Yesterday, I gave notice that I would move today that this house establish a select committee, and I so move:
That this house establish a select committee to inquire into and report on:
(a) the racist publication by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) in 2014 entitled, 'Can you trust Habib?';
(b) the allegations by Annabel Digance of bullying and intimidation from ALP officials regarding the publication;
(c) the statements of ALP State Secretary, Reggie Martin, regarding the publication;
(d) the circumstances and persons responsible for the publication, including the commissioning, drafting, editing, design, proofing, printing, approval and distribution of the publication; and
(e) any other matter relevant to the publication.
This is the situation: in the 2014 election campaign that was of course traversed during February-March 2014, there was a flyer distributed, entitled 'Can you trust Habib?' In fact, it was a double-sided flyer with which I know members are all too familiar. The double-sided flyer was authorised by R. Martin for the Australian Labor Party and it describes their Gilles Street address and the printer obligations pursuant to the Electoral Act.
The ALP consistently denied that this document, distributed during the campaign, was racist. Members may now know that the Human Rights Commissioner at the time issued a letter of request to the ALP and to Ms Digance, who was the candidate—indeed, the successful candidate for the ALP—subsequent to that election campaign for an apology. Neither provided an apology, and since that time the party, the ALP, has consistently refused to acknowledge the racist nature of this document.
In 2018, Carolyn Habib (now Carolyn Power) stood and won the seat of Elder. Congratulations to her and the courage it took to do so. Ms Digance was defeated and now in 2021 has made public statements, including (a) that the flyer was racist; (b) that she knew nothing of it until the document was distributed in the election campaign in 2014; (c) that she was bullied and was indeed herself a victim in respect of keeping silent about that pamphlet and her view in respect of what happened; and (d) that she was frightened.
They are all unquestionably disturbing allegations. I do not in any way purport to identify or suggest whether or not they are accurate. Certainly, it took seven years for this information to be public, and if it is true I congratulate her on coming forward, and if it is not then that is a matter that someone else can determine. I am not in a position to do that, and I do not make any assessment of her involvement or action in relation to this at all.
I note that Mr Tom Richardson, who is a noted journalist in South Australia, published his view that this is a belated apology and is not courage: it is opportunism, he suggests. In fact, he has some direct concern about the suggestion that her courage as a woman in trying to change culture should introduce this information within that envelope, but I do not want to make any judgement in that regard. That is not my job. I can have a personal view about any of these things, but we do need to respect the fact that a former member of this house, a candidate in a subsequent election, has made these allegations seven years after the event.
Perhaps even more concerning now is the fact that Mr Reggie Martin, who was the ALP state secretary at all material times during this matter, has claimed publicly that he only authorised the pamphlet. That may be the case. Again, I am not in a position to make that assessment. I do not know what the answer to that is. I know that I saw him on television on Saturday night purporting to say that he was sorry if people were offended by it.
I did not see that as any acknowledgment or apology, frankly, but nevertheless it was a statement that he made, but within that statement was that his involvement in this was confined to an authorisation. Subsequently, I read that he had apparently made some grammatical corrections to the document, but in any event his involvement was very limited. I note also that Mr Richardson, who has written prolifically all the time I have been in the parliament, on 24 March 2015 claimed, and I quote:
…the ALP was concerned enough to modify an earlier version of the leaflet, which state secretary Reggie Martin has confirmed was changed on legal advice.
Again, I do not know whether or not that is accurate. Mr Richardson has reported it as being something which Mr Martin has confirmed and which on the face of it suggests that he was very much involved in the development of this pamphlet. It had been previously in draft form, and furthermore legal advice had been obtained. It is possible that other people were involved in that decision and that he was completely excluded from it. It would be unusual, I think, in anyone's knowledge of political parties, but that may be the case.
What is very important is that, having got to that piece of information and having this seven years later, the question is: why would we then move a select committee into why and who was responsible for this? We have a document which is overtly racist, and I think absolutely disgraceful, and which should have no place in any election for anyone in office in our democratic system. I totally abhor that practice.
Even leaving aside the circumstances in which Ms Digance now raises her concern about this issue and her reason for being intimidated and bullied into silence, the issue here for me is whether this is a document that we as a parliament can accept as being able to be published in future elections. I think that is something this parliament must make a decision on.
We clearly cannot rely on the ALP in this instance to do it themselves. I have called on the Leader of the Opposition since Saturday to make absolutely clear what has happened. It seems either he has no interest in or no care for Ms Digance's allegations and the purported bullying conduct towards her, or he has no care in relation to statements being made which in this case were overtly against Lebanese people but which may be applied to other groups in our community—or both.
I do not know the answer to that either, but I think a select committee of this parliament must look at that and identify the standard we are going to have going forward into future elections, whether they are for our colleagues here in this parliament, for persons in the other place or for our future local government elections or for our representatives who go into the federal parliament. Every single one of them should be free of this type of this inquiry.
The Hon. A. Koutsantonis interjecting:
The SPEAKER: Order!
The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN: The member for West Torrens can yell to interject and threaten us with, 'There will be plenty more of these to come.'
The SPEAKER: The Attorney will not respond to interjections.
The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN: Well, he can threaten all he likes. I will not stand up for this type of conduct. I am very concerned personally about the allegations that have been made—
The SPEAKER: Member for West Torrens!
The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN: —by Ms Digance. I am very concerned that it has taken seven years for anyone in the ALP even to acknowledge that this is a racist document.
The Hon. C.L. Wingard interjecting:
The SPEAKER: The minister will cease interjecting.
The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN: Federal colleagues at the time were very clear. In fact, they were howled down by people from the other side, weighing into their view in relation to that statement, but that is a matter others can view. I think we do need to set a standard, that we do need to have a set of standards—
The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Playford will cease interjecting.
The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN: —and I ask that we do. If the Leader of the Opposition is not prepared to do it in relation to his own party, let us look at this. It will be a standard that will apply to all political parties or all members who are candidates in forthcoming elections. I do not want there to be other types of conduct that sometimes can be dealt with during an election campaign in relation to misleading or inaccurate information—that is an Electoral Act responsibility—but this is seven years later.
There has been an acknowledgement now within the envelope of, I think, a very concerning allegation by Ms Digance and nobody from the ALP is stepping up to take responsibility. That in itself is abhorrent. I again call on the Leader of the Opposition to have a look at his own party and identify it. Despite the fact he was previously a president of the ALP in South Australia—and indeed, six months after that election in 2014, became president again—still he had plenty of opportunity as the leader of the ALP—
Mr Brown: Just like you were during Catch Tim.
The SPEAKER: Order, the member for Playford!
The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN: —to actually deal with this matter. I do not have any confidence he will. He clearly is not prepared to do it. He has been called on to do it. I think it shameful that he has not even come out to support Ms Digance in that circumstance and offer at least to investigate that matter and bring to account people in his own party who are alleged to have done this conduct. That raises a concern in itself.
In those circumstances, I think it is incumbent on this house to conduct the inquiry, to have a select committee. Obviously, I will invite members of the opposition to be part of that because it is responsible for all of us—government members, crossbenchers, opposition members, all—to have an opportunity to be a part of that. I commend the motion to the house.
