Thursday, 2 December 2021 HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY Page 8726 – 8730
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart—Deputy Premier, Minister for Energy and Mining) (16:39): I move:
That the house at its rising today adjourn until Tuesday 3 May 2022 at 11am.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Is that seconded?
An honourable member: Yes, sir.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: It has been seconded.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS (West Torrens) (16:40): Sir, I have an amendment. I move:
That the house at its adjournment reconvene on Tuesday 14 December 2021.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The amendment has been seconded, so I will accept that.
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: I move:
That the time for debate on the amendment be limited to 10 minutes on each side.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Minister, you can limit the total time for the debate to 20 minutes, but you are not able to specify 10 minutes for each side. It is semantics, I know, but could you move that, please?
The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Yes, sir. I move:
That the time for debate on the amendment be limited to 20 minutes in total.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Member for West Torrens, you can speak to your amendment.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Thank you, sir. It is a pathetic move by a pathetic government, by a frightened Premier who is afraid of scrutiny.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order!
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: The Leader of the Opposition is isolated in his house by state government regulations. Here we are, the parliament, and we were scheduled to have a question time today which the government had said would be the last question time before the election, yet the leader of the Labor Party, the alternative Premier of this state, and the alternative Deputy Premier of this state are abiding by SA Health guidelines to stay at home, and what does the government do? The government says, ‘Well, bad luck.’ So much for a representative democracy. So much for the ability to have a full and frank exchange of ideas in the lead-up to the election.
The Leader of the Opposition has agreed to every debate with the Premier. The Premier has not. We want to have a contest of ideas. We want to hold the government to account. The Manager of Government Business did offer the opposition the opportunity to come back on 14 December on the proviso I agreed that would be the last sitting day. The opposition will not be held ransom to demands or bullied. We reserve the right for the parliament to sit. We will not be intimidated or bullied into any course of action that we believe does not serve the best interests of the people of this state.
Oppositions are here for a reason. The reason we are here is to hold the government to account. We are in the middle of a global pandemic. We are facing mutations of this disease that went from the initial COVID virus that has mutated into Delta, and now we are seeing the Omicron variant spread through Australia. We do not know what is ahead of us. The Premier today said with this most recent Norwood cluster, ‘We’ve got this.’ Well, we will see.
What the Premier is doing is shutting down the ability for us to question, critique and scrutinise the government’s decisions in the most important period in South Australia’s history since the Second World War. We are in the middle of a global pandemic and ministers want to take a five-month holiday. The worst part about that is that with what we are seeking to do, our leader and deputy leader cannot be here because of the guidelines set out by the government itself. Think about that for a moment.
The opposition leader is in his house in isolation because the government of the day say that is the appropriate thing to do. What we are saying is that isolation period ends on 14 December— depending on the result of other tests—so that is the most prudent time to have the Leader of the Opposition back here in the parliament, but the government is saying no. Let that sink in for a moment, what the government is attempting to do.
That is why the Premier scurried out of here. He does not want to be accountable for the decisions he is making. He is terrified of the Leader of the Opposition. He is terrified of who he is and what he stands for. He is terrified of the contrast with him. He is terrified of the questions that will be asked by him. He is terrified of being in the same room with him.
I implore the crossbench and those who are up in their offices listening to this: whatever assurances and guarantees you have given the government, yesterday changed everything. The opposition leader cannot come here today to participate in question time. The opposition leader is in isolation and the government is trying to shut down parliament.
Let’s not be overly dramatic about this. The opposition leader will get out of isolation. He has tested negative. He is a fit, healthy young man. He has been double-vaccinated, he has followed all the advice from SA Health and he will be back in this parliament ready to go on 14 December. Why not adjourn until 2pm on that date and have the question time we were meant to have today between the Premier and the alternative premier of this state before the election?
What is wrong with that in a representative democracy? What is to fear? There is nothing to fear, unless you are a cowardly, inward-looking dilettante who cannot govern, who is terrified of scrutiny. This is the worst tradition of the Westminster system.
