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Pages tagged "Democracy and Accountability"

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.


Government Advertising

26 October 2021

Hon Robert Simms:

Mr Chairman, before commenting on the detail of the amendment that is before you, I will respond to the tabling of the letter from the Auditor-General by the Treasurer. I welcome that information. It would have been helpful to have had that provided to us a little bit earlier than it being tabled in parliament. I do want to point out, Chair, that when we were last here together, and I moved to insert this amendment and we were going to progress this to a vote, the Treasurer spoke quite passionately about how unfair it was for the matter to be sprung on him and he talked about the lack of engagement with the government around my amendment.

I was persuaded by that, as I think the crossbenchers were, and more time was provided to the government. We adjourned the debate and now we have come back two weeks later. It is disappointing to see a letter relating to the amendment being tabled in this fashion without giving anybody the opportunity to take that into consideration as part of the debate.

I will point out, though, that there is an opportunity for amendments to be made should this pass this chamber, for further amendments and finessing to occur between the houses. If there is a significant issue that needs to be addressed, there will be an opportunity to do that.

This is a fairly straightforward amendment. It is what I consider to be a very important transparency measure and really what it does is ensure that the Auditor-General is required to provide approval for advertising in certain circumstances. It adds a really important transparency measure, I think, in terms of ensuring that the Auditor-General is required to approve certain government advertising, and that is advertising in particular circumstances and during the election period.

The government may be concerned that this is going to impact on advertising that they consider to be essential. The amendment makes it very clear that government advertising will be taken to be necessary for the proper functions of government if the Auditor-General is satisfied that the primary purpose of the government advertising is to communicate information relating to the following, and these things are stipulated.

I will not read them all, but they relate to public health and public safety, road and public transport, emergencies, legal or statutory matters, electoral material published under the authority of the Electoral Commissioner, and a range of other things. If anything has been missed that is considered essential, I am sure that that can be added in as part of the engagement between the two houses.

It is important to understand why this is so vitally important, and I think the Treasurer has talked a lot about his concerns around the spending of taxpayers' money in terms of setting up an independent budget office. He must then be aghast at the eye-watering advertising bill of his Liberal government, because it has been really quite outrageous.

It is worth remembering that, back in 2019, the Government Communications Advisory Committee was formed in July and it scaled back its public reporting on communication campaigns cost and effectiveness by the year 2020. As of June 2020, that body had published just one evaluation report for the financial year and in the previous financial year the government had reported monthly on campaigns on their costs and their effectiveness.

On 1 September 2020, this group changed its official guidelines and in addition to the rules requiring public reporting of the total cost and evaluation summary for each approved communications initiative, which was usually done after completion, the GCAC would now publish the cost of each campaign as it begins. Well, that was what was meant to happen, but the new guidelines did not specify a time frame for the reporting campaigns and therefore there was a significant lag in reporting.

Indeed, InDaily reported on this last year and it was noted that, despite numerous reporting campaigns being approved in September, there had been no reporting on the Department of the Premier and Cabinet website as required by the new guidelines. That is very disappointing.

The GCAC report for September 2020, made available at the end of October 2020, contains some information which I think is relevant to highlight here. There were at least six campaigns approved, worth a total of more than $8.8 million. The bulk of spending, more than $5 million, was for interstate and intrastate tourism campaigns, and $1.5 million was approved on 1 September for a campaign to attract New Zealand tourists.

Controversially, the government launched a $1.195 million taxpayer-funded campaign called Building What Matters, which was across various media platforms, promoting an infrastructure program in the wake of last year's state budget. That was scheduled to run until June 2021. This campaign does not explicitly include politicians, but in interviews and media politicians have referenced the campaign, a campaign that is paid for by the South Australian taxpayer.

The campaign promotes the government's infrastructure spend rather than giving direct information about individual projects. There have even been reports of cold marketing campaigns. This was reported by the ABC back on 26 March, indeed my birthday. I can tell you, it would not have been a welcome birthday present for me to receive one of these calls. According to this media report, members of the South Australian community were receiving phone calls promoting this Building What Matters campaign, a campaign funded by the South Australian taxpayer. The ABC has included an example of one of the voicemails which was left, and I will read it to you:

Good evening…I'm calling on behalf of the Premier, Steven Marshall—

it is like Amway—

and the state Liberal team to get your thoughts about the $16.7 billion infrastructure spend which will deliver safer roads, ensure that you have access to better healthcare closer to home and will deliver world-class schools for our kids.