The Hon. S.C. MULLIGHAN (Lee) (16:34): I rise to speak on the motion, and I indicate from the outset that the opposition will not be supporting the motion. Before I make any further comments about the rationale behind the position the Labor opposition takes on this motion, I think it is important that we recognise that the current member for Elder was—not to use her words but to try to accurately characterise them—grievously offended by the flyer that was distributed in the then electorate of Elder at the 2014 election.
I have to say that if anything has been obvious in the events of recent weeks and months, both around the country and here in South Australia, it is that judging whether something has given offence should not be about whether the intent was to give offence but about whether offence was received. I do not think there can be any doubt that the current member for Elder was grievously offended by that flyer. It is in that context that I think it is the bare minimum and absolutely reasonable to state that the flyer should not have gone out, given that is the impact it has had on the current member for Elder.
I would also like to say that it is curious that it is the Deputy Premier who brings this motion to the house and that it is the Deputy Premier who brings the motion to the house after seven years—as she admittedly characterises it—past the fact of the distribution of the flyer. It is also curious that the motion should be presented to the house for debate the very day after the media, the national broadcaster, begins reporting into—
The Hon. C.L. Wingard: Seven years makes it okay?
The Hon. S.C. MULLIGHAN: Mr Speaker—
The SPEAKER: The minister will cease interjecting.
The Hon. S.C. MULLIGHAN: I sat patiently, and I listened to the Deputy Premier without interjection in the course of her contribution. This is a serious matter, and it deserves to be treated seriously by everyone in this place, including the member for Gibson.
I think the timing of this motion by the Deputy Premier is curious, to say the least—obvious, in fact. It is designed to try to draw attention away from yet another scandal that is quickly engulfing the government with regard to a paid-for data-capturing platform from the Liberal Party that has been used on official government websites to harvest information about South Australians' online habits and usage for the benefit of political campaigning. That is at the heart of the timing of this motion.
It was only brought to this place the very day after the national broadcaster reported and indeed on the same day that the local newspaper started reporting on this issue. So it is pretty clear what is informing the timing.
Mrs Power: It's in response to what your side has raised. I haven't raised this.
The SPEAKER: Order, the member for Elder!
The Hon. S.C. MULLIGHAN: It is also interesting to note that the Deputy Premier, one amongst several on the Liberal side of parliamentarians, has spent seven years condemning Annabel Digance for the distribution of the flyer. Indeed, I can recall in a previous parliamentary debate the then member for Norwood, now member for Dunstan and current Premier, was ejected from this place during the course of a debate because of screaming out across the chamber that Ms Digance was racist. That is the view of the leadership of the current parliamentary Liberal Party about Ms Digance.
Now what we have is the Deputy Premier purporting to be yet again a champion of victims' rights, and the victim here is Ms Digance. The victim here is somebody who has alleged that this was an occurrence that happened completely beyond their knowledge or understanding, and in the course of that happening and after the fact of that happening she has been subject to bullying and other sorts of unsatisfactory behaviour from those involved in the Labor Party.
Curious again, is it not, that we would have seven years of condemnation and then suddenly a volte-face, to come in here and purport to be the champion of Ms Digance as a victim? I find that extraordinary. As difficult as it may be for those opposite to hear a member on this side of the chamber say this, I actually think that this behaviour has the effect of—I will not say it seeks to—denigrating the key issue here, and that is whether the current member for Elder found grievous offence in the material that was circulated at the 2014 election.
The Deputy Premier was right to draw attention to Tom Richardson's column in today's InDaily, when he posed questions as to the timing of these grievances from Ms Digance and wondered why again it had taken seven years after the fact of the distribution of this material to commence claims of the alleged treatment of Ms Digance by the Labor Party, and it is only now, seven years on from the distribution of the material, that Ms Digance is coming forward and making these claims and these grievances about the Labor Party.
Not that it may be of interest to anyone else in this place, but I have to say I was surprised to hear those concerns from Ms Digance. I am not saying that she did not suffer that. I honestly have no idea because I have been presented with absolutely no information or evidence to the contrary, let alone in support of those claims. It genuinely came as a surprise to me. But again I do find it curious that, seven years on from the distribution of this material, while the government is quickly becoming engulfed in yet another scandal, the Deputy Premier seeks to bring this motion forward.
I also raise whether the floor of the parliament is the appropriate place to be testing the appropriateness of material or other behaviour in the conduct of state election campaigns or whether there are other more appropriate fora for that to be explored. Of course, we have an Electoral Act and we have an Electoral Commissioner. By virtue of the Electoral Act, that independent statutory officer is the one charged with investigating matters that are the subject of complaints made to that officer in the course of or even immediately after the conduct of election campaigns.
It strikes me that that Deputy Premier suddenly seems to think that one of the statutory officers who, by the nature of the office the Attorney-General holds, does not believe that the Electoral Commissioner is the appropriate person to test these claims. I wonder perhaps if this is now going to be habit forming for the Deputy Premier, whether there are other matters she believes should no longer be tested in the established fora, where they should rightly be examined, but instead should be conducted on the floor.
I also notice that this move is unprecedented. Not in the 16 years of the former Labor government, including that period between 2006 and 2010, when the Australian Labor Party held 28 of the 47 seats in this place, did the Labor Party ever seek to abuse its majority in this place in order to conduct or convene some sort of kangaroo court into the behaviour of its political opponents during election campaigns—not once, never.
So it is pretty clear now, if the Deputy Premier wants to start establishing these precedents, it will not bother her. Presumably, at the end of the term of this government she may no longer be a member of this place and she may no longer be concerned. But are the remainder of people who seek election to this place expected to participate in, perhaps even be subject to, these sorts of parliamentary inquiries about the conduct of elections?
I am sure that just about every one of us can cite conduct during election campaigns in which they have participated which is at the very least outside the realms of what is appropriate, let alone outside the rules of the conduct of election. I certainly will not say that all of us have been subject to anything like the nature of the flyer that was distributed about the current member for Elder because I certainly have not had material like that distributed about me.
However, I have had material distributed about me which is clearly defamatory, which is clearly wrong and misleading, which clearly would have the effect of impugning my character or reflecting on me negatively to the extent where, had I had the time or the resources or the inclination, I would be well served seeking some sort of legal recourse against the distribution of that material.
It happened to me the first time I ran in a state election in 2014 and it certainly happened to me at the last state election in 2018. It certainly happened to me in 2018 when I had vast amounts of my campaign materials stolen—and identifiably stolen by members of the Liberal campaign team who were running the campaign against me—including more than 400 corflutes.
What do you do about it when you are fighting for a marginal seat? Do you try to prosecute that during business hours and daylight hours when you could otherwise be campaigning? No, you do not. I had no choice but to continue campaigning and turn what had been redistributed down to a 1.2 per cent margin into a margin of nearly 4 per cent—I note against that candidate of the Liberal Party who was held up by several of those members opposite as without question the hardest working Liberal candidate at the last election.
I do not know whether that is a reflection on the candidate they preselected against me or whether it was a reflection on the party leader, the member for Dunstan, or whether it was a reflection on the campaign—
The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Lee has the call. The member for Lee is entitled to be heard in silence.
The Hon. S.C. MULLIGHAN: —or maybe it was just a reflection on the fact that people in the western suburbs do not like Liberal blow-ins from the eastern suburbs purporting to be locals and running for election. You do not need to take my word for it because that candidate, of course, has moved back to the eastern suburbs now and is pursuing a career in local politics and I think is working for the member for King.
