State funeral offer for ‘giant of SA politics’

The Liberal and Labor parties have paid tribute to former South Australian Premier Steele Hall after his death at 95.

Jun 11, 2024, updated Jun 11, 2024
Steele Hall (centre) with former Premier Steven Marshall (left) and former Premier Dean Brown. Photo: SA Parliament

Steele Hall (centre) with former Premier Steven Marshall (left) and former Premier Dean Brown. Photo: SA Parliament

Hall, who died on Monday, served as a state MP from 1959 to 1974 and as Premier from 1968 to 1970 before spending three years in the Senate and then 15 years as the federal member for Boothby.

He is best remembered for ending the so-called “Playmander” in SA politics, under which inequities in the electoral system favoured rural areas over those in Adelaide.

That system had heavily advantaged his own party, the Liberal and Country League and longstanding premier Sir Thomas Playford for the previous three decades, to the detriment of Labor.

“In one of the bravest political moves in the state’s history, Hall introduced legislation to reform the House of Assembly to provide a more equitable system of representation,” Premier Peter Malinauskas said.

“He did so knowing it would be detrimental to himself and his own party.”

Years later, Hall said the previous system, where some Labor seats had 40,000 voters and some Liberal seats 5000, was “totally undemocratic, totally wrong”.

“We could not continue with the boundaries the way they were,” he said.

“The changes we made in the electoral boundaries were immense and we knew that we were sacrificing government at the following election, but it had to be done.”

Born in Balaklava north of Adelaide in 1928, Hall worked on the family wheat and sheep farm.

He later secured LCL preselection for the seat of Gouger, which covered Balaklava and surrounds, and was elected to state parliament in 1959.

He was a member of the Playford government and succeeded Sir Thomas as leader of the LCL in 1966.

Hall won government back from Labor’s Don Dunstan in 1968 but after introducing legislation to make voter representation more equitable, the LCL lost the 1970 election to Labor and ushered in what became known as the “Dunstan decade”.

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Hall stayed on as opposition leader but in 1972 he founded the progressive Liberal Movement and resigned from the LCL. He resigned his seat in 1974 and won a Senate seat and served until 1977 when he resigned to run for the federal SA seat of Hawker but was unsuccessful.

In 1981 he won the federal seat of Boothby and held it from 1981 to 1996.

Malinauskas said Hall was “rightly seen as a significant figure in the history of South Australian politics” and the offer of a state funeral would be extended to his family.

“He leaves behind a reputation for integrity and political courage, a man who truly put his state ahead of party political interests,” he said.

Opposition deputy leader John Gardner said Hall was a “politician of great courage and deep principle”.

“While electoral reform may be the enduring legacy for which Steele Hall is most widely remembered, his term in office saw significant progress in other areas including women’s health, Aboriginal affairs, and the fluoridation of South Australia’s water supply – a measure controversial at the time but which has led to significant dental health improvements for generations of South Australians,” he said.

“Notably, as Premier, it was Steele Hall who determined the site for Adelaide’s Festival Centre, and negotiated financial support from the Commonwealth that enabled its construction to begin.

“Five decades later, while his successors may have secured naming rights and public recognition, the achievements of this iconic artistic institution must now be included as part of Steele Hall’s legacy, given the pivotal role he played in its creation.”

Hall is survived by his wife Joan, six children and six grandchildren.

– with AAP

Topics: Steele Hall
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