today that would be six months. It will provide reports to each house of parliament, it will make recommendations to parliament. There is also a requirement that the minister will table a copy of any directions within two sitting days in each house, and that any such direction is then referred to the committee. As I stated, this allows for disallowance in both houses.

We think this is a really important addition. It is one that will provide better outcomes in terms of directions but also give the South Australian people a level of confidence that the parliament is having oversight over these important directions.

We talked a little bit about the evolving space of this pandemic. We have come out of the phase where these decisions were being made by health experts alone, and are now moving into another phase of the pandemic where politicians and the parliament need to be more actively involved. It is only appropriate that if the health minister is being charged with making these directions, the parliament has a role to play and that there is an independent oversight that operates outside of the government. We think this is a really important step in that regard.

Public Health (COVID-19) Amendment Bill

17 May 2022

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise to speak on the South Australian Public Health (COVID-19) Amendment Bill on behalf of the Greens. The Greens are supportive of this legislation, but with some very important caveats. My colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks MLC has certainly prosecuted this case for the Greens in the previous parliament, that is, advocated in the long term for these provisions to move out of the emergency management declaration into legislation so that the parliament can have appropriate oversight.

We recognise that in a democracy like South Australia it is not appropriate to have a regime in place where the parliament is not having a say and where we have unelected officials making significant decisions about our health, our wellbeing and, of course, our civil liberties.

One of the things I think we all recognise in this place is the leadership of the public health experts who have informed our response to the pandemic over the last two years. One of the things that I think set South Australia apart from many other places around the world was the willingness of the previous government to follow the health advice, and I want to recognise the leadership of the health minister at that time, who is here in this chamber, the Hon. Stephen Wade, for his leadership in dealing with what I can imagine would have been one of the most challenging periods that any government would face, and that is a global pandemic. I do want to acknowledge that.

Now that we are moving into another phase of this pandemic, the time has come for the parliament to play a much more active role, and so from the Greens' perspective we welcome these provisions being now codified in legislation. As I say, we also want to ensure that there are safeguards in place.

One of the key concerns for us in the Greens has been putting in place a parliamentary committee. We have, I am pleased to say, been negotiating and discussing the prospect of that with the government and with the crossbench. What the committee that we are proposing will achieve is ensure that there is parliamentary oversight. That committee will have the power to make recommendations for directions to be disallowed, and I think that is going to be an important step in terms of how we manage this pandemic going forward. It also means that, from the perspective of the Greens, we will not be pursuing some of the other amendments that I have flagged previously, because we will have this important safeguard in place.

The other thing for us that is vitally important is around ensuring that there is the opportunity for appeal. One of the issues that we will be talking about a bit more during the committee stage is amendments that look at ensuring that there is a right of appeal for people who are being detained, that is, people who are being held under the Public Health Act in hotel quarantine, for instance, that they have the opportunity to make an appeal and to make the case for their personal circumstances.

With those important caveats—the right for this parliament to disallow ministerial directions, the minister giving updates on those directions to this parliament and the oversight of a parliamentary committee that is not dominated by the government—on the basis of those important safeguards, or with those important safeguards in place, the Greens will be supporting this bill.

Importance of the Greens in Federal Parliament

4 May 2022

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise to speak about the important choices facing the people of South Australia and our nation later this month. On 21 May, South Australians will head back to the polls for the second time this year to pass their verdict on another Liberal government. I am hoping that we will also see the Liberals consigned to the opposition benches in our national parliament.

From their inaction on the climate crisis and equality to their incompetent management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison governments have been a catastrophe for our country. We know that Prime Minister Scott Morrison does not hold a hose, but we also know he does not hold a torch to the other prime ministers who have led our nation. This is a man who has been described by his own Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, and I quote, as 'a hypocrite and a liar'.

But it is not just the Hon. Barnaby Joyce who has passed his verdict on this Prime Minister. The Prime Minister's good friend Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has described him—and I quote from the Hansard in our national parliament—as 'a bully with no moral compass'. These are not my words; these are the words of the people who know this Prime Minister best.