The Hon. V.A. Chapman interjecting:
The SPEAKER: Order, the Deputy Premier!
The Hon. S.C. MULLIGHAN: Nonetheless, without digressing too much on the capacity of the Liberal Party to find quality candidates in the western suburbs, it is extraordinary that the Deputy Premier now tries again in vain to make herself the paragon of protecting victims here in South Australia.
Let me perhaps refresh members' memories of the behaviour of this government when it comes to the protection of victims in recent times. These matters only aired in the parliament as recently as last week: a cut of $3.7 million to the Victim Support Service in the 2019-20 state budget, a cut of $1 million a year ($4 million over four years) to the Legal Services Commission across all its services and trying to hide that cut by pre-paying a year's annual grant to the Legal Services Commission and a cut of $780,000 to the Women's Domestic Violence Court Assistance program in that same budget in 2019-20.
There was also a $250,000 cut to the safe city grant program that was designed to create safer environments in the city to prevent people becoming victims of crime or of harassment in the first place; a cut of $800,000 to the concierge service at managed taxi ranks, ostensibly to allow people to catch a taxi safely and free from harassment or other antisocial behaviour when seeking to do so; and a cut of $4 million to crime prevention grants.
These are all not the activities of a government that is placing the concerns of victims at the front of their minds. Of course, Mr Speaker, it would not escape your attention—as someone who pays close attention to such matters—that all these cuts occurred in the portfolio arrangements that the Deputy Premier has direct responsibility for.
It is extraordinary that overall $20 million over a five-year period has been cut from programs, services, resources and initiatives that are designed to support victims here in South Australia—all within the Deputy Premier's portfolio responsibilities. We do not need to look at just those programs, those resources and those initiatives that are provided to support victims outside this parliament to see whether they have been cut.
We can also look at what has occurred to try to support victims inside this parliament. Following on from the events of the Christmas party in 2019 we had a motion moved by the member for Reynell to establish an independent inquiry into sexual harassment and similar practices here in the parliament. In February 2020, that motion was placed on the Notice Paper by the member for Reynell.
What did the government, including the Deputy Premier, do? Did they get on with it? Did they get on with that inquiry, did they support that motion, did they get that underway, did they try to provide an avenue for staff who feel they have been subjected to that sort of harassment and behaviour? The answer, of course, is no.
It was not until November last year—a nine-month delay—when it became absolutely clear that despite this government's wishes, and presumably the Deputy Premier's, this motion from the member for Reynell was going to be supported and the inquiry was going to be established, that the government finally got on with it.
Of course, we know what that inquiry found: that there are substandard practices and substandard processes and substandard recourses available for people inside this place who are subject to harassment, including sexual harassment or sexual assault or worse. In fact, that report even outlined that there have been allegations made of a male member of parliament running their hand up the leg of a female person working in parliament.
Has that been investigated? No. The opposition pointed out to the government that there should be the opportunity for it to be investigated or, if not, there should at the very least be sufficient support provided to that person so that they can make decisions themselves whether or not to pursue that matter.
The response from the Deputy Premier throughout all this has been, 'My door is always open.' I want members to think about this very carefully: according to the Deputy Premier, the member for Bragg, the recourse for a victim of harassment or sexual harassment or worse in this place is to, first, in person self-identify and present to the Deputy Premier, the deputy leader of the state Liberal Party—not a private or confidential or independent way of receiving a report of harassment or sexual harassment or worse: it has to be done in person. That was the advice provided to this parliament.
The SPEAKER: The member for Lee will resume his seat. The Deputy Premier rises on a point of order.
The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN: I take offence at the member's assertion about my invitation to members of the house who have any concerns on any matters in relation to this, that my door is open. To conflate that with an assertion that I am requiring the person who has given anonymous information to the equal opportunity commissioner, I take offence at that. That is completely untrue.
The Hon. A. Koutsantonis interjecting:
The SPEAKER: Order!
The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN: I am not suggesting that at all. I take offence and I seek that it be withdrawn.
An honourable member interjecting:
The SPEAKER: Order! As is well known, the test in these circumstances is a subjective test. Should the member for Lee wish to make a contribution on the point of order, I will give him that opportunity. The member for Lee on the point of order.
The Hon. S.C. MULLIGHAN: I have to say I am surprised that the Deputy Premier takes offence at my recalling the very words she used in this place to explain to us what she thought the recourse should be for somebody who worked in the parliamentary workplace, a staff member or otherwise—
The Hon. V.A. Chapman interjecting:
The SPEAKER: Order!
The Hon. S.C. MULLIGHAN: —about how that could be pursued.
The Hon. V.A. Chapman interjecting:
The SPEAKER: Order!
The Hon. S.C. MULLIGHAN: If she is offended by that, I am not the person who can provide her satisfaction.
The Hon. V.A. Chapman interjecting:
The SPEAKER: Order! The Deputy Premier will cease interjecting.
The Hon. S.C. MULLIGHAN: The only person who can provide her satisfaction is herself or a mirror.
The SPEAKER: The occasion to address the point of order is not an occasion for debate on the topic more broadly. The question I am asked to rule on, as I take it, is pursuant to standing order 125, which is plain in its terms in establishing a subjective test. Words are capable of carrying a variety of meanings depending upon the context in which they are spoken, and I bear that in mind also. In the circumstances, the Deputy Premier has invited the member for Lee to withdraw. I invite the member for Lee to withdraw the use of those words in the context in which they were uttered.
The Hon. S.C. MULLIGHAN: If the Deputy Premier has found my recalling this to the parliament offensive, I withdraw and I apologise to her.
The SPEAKER: The member for Lee has the call.
The Hon. S.C. MULLIGHAN: I think it is extraordinary—absolutely extraordinary—after I lay all of this out to the house, after I make it absolutely clear what the Deputy Premier's record is in standing up for victims, including her government's cuts to victim support services, her government's cuts to those programs designed to stop people even becoming victims in the first place and to programs and initiatives particularly around the city.
Of course, I make absolutely clear to the parliament that when the Deputy Premier and the party that she is the deputy leader of had the opportunity to get on with an independent inquiry examining all those circumstances where people in this place had been made to feel victims through unacceptable behaviour at best, or at worst sexual harassment or even sexual assault, that opportunity was squibbed by those opposite for nine months until November of last year, when finally the Liberals in this place were dragged kicking and screaming to get on with it.
That is the record of those opposite. After all that history of non-achievement and even perhaps the denigration of the capacity of victims in this state to have their voices heard or to pursue recourses against the behaviour they have now, seven years on, seven years after the distribution of this material, we have the Deputy Premier and the Liberal Party wrapping their arms around Annabel Digance saying, 'Poor you!'—seven years on after claim after claim after claim of the former member for Elder's behaviour, the allegations that she herself is a racist.
I also ask the question: what is not known in this matter of the distribution of this material from four years ago? We know it was distributed. Of course, we know that when it was distributed it caused the most grievous offence to the current member for Elder. We know who produced it. We even know who spellchecked it and we know who authorised it. What we do not seem to know most recently is whether or not the former member for Elder knew about it. I suspect that is going to be a matter that will remain unresolved by the competing claims between her campaign team and Ms Digance herself, and I make no commentary on that.