That sounds like an ad to me. Despite the caller saying they were representing the Premier—and I am reading from the ABC here—the Premier denied any knowledge of the calls when asked by the ABC. He said:

I'm not aware of that…there's nothing wrong with going out and promoting the great work of [our] government.

That [could] be something you could take up with the Liberal Party.

It is unclear whether the call was made by a third party, who was paying for it or how the information was obtained. When asked whether or not the Liberal Party was paying for it or the taxpayer, Mr Marshall said, 'It's hard to comment because I haven't heard or seen the campaign that you're referring to.'

Quite frankly, that is simply not good enough. It is not good enough for the hard-earned money of South Australians to be wasted on PR for this state government. I can understand why they would want to be undertaking PR given the scandalous period they have faced, but it is not an appropriate use of taxpayer money and it is appropriate that this money is administered in an independent way and that there is some form of independent arbiter who can make a call on what is appropriate and what is not.

I am not suggesting the Governor-General take carriage of that—that is a step too far—but the Auditor-General is an appropriate body to take carriage of that. As I say, I note the concerns that they have expressed and that is something that can be worked through within the houses. I think this is a really important transparency measure. It is one that South Australians will welcome heading into this election and I commend it.

Electoral Reform Amendments

14 October 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise to speak in support of the electoral reform bill, with some caveats. I understand the Labor Party will be moving some amendments to address one of the issues the Greens have with this bill, and that is the push to close the rolls early. We worry that would disenfranchise young people, particularly first-time voters for this election, many of whom we know may not necessarily be on the roll.

We are very concerned about that change and what that would mean for voters in this election, and we have made it clear to the government that we will not be supporting legislation that will undermine the capacity of young people to get on the roll and participate in this election.

Another issue we want to address—and I will do so through amendment and also speak to that in the third reading speech—is the right of young people aged 16 and 17 to vote on an optional basis. If you are old enough to drive, if you are old enough to work and pay taxes, then surely you should be old enough to vote, surely you should be given the opportunity to participate in the great contest of ideas that is our democracy. After all, the decisions made by the government impact on the conditions of working people, they impact on their rights just as much as they do on other members of our society.

What the Greens are proposing is the inclusion of a clause that would give young people aged 16 and 17 the opportunity to vote, if they so wish. We think this would also have the added benefit of improving understanding of our political system and better engaging young people in our political system at a time when many people are feeling disenfranchised. Looking at the events that have unfolded in the other place over the last 48 hours, one can certainly understand why young people might feel disenfranchised from politics and disconnected from the Game of Thrones theatre that we see playing out in the other place.

One way we can change that is by giving young people the chance to vote, the opportunity to participate in our political system and have their voice heard. They pay their taxes, they work, they drive; surely they have a right to have a say in the direction this state takes, surely they have a right to determine who should be in government come the 19 March election.

To go to the broad elements of the bill, we are supportive of the broad intention of the bill. We understand that many of these changes have been advocated by the Electoral Commission but, should this bill advance to the next stage, we will be seeking to amend it substantially and will not be supporting it in its current form. With that, I conclude my remarks.

Local Government Review Amendments

10 June 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I just want to very briefly speak in favour of these amendments. I think this has been an example of what this house of parliament does very well—that is, reviewing and improving government legislation. From the perspective of the Greens, we welcome some of the transparency measures that have been included in the bill, obviously those relating to disclosure of donations but also the undertaking that has been given by the government around the disclosure of political party memberships. We welcome that that is going to be done through regulation.

I want to recognise the work of all the players here. Obviously, my predecessor Mark Parnell worked on this bill, and I want to acknowledge his contribution. In particular, I want to acknowledge the work of the Hon. Emily Bourke, with whom I had the opportunity to work on this reform; the Hon. Mr Frank Pangallo; and, of course, the work of the government in the other place as well.

I am sure many people will be relieved to see this legislation finally come to pass. I recognise the work and patience of the LGA and their long-term advocacy on this and look forward to a new local government regime.