In question time today, the Deputy Premier said, ‘Well, the Labor Party, and indeed I myself, moved adjournment motions that were of a similar length to this.’ I point out to the Deputy Speaker and the house that they were agreed to by the then opposition. We were not in a global pandemic when things were changing daily. We were not in a period when the state had its borders shut or having other states shut their borders to us.
There is confusion about the matrix and how it works. Today, members were asking questions for assurance of their local businesses about how this works as the Premier and the government introduce COVID-19 into South Australia—deliberately, intentionally. I would have thought that now is the most important time in our history to be open. Those who have come before us have sat during wars, pandemics, depressions, recessions, disasters, and stood there and answered questions.
How easy is it for the government to avoid scrutiny by not sitting? It is very easy. There is no reason at all for the government not to accept this. If you believe in representative democracy and you believe in scrutiny, if you believe in fairness, given that the opposition leader is not here today for the last question time the fair thing to do is give the opposition a question time with our leader at our helm. That is what the people of South Australia demand.
The idea that the government can just brush that away because the Premier is terrified of the contrast is unfair. It is unfair because it shows the arrogance of the government and how they view this place and this parliament. So I say to crossbench members who are considering voting with the government to shut down parliament for five months: you do your constituents a disservice.
Policies will be made between now and the election. We are not heading into caretaker mode. Those policies will impact constituencies, especially the border electorates, and those border electorates, more than any, need representation here in the parliament.
I think the motive of the government is one of fear. I could be wrong, but I suspect there is something that might happen or is about to happen or is underway that they are afraid of being publicised. I do not know what it is, but you get the sense that there is something not quite right in the government. There is something that they are trying to keep a lid on. I do not know what it is.
I am not quite sure that any South Australian watching this debate or hearing about this debate would think it is prudent to shut the parliament down for five months. I do not think that they do. I do not think any South Australian thinks that parliament should not sit; in fact, I think it upsets them because of the massive cost politicians are on the taxpayer. They would have thought, ‘Well, parliamentarians, where do they belong? They belong in parliament.’ That is our job.
The parliament traditionally does rise around Christmas time before an election, or just before Christmas time with an optional week. We decided to sit the optional week, and within that optional week we have lost the ability to have our leader and deputy leader here for that question time. I say to the members opposite that the tyranny of minority ultimately is imposed on those who exercise the tyranny of the majority because what happens then is that every time precedents are set and conventions are broken they are returned in spades.
That might not bother some members who are not planning a long political career, but I say to the younger members: what they are witnessing is a breach of the conventions and standards that this parliament has had for a long period of time. I imagine the Deputy Premier wishes to speak for 10 minutes.
The Hon. D.C. van Holst Pellekaan: No, you are welcome to continue.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Thank you. The conventions set by this parliament are important to be kept. Over the length and breadth of the time the member for Dunstan has been leader of the Liberal Party, we have seen a number of conventions trashed in this parliament. The first one is, of course, budget measures, and that has now set in place forever and a day the amendment of budget measures.
Then there was the not honouring of pairs. We have decided that we believe in that system of conventional parliamentary arrangements and we honour pairs. Indeed, Mr Deputy Speaker, your good self, with some personal tragedy in your family, sought a pair and it was granted. Then, to show the honour of the opposition, when you wished to have a say and a vote by electronic means, that was granted. We at no stage attempted to silence the minority, as it were, on the committee investigating the then Deputy Premier. Then, when the Deputy Speaker decided to return as a good loyal soldier to vote for the end of the sessional orders, the opposition did not cry foul.
What we are asking for today is fair. Our leader and our deputy are not here. Today was the last question time. Rather than our leader being able to argue the points and then at the end of the day close out the Fifty-Fourth Parliament with remarks—thanking the staff and talking about the election in the new year, as all leaders of the opposition have done as parliament closes—the government seeks to deny him that. He should be here, but he cannot be, so we should return at a time when he can be here to make those remarks, to set out our agenda, to ask those questions and to keep the government to account. So I do not accept the government’s argument. It is undemocratic. It is unrepresentative and it is cowardly.