I do, however, find it curious that we have the deputy leader down here seeking to figuratively wrap her arm around the former member for Elder, Ms Digance, and we have the Liberal Party doing the same when in the other place the former leader of the Liberal Party in the other place, the Hon. David Ridgway, makes absolutely clear where he sees fault in that campaign that was conducted seven years ago.
Perhaps a bit like some of the questions that have been raised by some members in the media, he takes some of the more recent comments about the conduct of that campaign with a grain of salt, making allegations—which I think he has vented, as he said in his own words today, perhaps seven or eight times previously in the other place—about the conduct of members in that campaign against the current member for Elder. There does not seem to be a unanimity of view or purpose from all members of the parliamentary Liberal Party on this.
I also note that the member for Bragg has prioritised this motion for consideration right now, almost immediately after notice of it was given only yesterday above all the other motions which have languished on the Notice Paper, in some cases for many months, and which seek to canvass issues where people have felt themselves as victims, where they are suffering in the community and perhaps even where they see some need for recourse. Again, I only have to look at my caucus colleague the member for Reynell for the motions she has moved about modern slavery, about the efficacy of legislation about sexual consent—
The Hon. V.A. Chapman: This is government time.
The Hon. S.C. MULLIGHAN: —about underemployment and insecure work. Of course, we know from the most recent employment statistics how the COVID pandemic has impacted women in particular in the workforce. I could also add to that motions from the member for Florey and also a motion from the member for Frome about the mental health impact of COVID. All those are not brought to bear for debate or consideration by this place.
The interjection I received from the Deputy Premier is, 'Well, we're in government time now and this is a government priority.' That is exactly the point I am making. This motion, curiously timed to try to distract attention away from the growing data scandal over this government, is prioritised for government time over all these other motions put forward by other members in this place that seek to give voice to those people who are suffering in our community in various ways.
The Hon. V.A. Chapman: They are in private members' time.
The SPEAKER: Order!
The Hon. S.C. MULLIGHAN: The Deputy Premier makes the comment that that is members' time. That is not as important as government time to the Deputy Premier. Their concerns are not as important for this place to consider as this, which has been rushed forth to this place for consideration.
The Hon. V.A. Chapman interjecting:
The Hon. S.C. MULLIGHAN: No, it's not being made up—
The SPEAKER: The Deputy Premier will cease interjecting. The member for Lee will not respond to interjections.
The Hon. S.C. MULLIGHAN: —it is a matter of record. It is here in the Notice Paper. All these are pushed to one side so that the Deputy Premier can do her best to distract from the current scandal this government is facing. It should be clear from that what the Deputy Premier seeks to achieve from this motion is little more than a distraction.
There are no facts to be unearthed from this. The facts of the distribution of this material and the behaviour of the campaign appear to be not only well ventilated but well understood throughout the community. All those matters, paragraphs (a) through (d), have been well ventilated—except, of course, paragraph (e) because it is not specific about what it seeks to investigate. It is clear the production, it is clear the publication, it is clear the authorisation, the distribution and the receipt of that material.
With no further facts to find, except the alleged care and concern the Deputy Premier has discovered in the past 24 hours for the concerns of Ms Digance and the conduct of the election campaign of seven years ago, there is no basis for this. There is no basis for this whatsoever. That is not to say there is no basis to the concerns of the current member for Elder.
As I said at the outset of my comments, the judgement about whether offence has been made in the course of a campaign, or indeed in other areas, is not about the intent of what was said or what was distributed or what was published, etc. As we now should all thoroughly know, it is about whether it was taken. We have seen marches around the country trying to make that point very, very clear, particularly to those members of our community who seemed somewhat stubborn in order to receive that message.
I do not denigrate the concerns of the current member for Elder, but this motion is not designed to provide any further comfort to the member for Elder, any further sense of justice through the provision of new information or facts. It is merely the most grating political manoeuvre from the Deputy Premier in order to try to wrestle attention away from the media and the public about the current scandal that is engulfing this government.
I have to say that it is true to form, the sort of tactic we have come to expect from the Deputy Premier, whether it is the issuing of press releases about ICAC investigations or the issuing of letters of demand to political opponents in an effort to silence them about comments they have made on Twitter, for example. This is just vintage Deputy Premier, vintage member for Bragg type behaviour, and I think it is very poor form that she would seek this opportunity and inveigle this most serious issue in what is nothing more than at attempt at political distraction for the media and for the community.
Mr KNOLL (Schubert) (17:06): I rise to make a contribution on this important topic for a variety of reasons and to set the record straight about a number of the comments made by the member for Lee in his contribution. This issue is one that I know has been around for a long period of time. This issue is one that has caused angst and concern to many.
This issue is one that raised its head again over the weekend because of new comments made by the then member for Elder, Annabel Digance, the former member for Elder. She made a series of allegations in the newspaper at the weekend, and then we also had comments from the current state Labor secretary, also current upper house legislative candidate for the Labor Party at the next state election, Reggie Martin. It is on that basis, and after those new revelations had been made, that we as a Liberal Party have decided to pursue this option of a select committee.
It is worth noting that at the start of the member for Lee's contribution he made comments about the fact that the standard for offence is not whether or not it was intended but whether or not offence was taken. Indeed, I think the framing of Reggie Martin's comments at the weekend was very much in the frame of 'if the member was offended', and under that presumption an apology or an apology of sorts was offered.
It is interesting that those comments stand in stark contrast to the comments that the member for West Torrens has made over the previous course of reporting of this topic and in stark contrast to former Premier Jay Weatherill's comments on this topic, but it was a progression of the issue. Certainly for me what hurts most about this conduct is that it is a form of campaigning that appeals to the worst instincts of South Australians. It was insidious and potentially subconscious in its construction. It was designed to achieve an outcome, whilst also being designed to deliver a degree of plausible deniability.
Trying to tread that fine line—a fine line the member for West Torrens and the former premier stuck to over the last four years in the last term of government—one that has not passed the pub test here in South Australia, and not one that the objective standard by which we each would consider this racist we would say it passes, but one that members opposite tried to hold to their chest as they justified what was a disgusting and racist campaign.
But the fact that it tries to appeal to our worst instincts denigrates this institution and denigrates that which we seek to achieve in this place. It was not about a contest of ideas, and it was not about who was best to deliver for an electorate, or indeed who had the best policy platform to deliver for the state. This was about finding ways to insinuate, to try to create a degree of fear or innuendo around the heritage of a prospective MP.
That is interesting, considering that in its construction I think most people would consider that it tried to create an insinuation or a connection between the now member's last name and, let's say, nefarious elements within the Middle East. That is interesting, considering the actual heritage of the member's family, and one that I know would grate hugely considering that certainly almost all of us in this chamber are migrants to this country who have come seeking an inclusive, secular and promising future. I know that certainly my family and the current member for Elder's family have come to this country wanting to seek a better life and to live in a country that values multiculturalism, that values different points of view and that values the contest of ideas as a place to live.
The reason that a select committee is the form the government and the Liberal Party are choosing to take is that for the last seven years there has been no redress and there has been no recourse. This flyer came out within the last week of the election campaign. The opportunity to seek redress from the Electoral Commissioner was limited by dint of time. It could be that that was the intended purpose. The idea was that you put this out so late in the campaign that, even if the Electoral Commissioner finds against you, there is not enough time to provide redress before people go to the polls.
