REFERENDUM (APPROPRIATION AND SUPPLY) BILL

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 15 October 2015.)

Ms CHAPMAN ( Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (17:13): Deputy Speaker, you will be pleased to know that I am the lead speaker on this bill, and that—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: We will stop the clock immediately.

Ms CHAPMAN: —the thickness of my file does not indicate the length of the address that I am about to give. I think that you will be pleasantly surprised that it will be relatively short—I will not say relative to what. Let me just address the Referendum (Appropriation and Supply) Amendment Bill 2015, and I think I can say for the purposes of the following bill, which is also seeking to provide that there be a referendum held to deal with this matter, that it will be the same as the Referendum (Deadlocks) Amendment Bill 2015.

In short, the Constitution Act 1934, which the government's two preceding bills hope to provide for, is to be amended. However, that act provides that certain bills cannot be presented to the Governor for assent until they have been approved at a referendum. So, even if we were happy to move by majority through this house and move by majority in the Legislative Council the passage of the two substantive bills that we have just been dealing with and which have been adjourned off for further consideration, we as a parliament could not even ask the Governor to exercise his powers to assent to those bills until we had had approval from the people of South Australia by way of referendum. So, if there is to be any advance of these bills, it will be necessary for these bills to also pass.

The opposition's position is clear on both the appropriation and supply and deadlock amendment bills, if I can summarise them as follows. We oppose them and, accordingly, we also oppose these consequential bills, if I can also describe them as that. However, this is where it becomes quite interesting, because although the government have presented this reform before our parliament for the third time in the time I have been here for either the abolition or undermining and stripping of powers of the Legislative Council, I do not think even this time they are serious.

I think they are keen to take up our time in the chamber to deal with these matters. I think they are keen to try to present to the people of South Australia that they are concerned about proper governance and legislative process and looking to always improve our parliamentary structures, but the truth is that this is all a diversion. This is all a diversion from the real issues they should be addressing and the substantive content of those I have dealt with in the previous bill.

How can I justify the assertion that the government are not even serious about advancing this legislation, that they know full well that it will take up our time this week and in a couple of weeks, and over the forthcoming month or so it will take up time in the other place? Because of the published commitment of a number of crossbenchers in the other place, these substantive reforms will not go any further than this parliament. We are never ever going to go to the people of South Australia and ask them to deal with a referendum.

To try to pretend to do that, they have introduced these bills, but these bills are so sloppy. If I were to read the Referendum (Deadlocks) Bill 2015 (either one, because they have just changed a few words in each), it suggests that when the parliament has dealt with the principal bill it then be submitted for referendum of the electors of the House of Assembly and, secondly, that the question to be put to electors in the referendum is, 'Do you approve the Constitution (Deadlocks) Amendment Bill 2015?' If that is not the laziest description of what would be put in a bill as to what is going to be presented to the people of South Australia, I do not know what is.

Of course they would not be putting a statement like that on a ballot paper which was going to comprise the referendum of constitutional reform—of course not. There would have to be a prepared explanatory note of the arguments for and against—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: In simple English.

Ms CHAPMAN: In simple English, as the Deputy Speaker points out. They would have to explain the nature of what is being sought, namely as to what process occurs now, what process is proposed to change and, as I say, the arguments for and against so that the prospective voter can make an informed judgement about whether this reform is good or bad, or an improvement that in any event is going to have their support or otherwise. This is a very lazy description.

If that was not the most obvious indication of the fact that the government have no expectation that they are ever going to a referendum with this bill, when one looks at the Budget Measures Statement of the 2015-16 budget, which was delivered on 18 June 2015, it makes provision for the 2015-16 financial year. On pages 30 and 31 of Budget Paper 5, details of the budget initiatives for the Electoral Commission are published for 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19. If there was to be a referendum, one would expect to see a provision of expenditure, if not in the 2015-16 financial year, then in the following forward estimates.