Question: SkyCity Adelaide

8 June 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Treasurer on the topic of SkyCity Adelaide.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Yesterday, it came to light that Australia's financial regulator, AUSTRAC, had launched an investigation into potential serious noncompliance by SkyCity Adelaide with anti-money laundering and counterterror financial rules. Seven years ago, SkyCity Adelaide signed an agreement with the state government to vary the approved licensing agreement to allow for the massive expansion of its operations that we currently see, which included a requirement to make an up-front payment of $20 million to the SA government when the agreement became binding.

My question to the Treasurer is: in light of the potential serious noncompliance of SkyCity Adelaide with anti-money laundering and counterterror financing rules, is the government concerned about the source of the $20 million up-front payment that was made seven years ago?

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Treasurer): That question is probably more appropriately addressed to the Leader of the Opposition in the Labor Party because, as I'm sure the member knows, sadly, seven years ago we were languishing in opposition—a long history of 16 years of being in opposition.

Members interjecting:


The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: The Hon. Mr Hunter, the Hon. Mr Maher and former treasurers would be people who subscribed to those particular arrangements with the Casino, so I think the question is probably best directed to them in relation to the detail of that particular arrangement or deal to which the honourable member refers.

In relation to the overriding important aspect to the member's question, that is, that there have clearly been serious claims made—not claims, I should say—there is now an indication that AUSTRAC, which is the appropriate agency with responsibility for investigating anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing breaches, is conducting an investigation into aspects of SkyCity's operations, and I know that other honourable members have raised this issue before.

Certainly, from the state's viewpoint, the commissioner for business and consumer affairs has made it clear that he has now put his review on hold after discussions with AUSTRAC on the basis that they are the appropriate agency with the appropriate capacity, because these are obviously quite complex investigations that AUSTRAC has the capacity to monitor.

The commissioner's view is that they are the appropriate agency to continue and finalise those investigations and then, ultimately, to report on them. Until the commissioner sees a final report, he has decided, after discussion with AUSTRAC, to put his review on hold until AUSTRAC have completed their negotiations.

Coming back to the issue of that deal seven years ago, I can't offer any more detail because I had no direct knowledge of the discussions.

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Simms has a supplementary.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Noting the Treasurer's response, will the Treasurer be making inquiries to satisfy this parliament that the relevant rules were complied with by SkyCity Adelaide and, in particular, to ensure that no laundered money was involved with that payment?


The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Treasurer): I can certainly seek advice from those who were around seven years ago—those who had the responsibility for monitoring whatever arrangement was entered into. That would obviously be the commissioner, potentially. I will seek advice and bring back any answer that they might be able to provide.

In relation to the source of any money that was paid under the former Labor government, as to whether that was laundered money or not, I'm not sure. I'm sure the commissioner is not in a position to be able to answer that. I think what he's saying is that the appropriate agency to continue the investigation into this is AUSTRAC. They have the capacity to do it. I think they have listed two specific time periods. I think one of them was under the former government and one might have been in the first year of the current government that they were investigating in relation to SkyCity's operations.

I don't think the time periods they referred to go back seven years; that is, the nature of their investigation. I don't know whether that's because they have looked at it and don't believe there were issues of concern at that particular time, which might be possible, or whether there is some other restriction. I can certainly seek to ascertain as to whether there is any restriction on what AUSTRAC can do.

My broad understanding is there is not; that is, if they had concerns about a period of seven years ago when this deal was done with the former Labor government, I don't believe they are restricted from investigating that, but I can certainly take advice on that. Maybe the Hon. Mr Hunter or the Hon. Mr Maher might be able to throw some light on the arrangements that occurred at that particular time.

Stop Privatising SA

Privatisation has been a bipartisan sport in South Australian politics for far too long. From selling off the state’s public housing and power network, to handing over the keys to our buses and trains, this decades-long fire sale has short-changed the people of South Australia who are often left with poorer services at higher prices. 

In 2021 the Greens secured a parliamentary inquiry into this endless privatisation. The inquiry shone a light on the damning effect privatisation has had on our public services and made a range of recommendations for the future that would improve the accountability of private corporations running public services and safeguard against the sell offs our public services without due consideration of the impact. Importantly, it recommended that a moratorium be placed on all future privatisations – until the recommendations in the report are actioned.