We are in the midst of a housing affordability crisis and we are in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis. We are seeing soaring inflation right across our country, and the cost of living is completely skyrocketing out of control—record prices for fuel, food, basic groceries, housing, education. Yesterday, the Reserve Bank increased interest rates for the first time in 11 years. Sadly, in the midst of this cost-of-living crisis we are seeing wages stagnating and more and more South Australians are being plunged into poverty.

We have all seen the effects of the climate crisis firsthand during the Morrison government's years in power. We have seen fires, floods, droughts—once again, no action from the Liberals in Canberra. We have seen the rorts. We have seen the appalling inaction in the face of allegations of sexual assault in our national parliament, something that has brought great shame on our democratic institutions.

We have seen the embarrassing diplomatic blunders, the attacks on our allies that have diminished our reputation around the world, and a deal to build radioactive war machines here in SA that involved ripping up an agreement with the French government and wasting billions of dollars—$5 billion of taxpayer money thrown into the wind. What a disgrace! We saw the appallingly slow rollout of the national vaccine and the disastrous effects of that—what it meant for health, what it meant for education, what it meant for our economy.

The Greens have been very clear about our desire to see a change of government in Canberra. But just as the voters will determine who will form the next government of our country, they will also determine who will make up the Senate, and the Greens have a very ambitious agenda. We have a plan for a safe future with an immediate freeze on all new coal, oil and gas projects. We want to finally put dental and mental into Medicare. We want to make university free. We want to build a million homes. We want to make childcare free. To do all this we can get big corporations to finally pay their fair share of tax, but we can only achieve these things if we secure the balance of power in the national parliament.

Here in South Australia the Greens have a formidable person standing as our lead candidate for the Senate, Barbara Pocock. Barbara is somebody who has spent her working life fighting to make sure our economy works for people and our environment. She is an economist and an emeritus professor at the University of South Australia. She was a founding director for that university's Centre for Work + Life. She has worked for the Reserve Bank of Australia and she has provided advice to various governments.

At this time of growing inequality, we need people who understand how to make sure that our economy works for people, not just big corporations, not just the big end of town. Barbara Pocock is such a person. She understands how our economy works, she knows how to make it work for people and our environment and we need to see her represent our state in Canberra.

Disclosure of Ministerial Diaries

01 December 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS:

I rise to speak in relation to the bill requiring the disclosure of ministerial diaries. This bill is a basic transparency measure to allow the proactive disclosure of ministerial diaries. Similar legislation already exists in the ACT, while mechanisms in Queensland and New South Wales require ministers to make copies of their diaries publicly available. This practice of disclosure will help to illuminate lobbying influence, as it did in Queensland last year during their state election.

The function of this bill is straightforward. Every month, a minister would make publicly available all meetings, events and functions which relate to their professional responsibilities. These would be published on the internet.

The bill does not require disclosure of personal meetings and would permit the emission of information deemed by the minister to be contrary to the public interest. I want to assure the ministers in this place that I have no intention of wanting to read their personal diaries or to pry into their personal affairs or personal meetings. Rather, this relates simply to the meetings that relate to their professional responsibilities. The minister would have the power to deem disclosure of a meeting to be contrary to the public interest. This decision would then be subject to review by the Ombudsman or by the SACAT should a member of the public wish to contest that.

In 2019, research from the ANU revealed that the Australian public's trust in politicians has been on a downward trajectory since 2007. A report from Griffith University and Transparency International Australia revealed the number of Australians who view corruption as a big problem as being 66 per cent; so 66 per cent of Australians view corruption as being a big problem. That is two-thirds of the Australian population.

Encouraging greater levels of transparency is an important step in restoring trust. Raising the bar of political transparency has been a long-term project of the Greens. We have been at the forefront of campaigns and advocacy for anticorruption commissions, lobbying reform, caps on political donations and accountability federally, and at a state level. Nobody should be above scrutiny in our democracy. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. We should let the sunlight in.

This measure when used in combination with a lobbyist register, which we have in place in South Australia, will help South Australians see very clearly who is lobbying members of parliament, who is seeking to exert influence over government ministers, and what interest groups do they represent. The public has a right to know who has the ear of those in power and this bill would ensure that that information is freely available to them.