As the government have, in the bill before us, identified the Electoral Commission of South Australia as the agency which would be responsible for conducting the referendum, we would probably expect to see it on page 30 as an investing initiative, or even as a revenue measure, but it is not there. There is reference to an investing initiative for this financial year and the 2016-17 financial year of about $1.1 million in total to deal with an upgrade of the Electoral Commission's information systems.

There is no question they have planned extra expenditure for the Electoral Commission, but it relates to that. Indeed, on page 31 they even provide a breakdown of that initiative which clearly relates to an initiative of:

…over two years for the replacement or upgrade of the Electoral Commission’s systems that support the efficient operation of state and local government elections.

As we expect with the Budget Measures Statement, it tells us what extra money might be needed for extraordinary expenditure, or, alternatively, some investing initiatives, which we used to call capital projects. As I said, it gives us some information about that.

There is also a small amount of $50,000 in the 2018-19 financial year for the replacement of election equipment. There is no reference whatsoever in the forthcoming forward estimates of any provision for a referendum. When one goes to the agency statements in Volume 2 of the 2015-16 budget papers, it sets out, under Electoral Commission of South Australia, a number of different programs which are planned for expenditure in this area. Again, there is no reference to the preparation for or implementation of a referendum by the Electoral Commission as a necessary expenditure, which they would budget for, even as a contingency.

It is quite reasonable that governments would qualify the publication of any proposed expenditure with a footnote identifying it as a contingency if, of course, it required the passage of legislation. Frequently, even in this place, we find provisions made in the budgets for expenditure or capital projects which do require legislation change by this parliament, but the government treats the parliament as though it is going to happen anyway. If I were to take a completely uncontroversial item, it would be, for example, the Government House Precinct Land Dedication Bill 2015, which I think, as we have already seen, has the legislative requirements to go with it to be able to remove a piece of Government House to facilitate a commemorative ANZAC walk—

Mr Duluk: And they introduced the legislation after they started work.

Ms CHAPMAN: That's right. And although all the legislation is still pending, the public works of the parliament have reviewed it and they have approved it. They have in fact knocked down the fence at Government House. They have started to build it. Everyone is in agreement, and as I was saying to someone earlier, unless the Governor were to walk out and put up his own electric fence and stop the bulldozers coming in, no-one is going to interfere with that project, I wouldn't have thought.

I make the point that from time to time, though, there would be a situation where, if it was contingent upon legislation—say, for example, they found that there needed to be some approval obtained from a national body and that was not forthcoming and the project faltered as a result— the money would be no longer required, so it would be presumably left in general revenue and never applied. I make this point: there was ample opportunity in the forward estimates, as it is published for the budget, for that agency to add it as a contingency and to make provision of an estimated cost. Again, it is not there.

The third document I went to was the Electoral Commission of South Australia's annual report for 2014-15. I thank Mr David Gully, who is the acting electoral commissioner, for the publication of his report, of which he provided a copy to the Attorney-General on 30 September 2015. Let me qualify that: he forwarded a letter to the Attorney, enclosing a copy of his report, with a letter dated 30 September 2015.

I think it is reasonable for us to assume that as he signed that letter and caused a copy of that report to be published on the Electoral Commission's website, that he did indeed convey this report to the Attorney. I thank him for that, because, notwithstanding that the Attorney-General, it appears, has never tabled that annual report in the parliament. We are now into the end of the first week of sitting in the following year, and we still have not had, as a parliament, not just the courtesy, but the compliance with the law by the Attorney, of having that report tabled.

We have done a search here in the parliament, and if for any reason it has been lodged and not in some way been registered, I will be the first to apologise to the Attorney, but I make the point that he has not, so far, on the search that has been made, so we are especially grateful to Mr Gully for at least putting it up on his website as a full report on the activities of that preceding year. Because this was legislation that was introduced in October last year, that is, the month after this report had been signed off, it is reasonable to expect, I suggest, that if the Attorney-General was intending to progress constitutional reform, he would have had the documents prepared.