I do not think there are many members opposite who agree with the Premier’s tactics. I think there are many who think it is cowardly. Why be fearful of a question time? Confident, outwardlooking governments do not fear scrutiny. Confident, outward-looking governments are not afraid of contrasts with the opposition. This government are—terrified of it, absolutely terrified of it—and they should be. They should be worried because this government—plagued by scandal, plagued by resignations, plagued by controversy—
Ms Bedford: Plagued by plague.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Plagued by plague—cannot make a reasoned argument for re-election, so what they hope to do is to press the reset button by stopping the parliament.
The parliament is where they have done exceptionally poorly because it is in here we have discovered the travel scandals. It is in here we have discovered the conflicts and the misleading. It is in here that has caused the resignations and the internal infighting. So what the Premier is attempting to do, in my opinion, is to shut the parliament down in the hope people forget. What people will remember, what we will remind people of, is that ministers who are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money are shutting the parliament down for a period of five months, that parliamentarians do not want to come to work. We do. We want to be here.
To think that they want to shut it down for five months during a global pandemic, I think the people of South Australia will see through that and they will see the disgraceful behaviour. We will see, I think, that mentioned in many a marginal seat throughout the election campaign. I am very disappointed that the government would not allow the opposition leader to have the last question time, even if it was this year. With those remarks, I yield to my good friend the member for Frome to close out the opposition and crossbench’s argument for more sitting time.
The Hon. G.G. BROCK (Frome) (16:57): First up, I have been vocal about having to close parliament down for five months and I do not hide from the fact. The issue is that we are here to serve the people of South Australia.
The government in question time today—basically, I got a barrage from the other side about why should I ask a question, in comparison with previous years. I can say to the members here and to the crossbench members and to the members of the government that in previous years, in 2013, 2017 and other years, we did not have a pandemic. We have a pandemic here at the moment. We have the outbreak of 19 cases today from what I understand. We have people in isolation. People are looking for leadership and they are looking for security. They are looking for people to be there in their time of need.
Five months is a long, long time. Normally we come back in February, but with an election in March, or whenever the federal government are going to do it, then we basically have two months after that. We are not going to be here to serve the people of South Australia in a time of need. They are looking for leadership, quite frankly, and I have people in droves saying to me from all over South Australia, even from Adelaide when I walk down from the unit in Henley Beach, ‘What the hell is going on with the parliament? Are you there serving the people of our communities and the state, or are you serving the people of yourselves—in other words, looking after yourselves?’
These are the questions they are asking because the borders have been opened up overseas; are members of this parliament here taking trips overseas? I am saying, ‘I can’t answer that question.’ I would love to be able to have a couple of months off myself, but at the end of the day, like other members in this house we have people continually coming into our office about the uncertainty about the matrix, about coming back from over the borders. They are looking for leadership for goodness sake. People are looking for us to be there in a time of need.
In the times of war, did our previous leaders go and hide? Did they stay home? No. We have to be there for the good and the bad of the times. I know that we are in a trying period of time, but we need to be there for those people. I have people every day ask me—and they are not my supporters; they are supporters of the government—’What is going on? Why are they trying to close the parliament down for five months?’
I have said before that we should be sitting in December. We have done that, in the optional week. I still say we should be sitting in a week in January, towards the end of January, and I still say we should be sitting in February before the writs are issued. We have plenty of time. If we have not done our jobs in our electorates in this period of time, even if we have to sit up to the day before the writs are issued, then we in this house have not done what we are supposed to be doing—looking after our own people. I very sincerely ask people to reach into their hearts and look at this: are we here for the people of our communities?
We have very good remuneration. Ministers have good remuneration. I understand that, but the ministers have a lot of responsibility and the government has a lot of responsibility, but they need to be there for when the people are looking for that guidance, looking for people to be there. As I say, all I can ask is for people to allow this extra one day. I think we should be sitting a bit more, but the opposition have put the 14th, and I am happy to do that, but I certainly think we should be sitting more than one day.
The house divided on the amendment: