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Pages tagged "Local Government"

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.


Corflute Ban

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.


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.

9 June 2021

(Continued debate from 8 June 2021.)

 

 

 

 


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.