‘Dead in the water’: Political ‘ambush’ sinks Marshall’s electoral reforms

A much-hyped bid to ban political campaign posters from public streets has been dramatically defeated in a parliamentary “ambush”, but opponents are blaming the Marshall Government for politicising crucial electoral reform legislation.

Mar 17, 2021, updated Mar 17, 2021
Steve Marshall campaign posters on election day, 2018. Photo: Tracey Nearmy / AAP

Steve Marshall campaign posters on election day, 2018. Photo: Tracey Nearmy / AAP

A broad electoral reform Bill had been before parliament for months, much of it dealing with recommendations from an electoral commission review – but with the Government also adding its own centrepiece reforms: the introduction of Optional Preferential Voting in the Lower House, and banning electoral banners, known as corflutes, from public spaces.

InDaily reported last week that the OPV option was already doomed, with key crossbenchers opposing it and the Government acknowledging it would not progress. However, it had high hopes for the remainder of its reform agenda.

But that changed late yesterday, when a vote to adjourn debate until Thursday was defeated, after which the Bill failed to pass a second reading vote, with the Labor Opposition joined by SA Best and crossbencher John Darley to shoot it down.

“It is what it is,” Upper House leader Rob Lucas told InDaily today.

“It’s dead in the water… there’s not much you can do about it when you don’t have the numbers.”

The defeat came amid broader political drama, with the Legislative Council’s two Greens members threatening to vote in opposition to one another on legislation for the first time, with Tammy Franks strongly backing the corflute ban while Mark Parnell favoured a range of amendments.

“This is an issue where the Greens as a political party have a divergence of views, so… we reserve the right to have a divergence of views in our party,” Parnell told parliament.

“It is not something we do very often, but that is certainly something that we might look at.”

Franks, however, is adamant the corflute ban could return to the agenda when parliament debates electoral funding later this year, and is considering introducing her own private member’s Bill.

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman was also not conceding defeat today, telling InDaily: “While it is disappointing the Bill was voted down, the Government will continue to consider options for electoral reform.”

“A key component of this Bill was the banning of corflutes – single-use plastic posters that frustrate residents and are bad for the environment,” she said.

“We want to see these posters off the streets, as they’re costly, detrimental to the environment and public safety and do little to educate voters about a candidate or their platform. 

“We will work constructively with the Parliament on this important reform.”

However, Darley was scathing in his critique of how the legislation was handled, saying he supported much of the Bill “but the Government was so weak they weren’t even going to do anything about OPV”.

“Listening to the debate, I came to the conclusion that perhaps you’d better go away and rethink the whole thing,” he said, noting parliament had had plenty of time to progress the legislation before now.

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“All of a sudden they want to get it through 12 months before an election… bugger it – if you can’t get your brain into gear before you open your mouth, bad luck! … Don’t bring it up five minutes before D-day.”

He said the electoral commission’s changes – made through a post-election review – were now “history”.

“It’s too late – they’ve had plenty of time to do it [but] they’ve complicated it by putting those other things in,” he said.

Parnell agreed, saying there were “a number of things that the electoral commissioner recommended, lessons from previous elections, and I don’t think any of those were really controversial [but] the Government decided to add their own agenda to that of the electoral commissioner”.

“Those two items [OPV and corflutes] is what ultimately tripped them up… and they’ve fallen flat on their face,” he said.

“The Greens are open to electoral reform – there’s quite a few things we think need fixing.”

He said Labor’s move to defeat the adjournment and then the Bill altogether “blindsided everyone”

“They [the Government] weren’t expecting the adjournment to be lost, or the second reading vote to be lost – that blindsided them, and certainly surprised me,” he said.

“It’s now all over, red rover.”

He acknowledged he had “reserved the right for Tammy and I to vote differently”, but noted that the Bill never progressed far enough for that to happen.

Liberals are seething about what they see as a political hijack – after claiming they were told all sides of parliament favoured the adjournment – with one telling InDaily: “We went ‘what the fuck’s going on here’ – it’s just not what we normally do, it’s not how we normally go about things.”

“At the very least I thought we were going to have a civil discussion about things like corflutes [but] it was an ambush and we’re normally better than that in the Upper House.”

However, SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros summed up the opposition to the Bill, telling parliament it was “not lost on any of us that this is now being debated almost 12 months to the day of the next election, despite the fact that we have had nearly three years to get here”.

“It is the Government that wants to stack the odds in its favour through the introduction of OPV, just in time for them to face the electorate again in 2022—and absolutely the same can be said in relation to the use of corflutes,” she said.

“We are not so easily conned and neither is the South Australian voting public.”

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