In fact, I know it is a tactic the Labor Party used in relation to the Davenport by-election. I know it is a style of campaigning they used back in 2010 in the Mawson campaign, where basically you put out your disgusting and dirty campaign tactics late enough in the campaign that you can get away with it by polling day. It is cynical, and again it appeals to the worst instincts of South Australians, and it is not worthy of those of us who seek to do good in this place.
The member for Elder also tried to pursue this topic through the Human Rights Commission. An opportunity was offered at that point for those who were involved in this campaign to be able to provide redress and recourse and to show a degree of contrition so that this sorry chapter in the way our state conducts election can be put behind us. Was that opportunity taken? No.
If you think about where we sit today after these new allegations and new reporting over the weekend, what other opportunity is there? That is why a select committee is an appropriate vehicle to air these grievances—because at any stage over the past seven years members opposite could have provided the redress the member for Elder was seeking but chose not to. It is interesting that only after the revelations and the allegations of Annabel Digance at the weekend did Reggie Martin make the comments that he chose to make.
I note that in this chamber just now the member for Lee chose a degree of contrition. Interestingly, they might not be the words the member for West Torrens has chosen to use over the past period since that time, but at least it is a step forward by some members of the Labor Party, and it is why the government and the Liberal Party are seeking to use this as a method to provide redress.
Finally, and this is perhaps for me the most poignant, is the fact that to the broader public, and maybe to the Labor Party, this is just part of what you need to do to get things done—the Graham Richardson school of 'whatever it takes'. I do not think that is good enough for South Australia, and I do not think it is good enough for those who want to sit in this chamber because, at the end of the day, we are not pawns on a chessboard, we are not cardboard cut-outs: we are human beings. We deserve a degree of respect, if not for the individual, at least for the institution that we seek to serve.
This campaign more than any other, certainly in my time of political awareness, was perhaps the most disgusting, disgraceful and difficult to swallow, that there would be a group of people who seek a higher purpose and vocation in this place who would think that this kind of racist, dog-whistle politics was appropriate. It is not worthy, and it is why I will be very proud to support this select committee.
In this place and at this time, we are seeking to use this opportunity where other opportunities have failed to be able to provide redress for this incident so that we can highlight and provide a forum by which we can ensure that, if nothing else, the political cost of undertaking this kind of campaigning is felt.
It seems that, if common decency does not prevail, if a recourse to the Human Rights Commission does not prevail and if the only thing that the Labor Party genuinely believes in is political advantage, then a select committee is a way for us to be able to show the Labor Party that this is the kind of political advantage that comes with a high cost, perhaps too high a cost to undertake this kind of behaviour into the future. That is what this select committee is seeking to do, and it is why I will be very proud to support it.
In conclusion, we need to do better. We need to be better. There are many ways we can choose to be better. If any of those opportunities had been taken, we would not need to be here today, but they have not been taken. It is why they need to be taken—dragged kicking and screaming, if need be—so that we can raise ourselves up and deliver on the promise of serving in this fine institution that our forebears and those who came before us sought to achieve. We can help to make this a kinder, gentler and more productive place for South Australians.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS (West Torrens) (17:17): I rise in opposition to this motion. Our Lord says, 'He who is without sin, cast the first stone.' Obviously, it seems that there are a lot of virtuous people sitting on the government benches who have done nothing wrong ever. I have to say, I found it pretty galling to be lectured by someone who had to resign his ministry because he had claimed money he was not entitled to. It is pretty galling, quite frankly.
The Hon. D.C. van Holst Pellekaan: He was exonerated.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: He was exonerated. So why did he pay the money back?
The Hon. D.C. van Holst Pellekaan: He was found innocent.
The SPEAKER: Order! The interjections—
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: There is a new category: you are found innocent.
Mr Knoll: Mate, you are a piece of work, an absolute piece of work.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I am a piece of work. Calling me a racist is okay?
The SPEAKER: Interjections on my right will cease.
Mr Knoll: You are perhaps the worst proponent of this in this place.
The SPEAKER: The member for Schubert will cease interjecting. Interjections on my right will cease, and the member for West Torrens will not respond to interjections. The member for West Torrens has the call.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I note that no-one has been ejected for those vile remarks to me. Anyway, I will not be lectured—
The SPEAKER: The member for West Torrens—
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: —by the Liberal Party on racism.
The SPEAKER: —has available to him the opportunity to raise a point of order should he wish.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I can take it.
The SPEAKER: The member for West Torrens has the call.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I would walk out, too, if I were you. Walk out.
An honourable member: Disgraceful.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I'm a disgrace, am I? I will not be lectured—
The SPEAKER: The member for West Torrens will not reflect upon the presence of any member in the house.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Sir, you sat quietly watching a member interject vile accusations towards me and you did nothing. Do not lecture me about not referencing members.
The SPEAKER: The member for West Torrens has the call.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Thank you, sir. I will not be lectured by the Liberal Party about racism. The racist taunts I have suffered in this place for the last 24 years at the hands of some members opposite have been appalling, with interjections like, 'Speak English.' The Attorney looks confused by it all. I will not be lectured by the Attorney or any member of the government about racism. I have suffered it from the moment I got here. They have attacked my family for the type of business that they have held, and they have attacked me for my apparent level of education. They have attacked my literacy and numeracy skills, they have attacked my intellect and they have attacked my ethnicity, yet here they are, lecturing me about racism. Really?
The Hon. V.A. Chapman: You're delusional.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Now I am delusional. There is more: it does not stop, it continues. The insults from the Attorney-General continue. Is it not fascinating when we look at what is actually on the agenda, which the government are ignoring while thinking that this event is more important than, for example, the establishment of a select committee on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health? They are delaying that. They are not interested in that; every chance they get, they adjourn it. What about the impacts of insecure work? What about the impacts of emergency management arrangements for the pandemic? What about modern slavery?
Mr Brown: The Attorney can't distract people with that one.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: That is right. Yes, we cannot possibly have a select committee on modern slavery. That would not be prudent, but an event that occurred seven years ago is worthy of government time and a select committee. I also point out to members that what the government is doing now is using its numbers as a majority to impose a select committee on the minority, something that has never been done before in this parliament's history—not once. Not once.
The precedent the government is now setting is that not only have they introduced a new precedent of voting down budget measures and budget bills—that is the first precedent they broke; the second precedent they broke was not honouring pairs—now they are going to be instituting inquiries into the opposition. What a wonderful legacy the Premier and the Attorney-General are leaving the House of Assembly. What a beautiful legacy they are leaving the people of South Australia: the idea that we can use this parliament with its awesome powers to investigate the minority.
Mr Brown: Whatever it takes.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: You talk about Graham Richardson and Whatever It Takes. There it is, in black and white: Whatever It Takes. Fancy this: an inquiry into a Labor Party candidate. That is a new precedent too. A Labor Party candidate is running; let's run a parliamentary inquiry into them. That is the new precedent, is it?
I notice that members opposite are shaking their heads, not quite sure what I am talking about. Well, let me say it again. When the majority attempts to institute an inquiry into the minority, that is an abuse of office, an abuse of power. That abuse of power has consequences, because the conventions of this place that have served us so well since Federation by and large have seen as through two world wars, depressions, recessions and political differences.
We have done the argy-bargy in here and we have got on with it, but now the government, which is on the brink of one of the biggest scandals in South Australian history, have decided that they are going to run an inquiry, as the mother of all distractions, into an event that occurred seven years ago. Fine, the precedent is set. The government think it is okay to investigate prospective Labor Party candidates. The government—the Liberal Party, that is—think it is okay to now hold investigations into the opposition and the minority. Fine, that is a wonderful precedent.