To download a copy of the full majority report click here

I introduced a bill to prevent the privatisation of public assets without the consideration of a parliamentary committee, all the details of the sale have been put on the public record, and approval of both Houses of Parliament. Key assets covered by the bill included the South Australian Water Corporation, SA Pathology, HomeStart Finance, the Motor Accident Commission, the South Australian Forestry Corporation and the Return to Work Corporation. You can watch my speech in Parliament on the bill here.

In February 2024, the bill passed both Houses of Parliament and became law. This is a huge huge win for the campaign to keep public services in public hands, creating a important safeguard against any future State Government selling off our key public assets.


Disclosure of Donations

11 May 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: If it pleases you, Chair, I will make some general remarks about the thrust of a series of these amendments because they all relate to the same topic, so in the interests of time I will deal with it that way. These relate to the disclosure of donations received. Currently, candidates who are standing for election to council disclose their donations that they have received after the election period.

What I am proposing, on behalf of the Greens, is that there now be two disclosures: one before the voting period and one after. This is a modest measure but it is an important transparency measure. I have always believed that sunlight is the best disinfectant and giving the community the most information possible I think is really vital so that people can make informed decisions.

If someone who is standing for council is being bankrolled by developers or another vested interest group, then, if this amendment is carried, for the first time members of the community will have access to that information. I think that would really enhance democracy at a local level. That is why we are pursuing this amendment.


Transparency in Local Government Elections

11 May 2021

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

Amendment No 1 [Simms–1]—

Page 98, after line 25—After clause 180 insert:

180A—Amendment of heading to Part 14

Heading to Part 14—after 'donations' insert 'and disclosure'

180B—Insertion of Part 14 Division A1

Part 14—before Division 1 insert:

Division A1—Disclosure of political party memberships

79A—Disclosure of political party memberships

(1) A candidate for election to an office of a council must, at the prescribed time, notify the returning officer, in the manner determined by the returning officer, of—

(a) whether or not the candidate is a member of a registered political party (within the meaning of the Electoral Act 1985); and

(b) if the candidate is a member of a registered political party—

(i) the name of the party; and

(ii) when the candidate became a member of the party.

Maximum penalty: $10,000.

(2) The returning officer must make a copy of each notification given under this section in relation to an election available on a website maintained by the returning officer within 7 days after the day on which the notification was required to be given.

(3) In this section—prescribed time means—

(a) in the case of a periodic election—within 21 days after the close of nominations for the election; or

(b) in any other case—within 7 days after the close of nominations for the election.

This amendment seeks to improve transparency in local government elections, but from the outset I do want to thank honourable members for their indulgence. I recognise that there has been significant discussion about this bill before I came to this chamber, and so I will make my remarks brief. It is for that reason also that the Greens' amendments are modest in nature.

What we are seeking to do here is improve transparency, and this amendment No. 1 [Simms-1] relates to requiring people to disclose their political party memberships. What we are requesting is that this happen within 21 days after the close of nominations, and that it be published within seven days after the notification, so the returning officer would put this information on the website.

Why is this important? Presently, candidates who are standing in local government elections are required to disclose their political party memberships along with their memberships of a range of other organisations after the community has cast their votes. It has been a long-held principle of the Greens that members of the community should get all the information they require to enable them to make an informed choice. It seems really wrong to us that we have a scenario where members of the community are voting without that vital information. Somebody could be a member of a political party and that information has not been disclosed to the elector at the time they have cast their vote.

Elections for local council should not be a lucky dip where the community just kind of puts their hand in the hat and pulls out whatever they land with. Members of the community have a right to that information so that they can make an informed decision. We have seen situations in local councils where you have members of particular political parties who have not disclosed and then may form some sort of a faction or informal grouping, and there are some that have been very well advertised involving, in particular, the conservative side of politics, and there have been a number of scenarios where that membership has not been made clear to members of the community at the time that they cast their votes. So we are seeking to clear that up, and there are a few amendments that relate to that.

It is my understanding that the government is intending to pursue this element through regulation, but I have received no information about how that is going to be done. Today, I would welcome some clarification from the government about that on the public record.