This is not some sort of test dummy that I am proposing. This is an approach that has already been taken in the ACT, and in Queensland and in New South Wales they also have mandated disclosure regimes of this nature. This would really bring South Australia into line. My hope is that, no matter which party is in government from March next year, they will support this sensible reform. If we have the opportunity to sit again in the new year, and if the Liberals do not succeed in their plan to shut down our parliament as they attempted to do during the last sitting period—

The Hon. T.J. Stephens interjecting

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I hear the Hon. Terry Stephens laughing. He knows it is true.

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Terry Stephens is out of order!

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: We all saw what they tried to do to avoid scrutiny in this place. If they fail in that effort and if we return in the new year, then I do plan to bring this bill to a vote, because it is an important transparency measure and it is one that I think the people of South Australia will support. If I do not have the opportunity to deal with this matter before the election, should I have the honour of being returned to this place, I will certainly move on this again in the new parliament. With that, I conclude my remarks.

SA Greens State Election Initiatives 2022

01 December 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise to speak on the important choice that South Australian voters will face in the new year. Voters, of course, face two choices, not just a decision about who should form government in the House of Assembly but also a decision around the make-up of this chamber and who should hold the balance of power in this place.

The Greens have a bold and ambitious plan to transform South Australia for the better, and if we increase our numbers in the Legislative Council, if we hold the balance of power in our own right, we will be doing what we can to ensure that we deal with the climate crisis and growing inequality in our state.

By making developers, mining corporations and big banks pay their fair share of tax, we can finally tackle the climate crisis and economic inequality in South Australia and create a better life for all South Australians. We know that COVID-19 has exposed growing inequality in South Australia. How can it be that we have people literally sleeping on the streets of our state while big banks, mining corporations and developers continue to make huge profits? Something has to change, and the Greens have announced a fully costed plan to change things for the better.

The first element of that is a range of new revenue measures. We would propose to raise almost $7 billion of new revenue that we could invest in vital public services. We need to start charging fair royalties for mining corporations. South Australia has been robbed of its mineral wealth over the last few years. In fact, over the last four years, mining corporations have made over $25 billion in South Australia alone and paid only 5 per cent in royalties. That is not fair. That is why the Greens want to increase the royalties paid by these corporations. That would raise an extra $3.8 billion over four years.

We also need to take the big banks to task. They are some of the most profitable in the world, and over the last four years the five biggest banks have made $173 billion in pre-tax profits. That is a huge amount of money. It is for that reason that the Greens want to bring back the state-based big bank levy. That is a rate that is set and 0.5 per cent per quarter and would apply to South Australia's share of a bank's total liabilities. It would be passed on to the five big banks.

Finally, we want to propose a 75 per cent developer tax on rezoning. At the moment, when land is rezoned for a higher use, property developers make massive windfall profits, but they do not pay anything for the privilege. This is a massive giveaway of public wealth into private hands. We are concerned that this current system encourages corruption and backroom deals. It makes property speculation worse, and it pushes up prices, so we would bring in a developer tax that would raise $1.7 billion over four years.

What would we do with the money that is raised from these new measures? We would provide free, publicly owned public transport for South Australians at a cost of $433 million over four years and would invest $1 billion to upgrade South Australia's public transport network. We would bring back the Housing Trust, building 40,000 new, quality public homes over four years, or 10,000 homes a year. That would slash the public housing waiting list. In doing so, we would create 10,000 good construction jobs a year.

We would also provide for publicly owned renewable electricity. We would bring back ETSA, and we would invest $8.7 billion over four years for publicly owned renewable energy and storage. This plan would create more than 9,000 jobs a year. We would also set aside $2 billion of the investment to provide free solar and storage for 200,000 renters, social housing and low income households. These are important measures. They are things that we could do if we ensure that the big end of town finally pays their fair share, and the Greens are committed to doing that here in this place.

Code of Conduct Amendment

18 November 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I move to amend proposed new standing order 455B:

After 'Code of Conduct', first appearing, insert 'and should a Member wilfully contravene the Code, the Council may require the Member to apologise; or pay a fine; or may suspend the Member from the service of the Council.'

This is a straightforward inclusion. It is modelled on the code of conduct that operates in the state of Victoria. I understand the points the honourable Treasurer has made in terms of wanting to ensure uniformity between the houses, but at the same time I think we have a responsibility to ensure that any code we put in place is effective and has real teeth.