I have to ask members opposite if they fully comprehend what it is the Premier and the Attorney-General are asking them to do and what its consequences will be for future parliaments—the idea that the majority can do this. Let's take some hypotheticals. Perhaps one day the Liberal Party are no longer in government and they have the minority; perhaps they choose marginal candidates in marginal seats. What would stop the parliament from holding a select committee into that individual's business affairs or from holding an inquiry into that individual's personal life? These are dangerous, slippery slopes that have no place in this parliament, none whatsoever.
Quite frankly, the ultimate revenge for the member for Elder was that she defeated the former member for Elder and the democratic system worked. Take from that what you will; that is how democracy works. When people see the institutions of the parliament being used for personal political gain so opportunistically and so openly, it does not work.
It does not work when the government conducts investigations into its political opponents. It does not work—it never has. There is a good reason for why Tom Playford never did it, why Mr Tonkin never did it, why Dean Brown never did it, why John Olsen never did it. There are good reasons why Rob Kerin never did either: because it sets a precedent that comes back to haunt the governing party because more than often they do not remain the governing party forever.
That is why I will not be lectured about racism by members opposite. Have there been racist remarks made in pamphlets? I am sure, as the member for Lee said, the member for Elder was terribly offended by what Annabel Digance distributed in the seat of Elder, authorised by the Australian Labor Party. In 2014, she was defeated. I do not think she was defeated because of that pamphlet. I think she was defeated because the now Premier, then opposition leader, ran a poor campaign.
He ran a poor campaign because on the death knell of that election campaign he endorsed the Labor Party. I do not know what the consequences of that were throughout marginal seats across South Australia. You can focus on the pamphlet if you like, but the member for Elder took the loss, ran again and was successful and is contesting the election again, and we will see the outcome of that.
That is the process. But the idea that we will then somehow put aside all the important motions that we are moving about the business of the people to hold a select committee into the Liberal Party's political opponents because the Liberal Party currently is facing serious questions about its conduct in executive government in the way it is handling data, I think is appalling. So I will not be lectured by the member for Schubert one bit—not one bit.
I have sat here and heard the taunts get up. I do not like the taunts, I will not lie. I do not want my children to suffer those taunts. I think racist taunts are awful, but parliamentary committees are not a way to deal with racism. The way you deal with racism is to educate people on diversity and accept different cultures and welcome them. Investigating your political opponents under the guise of trying to stamp out racism will be seen for what it is: a political witch-hunt, where the Labor Party will be subjected to the full force of the power of this house by the majority, and that is an awesome power, and I think this motion is an abuse of that power. This motion is clearly designed to be a distraction and a political weapon against the minority opposition.
I also point out the government has been in office since 2018. There was no inquiry in 2018. The government in 2019 could have held a select committee; it chose not to. In 2020, even before the pandemic, it could have conducted a select committee; it chose not to. Now, because the Premier is under intense pressure because of the scandal involving data theft and data harvesting, he is a massive fan of a political inquiry into his political opponents—
Mr Brown: It's a distraction.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: As a distraction. It will be seen for that. Again, like the member for Lee said, when this is all over and this government shuffles off, whenever that is, whether it is 2022 or 2026, or whenever the people decide to change the government, the precedent has been set that it is okay for the ruling party to conduct an inquiry into the minority party. That is the precedent. The three precedents we have from this government in its first three years are: block budget bills and budget measures, do not support pairs and now conduct inquiries into the minority.
That is some legacy and, when I hear lectures about cherishing the institution of parliament, it gets a bit rich when I see that kind of abuse of the parliament by this committee. The government are even telling us who is going to be on it. They have already told us we will be the minority on the committee.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Members opposite agree: 'Yes, they should be.' We should be the minority, yes, of course. Why would you want a fair trial? Speaking of fair trials, let's see how fair the terms of reference are. Well, it is already a 'racist publication', so the committee does not need to decide whether it was a racist publication or not: the Liberal Party are telling us it is.
As to allegations of 'bullying and intimidation from ALP officials', apparently that has already occurred. In investigating 'the circumstances and persons responsible for the publication, including the commissioning, drafting, editing, design, proofing, printing, approval', obviously they want to call people in from the party office, haul them before an inquiry and start asking them questions under subpoena. Okay, that is the new precedent.
So, if the government do not submit to an independent inquiry on 'datagate' and data theft and they are unsuccessful at the election, this is the precedent. Why not? Why would the majority not then decide to hold an inquiry and call not only people involved in the theft of data but individual MPs because this house can call members of itself to select committees. Why would we not then call people who are sitting in the cabinet and demand that they reveal cabinet deliberations on 'datagate'? This new precedent is amazing in its depth and breadth.
Of course, when we get to that point, where will the current Premier be? Not here. Where will the Attorney-General be? Not here. It will be left to those brave souls who are left to pick up the pieces whenever opposition begins. It will be left to them. I say to the people who actually know what they are talking about in the Liberal Party—and that does not include the leadership group—the people who want to be here longer than just the next election: think about what it is you are being asked to do, and the precedent you are setting, and ask yourselves whether it is worth jumping off the cliff for the Deputy Premier and the Premier. Is it worth it?
Well, I suspect all 22 of them will say yes. They are all going to say yes and we will lose this vote and this select committee will be established. So now the precedent has been set: members of the majority can investigate the minority at will just because it suits them politically.
As for the member for Elder, personally I have a great deal of regard for her. As a person I think she is very nice and seems very generous. I do not agree with her politics and I do not like her policies, but individually I think she is a decent person. I am sorry for the way she has felt about all of this, and I can only imagine what she went through. To be fair, I have copped it as well and I have not held select committees when I could have into members who are still in this parliament who made racist remarks about me and, in my opinion, have lied about it when asked in the parliament.
But, nevertheless, that is politics. I have to be frank: I am not sure this actually serves the purposes of the member for Elder. The member for Elder has a campaign to run—
The Hon. V.A. Chapman: It's a democracy.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: 'It's a democracy,' the Attorney-General yells outs. Yes, the majority investigating the minority is all about democracy—yes, that's right.
The SPEAKER: Order, the Deputy Premier will not interject and especially not from a place other than her seat. I remind the member for West Torrens to resist the urge to respond to interjections. The member for West Torrens has the call.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Catch Tim being an excellent idea for a future inquiry. But, rather than flag that now, it is one of the many things we can think about.
Mr Brown: We'll check your personal finances why we're at it.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Well, yes, why not?
The SPEAKER: Member for Playford!
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Again, the Attorney-General does not realise the precedent she is setting. I assume that she is doing it to try to be a good loyal deputy to the Premier and is worried about how bad the Premier is performing on 'datagate' and how bad his contradictory answers are about redirection or harvesting and the fact that email databases are being used, probably collected by government resources.
We will get to the bottom of all this and find out who is responsible for it. It might well suit the Deputy Premier to have a vacancy at the top, who knows? I saw the Premier's face when the Deputy Premier said, 'Don't worry. The Privacy Committee responds to me.' That gave him lots of comfort I am sure—lots of comfort.