Advice would have gone to the Electoral Commission of the intention of the government to move legislative amendments in the form of these bills, that it would require a referendum, and that for the purposes of him even taking it to cabinet for approval to progress these reforming bills he would have had to present to cabinet an estimate of the cost of implementation of referendums of the nature necessary to support these bills. He would need cabinet approval, I would have thought, for them to say yes, we will approve you having the funds contingent upon the legislation passing for whatever it is to be: $10 million, $20 million, $30 million. I do not know what the cost of a referendum is.

There is obviously the cost of preparation, as I say, of the explanatory documents for circulation for the convening of public meetings, the costs of advertising and giving notice to the public, and the opportunity to debate and ask questions about what is being asked. Secondly, there is the voting exercise where those who have a franchise in elections, which is anyone over the age of 18 years in South Australia—and there are a few disqualifying factors, of course, under the act, but those on the electoral roll—can have a vote.

I am assuming also that this would be a cheaper exercise if that referendum were to take place on the same day as a general election because of the opportunity to distribute and cast and collect votes along with the voting in the general election. I am assuming also that, because there are two bills, and two referenda are required, both questions could be on the same referendum paper for the purpose of casting a vote. Again, that would surely be cheaper than having two separate ballots and the like.

Nowhere in any of the documents which cover forward estimates—which would cover the period in which the government would be expecting to have a referendum, even if it were to take place in March 2018, which is when our next election takes place, and it would have to show up as some cost between now and the 2017-18 financial year—is there one reference to it. There is not one dollar allocated to it, and there is no indication at all of that. I think it is important for us to know from the government when they present this type of legislation to us what the cost of a referendum would be.

As legislators, I think we are entitled to have some information about that. We get a one-page second reading explanation from the Attorney-General for why we have to have a referendum if the substantive law passes, but there is not one piece of information in it which identifies what the cost of this exercise would be. I am one of these people who look at this whole question of what price justice; what price democracy? It is important that we follow proper process. Sometimes that is expensive; democracy is an expensive way of governing, but often it has been said since Winston Churchill, 'It's the best we've got. Not all that perfect, but it's the best we've got.'

It would be a lot cheaper if Mr Weatherill or some other premier just made the statement and issued the edict signed in blood, and that would be the new law. But, of course, we would not be living in the free state of South Australia with the right to be able to participate in our future and the rules and regulations which bind us, and we probably would not want to live here if we had to live under the hand of premiers who could simply write the laws on their own.

It is expensive, but we ought to know and have that before us. Before we progress this bill to the third reading, although I have clearly indicated that the opposition will be opposing these referenda bills, I think it is incumbent on the government to come clean about what it would cost to undertake these referenda. Some estimate, even something from the Electoral Commission as an estimate, would be helpful. As I say, I do not have a clue. It is so long since we have had a referendum. I remember we had some successful ones federally for recognition—

Mr Duluk: The republic was a successful one for the monarchists.

Ms CHAPMAN: Yes. Again, that federal referendum was the last one I had any involvement in. I must say I am a republican, so I would not say that was a successful outcome, but I did participate in what were national roadshows at the time, dealing with public meetings and obviously the printing and publication of journals and literature and pamphlets and articles surrounding the 'for and against' arguments of the reform as to whether we would retain the monarch as our head of the commonwealth. In her role as the Queen of Australia, she had that role in our national constitution.

My recollection is that that was a fairly expensive exercise but, of course, it was also coupled with a number of conventions in Canberra and there were round table gatherings. I can remember sitting at a table with the late Gough Whitlam and Mr Wayne Goss, who was a former Labor premier from Queensland. We were in one of these little subgroups at a round table conference in respect of the agenda. So they can be fairly expensive exercises and we ought to know what they are going to cost.

Before we get to the third reading, if the Attorney were to forward some estimates prior to the resumption of debate, I will certainly put it to our party room. I do not think for one moment it is actually going to change our position on it. It might resolve us even stronger, if it is very expensive, as to whether that would be justified, on his whim, regarding the potential of a risk of misuse of power in the Legislative Council in the future as being sufficient to warrant having the referenda. Nevertheless, it is something that we should certainly be provided with. I invite the Attorney to forward that during the further adjournment of this legislation.