I think the people of South Australia expect that if you do the wrong thing in a workplace you face consequences, that you face potential sanction or penalty. It would send the wrong message if we supported a range of laudable principles today, but we did not actually stipulate what consequences may flow for members of parliament who do the wrong thing. I think it is appropriate that we put some of those things in the standing orders.

Members may well ask how great would a fine be, or how long would a suspension last. The Victorian legislation provides some clarity on this and so if we were to establish this principle in the parliament today then we could certainly finesse that down the track. I think this is an important principle for us to establish. It is one that the community will expect of us and I am hoping that this chamber will support the amendment being advanced by the Greens.

Voting Age Amendment

18 November 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I move:

Amendment No 1 [Simms–1]—

  • Page 3, after line 11 [clause 4, before subclause (1)]—Insert:
    • (a1) Section 4(1), definition of elector—delete '18 years' and substitute '16 years'

This is an amendment that seeks to change the definition of elector from the age of 18 to 16. Currently, as we know, voters go on the roll at the age of 18 in South Australia. This would make voting optional for people who are 16 and 17 in state elections. We in the Greens think that is entirely appropriate. If someone is old enough to pay taxes, old enough to work, old enough to drive, then they should be old enough to vote and have a say on the direction of our state.

We also face some big challenges at the moment. Those challenges are multigenerational. Issues like climate change—the impact of an issue like that will be felt across the generations. We know that young people, particularly of school age, have been leading the charge for climate action. They should have a say on the direction of their state and their country, and the best way we can do that is by giving them an opportunity to vote. We also see this as being an exciting way to engage people more in civics and improve understanding of our politics as well.

Equal Opportunity Commissioner's Independent Review

16 November 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: The Greens are also supportive of this report and the recommendations. In particular, I want to put on record our support for the code of conduct that has been proposed. I recognise, as the Leader of the Government and the Leader of the Opposition have done, that this has come out of a multiparty committee process, but it should be noted that it was not a committee that involved active participation from the Greens.

It has always been our view that when you are developing a code of conduct it is important to include penalties to ensure that we have something in place that has real teeth, that the community can have faith in, that members of this place can have faith in, and that the staff who work in this building can have faith in.

With all due respect to the Hon. Mr Lucas, I am not sure that this Liberal government has the best track record when it comes to enforcing the behaviour of their members of parliament. This is the party that said, 'Let's not progress any investigation into the alleged conduct of Sam Duluk, let's just let that slide.'

The PRESIDENT: The member should be referred to by his seat, the member for Waite.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I apologise, the member the Waite. 'Let's just let that slide and let's instead exhibit such a failure of leadership that it's over to the member for Waite to announce that he is going to run as an Independent,' because nobody in the Liberal Party hierarchy had the courage to move to disendorse him. So I am not sure that the argument, 'Well, the political parties will take care of their business and the government will discipline people who do the wrong thing,' really carries much weight.

I also refer to the conduct of the former SA minister, Stephan Knoll, who was found to have engaged in misconduct over his interactions with the cemeteries board by the Ombudsman. I am not sure what action has been taken by the government in relation to that behaviour. It is important that there are some clear consequences that flow if people do the wrong thing. That is the case in any other workplace in the state of South Australia and that is what the community expects of this workplace.

In terms of the amendment, I will talk to that later when I have the opportunity to do so, but in general terms what it does is imposes or provides the opportunity for the parliament to impose fines, compel a member to apologise or suspend a member from the service of this council. Members may well ask—and the honourable Treasurer has made this point—how long would the suspension last, what is the fine, and so on? These are matters that are dealt with in the Victorian model from which this language has been drawn, and were this to be implemented we could certainly finesse some of those issues through further changes to the standing orders.

It is not the desire of the Greens to hold up this process in any way. We are absolutely supportive of a code of conduct. It has taken a very long time for us to get here and with that in mind we do think it is appropriate that we ensure that any code of conduct we put in place has real teeth and ensures that there are real consequences that flow to those few bad apples who do the wrong thing.