This committee is a sham. It is a political stunt by a government that has gone from majority to minority status. It is still larger than us, but we will see how the crossbench votes. My guess is that most of them will abstain because they will want no part of this dodgy arrangement. The government will establish its committee. It will investigate the Labor Party, use the awesome powers of this parliament against it, set that precedent in stone and the Labor Party will return it in spades.
The Hon. V.A. Chapman interjecting:
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: The Attorney just said, 'Is that a threat?' No, that is the new reality, like budget measures being blocked, like pairs not being honoured. When you break down the conventions of this institution, you break down the institution. The conventions are what make it work, not standing orders—with all due respect to the table clerks. Standing orders can only do so much. In the end, it is the conventions of the parliament that make us operate, and when you trash those conventions you trash the house.
Anyone can make the parliament unworkable—anyone can. We have to work together. This will make the parliament unworkable all because the government is having a bad week. Well, short-term thinking will be returned. It is just a silly, childish, undergraduate, university-style tactic that you would expect more from the Labor Club or the Liberal Club at Adelaide University. But the Attorney-General will carry the day. She will get what she wants but, as the old saying goes: be careful what you wish for; you just might get it.
Ms LUETHEN (King) (17:36): I rise to support this motion because the attack on the member for Elder was racist, it was hurtful, it was unacceptable, and those responsible need to be held to account. I believe it is one more example of how Labor Party members treat women.
My experience has been that they will do anything to win. They lie constantly, and why do they do this? Why not rely on winning seats and debates based on good policy that could win support in the community? No, instead they choose over and over again to bully, harass, lie and mislead the people of South Australia. The bullies need to be held accountable, and that is why we need this committee.
Even though the Labor Party currently has more women in the House of Assembly, what I see is a serious problem with women, and I want to use this time to share some of my observations. I am a marginal seat holder, and everyone knows it because the media talk about this all the time. Since winning King in 2018 and entering this place, I have experienced relentless harassment in the house from Labor Party members when I speak.
Members of the Labor Party spent the first year yelling at me as I gave every one of my speeches in this place. They still do it, but not every time. My colleague the member for Newland is also a marginal seat holder, but he has not been yelled at and interrupted in the same way. Why is that? My guess is it is because he is not a woman.
My belief is that the Labor Party thought if they could yell at me, stalk me, intimidate me, put misinformation about me constantly into people's letterboxes, they could break me and drive me from this parliament, from this role representing my community. Because I am a woman, and because I am a survivor of abuse, they thought I was weak. Well, they were wrong: my adversity has made me passionate for change, passionate to stop bullies.
That is not to say that being intimidated, yelled at and stalked is acceptable or does not take its toll. It does, but I am still here because I have a great team around me on this side who support me, who tell me to keep going. I was elected to serve, and I want to fight for a safer South Australia. That is why I am still here—because I have been elected by my community. I am very sure our community would agree that the behaviour that happened in the Elder campaign and the behaviour that happens in here are not acceptable.
In what other workplace does a person get yelled at nonstop when they talk? I want to call out just one of these occasions. During one grieve I delivered in this place, some of the regulars from the Labor Party who normally would yell at me had departed the chamber. The leader of the Labor Party remained, and on this occasion the leader took up the job of constantly interrupting and yelling at me, so much so that the Deputy Speaker had to ask me to sit down while he asked the leader to stop. I shared this particular video on Facebook.
This is the culture I have seen across this chamber and it needs to stop. Labor Party, you need to treat women better. There are plenty of issues that need fixing in this state after a diabolical 16 years of Labor, and I ask the Labor Party to stop their bullying and harassment of people. I urge them to use their time to develop valuable policy to solve problems in our state so that the South Australian community has a better future.
The March 4 Justice in Adelaide called for change. It called for more respectful behaviour. It called for an end to male privilege. We are calling for change by calling for this committee. I am asking for change. Let us move forward with sound policy and debate and identify common ground that is good for South Australians. Identifying what will benefit South Australians and debating the best way to achieve this is what we have been elected for.
Today, the member for West Torrens has been interrupting and name-calling while our Attorney-General spoke and put forward her argument for this committee to examine how to put a stop to bullying, harassment and racism. Again, the Labor Party behaviour is shameful. It is shameful today. They just do not get it. But it is time for change and I ask them to listen and work with us. I believe the people who represent the community in this place should be people passionate about the best outcomes for South Australians and for South Australia.
Today, as the member for Lee made his contribution he made personal attacks on the Attorney-General throughout his debate. This is why we are pursuing this option: to call out the people who are responsible for the terrible treatment of women. I believe that people in this place should be of different genders, different cultural backgrounds and different beliefs to best represent the diversity and lived experienced there in our community today. All those people from different backgrounds need voices in decision-making.
People who are candidates and people who are members do not deserve to be bullied and harassed. There is no place for it in this place. As community leaders, we should be demonstrating tolerance and respectful behaviour. This is why I support this motion: to find ways to help this place set a better standard for behaviour and treatment of individuals who represent or attempt to represent their community. To give the community the best chance to choose the right representatives, we must create a clear, respectful place for people to speak, for people to be heard and for us to identify where the common ground is—the best outcomes for South Australians.
Parliamentary debate and campaigning should not be this brutal. On our side, we are not brutal. We do not apply the same tactics as the Labor Party. I have had a candidate running against me for a little while now and a few people in the community have asked me about her. I have not once attacked her. If people ask me what she is like, I tell them to get in contact with her and ask her what she is about.
I have been elected by my community to work hard and that is what I attempt to do every day. That is my focus, and in the end, in 2022 at the next election, it will be the community's choice to make a decision about who will work the hardest to represent them in this place. That is all it is about. Let's not let the lies of Labor continue. You did it again this week: bald lies on your social media. People in my community want to hear how you will help them achieve their ambitions, not how many lies you can tell.
I support this motion and hope it will result in a way to identify and weed out those in the Labor Party who need to be held to account for their unfair racist behaviour and ongoing harassment of women.
The Hon. L.W.K. BIGNELL (Mawson) (17:44): I rise just briefly to say that I do not support this select committee. I think it is a red herring to get away from the real problem that this state faces, which is the betrayal of the trust that people put in the Premier and the government when they go onto websites. I think that might be behind this.
I want to rise today to apologise to the member for Elder for things that happened in 2014. I did not have anything to do with the pamphlet that went out—I was busy running my own campaign in 2014—but I do have sympathy and empathy for what you went through. These things are called shit sheets and they are called shit sheets for a reason. I think both sides of parliament over the years have done them. I certainly had one out on me in the 2018 campaign in that final week, though it was nowhere near as harmful to my personality and to my person as the one to you.
As a member of the Labor Party, I want to apologise to you. I think you are a very decent person. You are the only member in this place who sent my dog Dusty a Christmas card last year and you will always be held in high esteem for doing that. I think we do need to be better. We do get a bit combative in here. I must apologise to the environment minister for some of the things that we have had a bit of a crack at each other over when we have become a bit fired up over the years. I thought we actually got some good stuff done in estimates this year.
One of the best things I think I have done in politics and the thing I got the biggest feedback from was that, 15 minutes after the polling booths closed for the 2018 election, Andy Gilfillan and I sat down at the front bar of the Alma Hotel in Willunga and had a beer together. We had been going toe to toe for 18 months, but we did not have any real blues out on the election campaign. He did not have anything to do with the shit sheet that was put out about me in that final week and I knew that. He said words to that effect the Thursday before the election and I said, 'Look, mate, no offence taken.'