Stealthing and Consent Bill

16 November 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: The Greens also support this bill, and in so doing I want to commend the Hon. Connie Bonaros for her leadership on this issue in putting forward a private member's bill. It is good to see that the government has taken this up and followed the Hon. Ms Bonaros's lead on this very important issue.

We know, of course, that when it comes to consent to engage in sexual intercourse that it is vital that consent continues throughout sexual intercourse, and that is where the behaviour of stealthing, that is, removing a condom without permission, is really so abhorrent. This is behaviour that is, unfortunately, all too common. I understand that in 2018 a study by Monash University and the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre surveyed around 2,000 people—this is reported in, and I am quoting from that article—and found that one in three women and almost one in five men who have sex with men had experienced stealthing.

The author and journalist Monica Tan has described 'non-consensual condom removal—and again I am quoting from the article—as a sort of rape', in an article for The Guardian published in 2015. 'I call what he did rape like. He called it pushing my boundaries,' she wrote. To make it clear in terms of the impact of this behaviour, survivors have made clear, according to a Yale student Alexander Brodsky who wrote in her paper titled 'Rape adjacent, imagining legal responses to non-consensual condom removal', that was published in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law:

Survivors make it clear as a result of the removed condoms they experienced fear of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy and also a less concrete but deeply-felt feeling of violation.

There are lots of places around the world that have taken this matter very seriously and have legislated accordingly. California has moved to address this issue, and also recently in the ACT—and I understand the Victorian parliament is also looking at it. It is very important for us to change our laws here in South Australia to ensure that this is adequately addressed as the crime that it is. With that, I commend the bill.

Independent Speaker Bill

28 October 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise in support of this bill. This is an opportunity to reform our parliamentary democracy. These opportunities do not come along very often. The Greens have long advocated for the benefits of having an independent Speaker, that is, somebody who removes themselves from their political party and therefore is able to act as an independent umpire. This is a model that is not without precedent in democracies around the world. Indeed, it is a model that has been used very effectively in the United Kingdom.

There has been a lot written about this by academics who are much more expert in these matters than myself, but there is one article I want to quote from. Ryan Goss from the Australian National University wrote in The Conversation in an article dated 21 July back in 2015 that 'A truly independent Speaker could renew Australia's parliamentary democracy.' One of the observations he made, and I think it is a very fair point, is that by making the Speakership a political gift of the party in power, Australia is missing a major opportunity for democratic renewal of its parliament. I think that is a fair point.

We have seen over the years what can happen when you have a politicisation of the role of Speaker. Obviously, we have seen some quite dramatic examples of this over in Canberra. Bronwyn Bishop, when she was not helicoptering around, seemed to show a fairly partisan approach to the role of Speaker. We do not want to see that here in our parliament. From the Greens' perspective, though, in order for us to support this bill we want to get an assurance from other political parties that they will support the idea of an independent Speaker of this house.

The PRESIDENT: You are downgrading the role.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: President. Apologies, Mr President. Of course, we do have that model at the moment under your leadership, and I think that has been very successful, but we want to ensure that, in the future, when a President is appointed, they recuse themselves from political party meetings. I would certainly welcome an undertaking from the political parties that that is something they will commit to doing if they are in government, because of course, if we put this scheme in place in the House of Assembly, we should then do so here in this place.

The other point I want to make is the Greens recognise that there are lots of things that need to be done to modernise the way that this chamber works in practice. Enshrining the principle of an independent President is important, but also we would like to look at standing orders more broadly, looking at questions like Dorothy Dixers and the way in which they work in practice. These are things that I think many in the community would regard as a waste of time.

We also want to look at the times in which this chamber operates, the start times, and align them more closely with the House of Assembly, ensuring that we do not have sittings that go into the early hours of the morning but rather we work more sensible hours that are more inclusive of those with families and more in keeping with community standards. We look forward to having the opportunity to talk to other parties here in this place about those elements and would certainly welcome a commitment from the political parties to consider those things.

To sum up, this is an exciting opportunity to reform our political system, to get in place this idea of an independent umpire, to enshrine that principle in the House of Assembly and to also get a commitment that we are going to look at it here in this place too, and to look more broadly at how we can improve the way in which this house of parliament works to ensure it is more in line with community expectations.