I know you were offended by the publication that was put out in your electorate in 2014. I think we can all do better, but I do not think we need a select committee to work out that we need to do better. I think the events of the past few months that we have seen in federal parliament and the report that was tabled in this house just a few weeks ago are a bit of a warning to all of us that we all need to lift our game, but I do not think we need a select committee. Thank you for your time and, again, my apologies to the member for Elder for those events in 2014.
The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS (Black—Minister for Environment and Water) (17:47): I appreciate the opportunity to rise in support of the creation of this select committee here in the House of Assembly. I rise today not as the member for Black and not as the Minister for Environment and Water but as a long-term friend of the member for Elder. She and I met in November 2010 when we were both sworn in as councillors in the City of Marion. We have known each other now for more than a decade. Our birthdays are in the same week—she is older than me—and we take an annual birthday photograph and compare the impact that politics has had on us year on year.
The Hon. D.C. van Holst Pellekaan: She's doing better than you.
The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS: Is she, though? I don't know. She is not a minister yet. The fact is that we have walked the journey of public life together not as colleagues but as exceptionally good friends and close friends for a decade. We have supported each other through a number of difficult events in both our lives during the past decade. It is a pleasure to be able to call her a close personal friend and to have formed a similar friendship with her husband, Brad, who is in the gallery today. I saw firsthand the tremendously negative impact that the flyer distributed by the Labor Party in the 2014 state election campaign had on the member for Elder at the time. She is someone whose resilience is greater than almost anyone else I know, but I saw the trauma that this flyer caused.
The fact is that it was a direct racist attack on her heritage and culture and on the family she is so close to and is so shaped by, and the bonds with her family. I know her family, I know her mum and dad as well. I saw how this flyer was distributed with the aim of costing her votes by tying her heritage to Middle Eastern terrorism. I have no doubt about that. The opposition continually say that it was not meant to be racist—it absolutely was. If it was not meant to be racist there would be a flyer that said 'Can you trust Speirs?' distributed in the seat of Bright.
We often forget the issue that was beyond the racism in this flyer, and that was the raising of council rates, something that the member for Elder and I voted against when were on the City of Marion council. However, council rates did rise while we were on the council and that flyer was positioned to undermine trust in the member for Elder, a candidate at the time, based on her vote.
Why was there not one distributed in the seat of Bright with tartan in the background and Scottish hills and sheep and things like that? That would not have had the same impact because it was not about the council rate rises: it was about trying to draw negative connotations between the member for Elder's heritage, her Lebanese heritage, her Middle Eastern heritage, and the voters' perceptions of our candidate in the seat of Elder in the 2014 state election.
What that demonstrated was a dark underbelly in the Labor Party of South Australia. Members of the Labor Party may chuckle and they may stand with their arms folded and arrogantly give a confected apology, as we saw on the weekend from Reggie Martin. There was no sincerity in that apology, in my view. I have no doubt that he was commanded by the leadership of the party to get out there and try to take the heat out of this because the former member for Elder, Annabel Digance, had gone feral on them.
That is exactly what had happened. I do not believe that the former member for Elder, Annabel Digance, was as innocent as she makes out in this but perhaps through this select committee there will be an opportunity to hear her side of the story and to question her. Perhaps she will have more to say about the fear and the intimidation and the bullying that she believes and she claims occurred to her personally at the hands of the bullyboys in Labor.
They are not my words and that is not my interpretation. I listened to the 891 interview a few days ago and I heard the words from Annabel Digance. Annabel was someone I knew in a professional sense, having a seat that was fairly close to hers and also having spent four years as a colleague in the House of Assembly with her. I have no reason to disbelieve that Annabel Digance was bullied or was fearful and was intimidated by bullies within the Labor Party. That is what Annabe Digance has put on the public record now. Perhaps in the coming weeks she will have the opportunity or she will desire to put out more information about who treated her poorly and where that came from.
Let me say that the racist attack on the current member for Elder in the 2014 state election was not the only horrendous behaviour that occurred in that campaign towards the member for Elder. It actually occurred in the 2018 election as well. I think one of the bravest things that the member for Elder did—and it is a testament to her resilience—was actually run the gauntlet again in 2018 and win that seat from the Labor Party. Because she was treated so appallingly in 2014, to front up again and to seek to represent her community again was a phenomenal exercise in strength and resilience.
The member for Elder ran again in 2018, despite what had gone before in the 2014 election. It was not just the racist attacks. She was bullied, she was followed and she was videoed by Annabel Digance's husband, Greg, on numerous occasions throughout that campaign. He creepily followed her around on election day with his iPhone held up. It was misogynistic behaviour, no doubt about that. She was harassed. She was called names.
She was threatened throughout the campaign, again by Greg Digance on numerous occasions but also by an employee within the office of Annabel Digance, a long-term employee of the South Australian Labor Party whose name sadly escapes me, but hopefully someone else will provide his name so it goes onto the public record and is recorded in Hansard. My point is that this was a racist attack. This was a calculated attack created by Mr Picton, approved by Reggie Martin and concocted by the Labor Party of South Australia with one aim: to attack the heritage and the family lines of the member for Elder. That is a cruel, disgusting, disgraceful episode in South Australia's political history.
I am so glad that the member for Elder stood in 2018. She stood up to the bullies. She endured the behaviour of Annabel and Greg Digance again. She put up with the continued creepy stalking of Labor Party members right through that 2018 campaign and she won her seat. And today she represents her community with dignity, decency, creativity and pride. The constituents of the seat of Elder should be immensely proud to have someone like the member for Elder standing up for their interests, and I hope that this select committee can get to the bottom of the cruel, dark underbelly of the South Australian Labor Party.
The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Premier, Attorney-General, Minister for Planning and Local Government) (17:58): I thank all members for their contributions on this motion. I think there is an important matter of principle here. We do need to get to the bottom of this issue and we do need to set another standard. I thank all members for their contribution, and I thank those from the Labor Party—and there were several speakers—who acknowledged that the behaviour from the Australian Labor Party was suboptimal, not appropriate and clearly did cause personal harm and hurt to the now member for Elder. It was unforgivable treatment. I do urge members to support this motion.
The house divided on the motion:
|Basham, D.K.B.||Chapman, V.A.||Cowdrey, M.J.|
|Cregan, D.||Duluk, S.||Gardner, J.A.W.|
|Harvey, R.M. (teller)||Knoll, S.K.||Luethen, P.|
|Marshall, S.S.||McBride, N.||Murray, S.|
|Patterson, S.J.R.||Pisoni, D.G.||Power, C.|
|Sanderson, R.||Speirs, D.J.||Tarzia, V.A.|
|Treloar, P.A.||van Holst Pellekaan, D.C.||Whetstone, T.J.|
|Bedford, F.E.||Bettison, Z.L.||Bignell, L.W.K.|
|Boyer, B.I.||Brown, M.E. (teller)||Close, S.E.|
|Cook, N.F.||Gee, J.P.||Hildyard, K.A.|
|Hughes, E.J.||Koutsantonis, A.||Malinauskas, P.|
|Michaels, A.||Mullighan, S.C.||Odenwalder, L.K.|
|Picton, C.J.||Stinson, J.M.||Szakacs, J.K.|
|Pederick, A.S.||Piccolo, A.|