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No vax, no worries | Parties dive into the gutter | VIDEO: Minister’s awkward exchange

UPDATED | In today’s Notes On Adelaide, vaccination woes in senior State Government ranks, the dirt files come out as an election campaign looms – and a prominent Liberal frontbencher shows himself to be a man of the people.

Feb 10, 2022, updated Feb 10, 2022
Liberal veteran Rob Lucas is making the most of his final sitting week. Photo: Kelly Barnes / AAP

Liberal veteran Rob Lucas is making the most of his final sitting week. Photo: Kelly Barnes / AAP

Vax plea doesn’t convince everyone

Police, teachers, medical staff and sports stars (not to mention administrators and presenters) are losing their jobs for refusing the COVID jab, but evidently if you work in the Premier’s office it’s business as usual, more or less.

Steven Marshall is taking every opportunity to urge South Australians to get the jab, but his pleas appear to be falling on deaf ears in some close quarters – InDaily understands that a member of his own media unit, which broadly handles PR for his various ministers, is yet to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

The staff member in question declined to answer our queries on the subject, responding: “That’s personal medical information I don’t plan on sharing.”

Fair enough, of course, although it does raise some questions about the government’s efforts to sell the public health message to the SA public and its mandating of the jab for various government employees.

Also, there could be a plethora of reasons why someone can’t or won’t be vaccinated, but the staffer declined to comment on what those might be, saying: “I’m not saying anything to you about what my personal circumstances are.”

“I’m not confirming or denying anything – I don’t have a comment to make to you about my personal medical information,” they said.

InDaily asked Marshall’s office whether there was any requirement for members of his Government, including staffers, advisers and ministers themselves, to be vaccinated, particularly given jab mandates on various industry sectors, not to mention the requirement to present vax passports for entry to various public spaces and events.

The only response was that “where applicable, staff are required to comply with directions like all South Australians”.

“In the absence of a direction, vaccination is voluntary but the State Government encourages everyone to get vaccinated – it’s safe, it’s free and it is the best way you can protect yourself and the ones you love from the global pandemic,” a Government spokesman said.

They declined to respond to specific questions about whether a senior staff member was unvaccinated and what that would mean for their role.

Still, it’s good to know that while the Government is stepping down unvaxxed frontline workers, they’re still doing their bit for individual freedom where they can.

We are all in the gutter…

With an election looming, if we thought we were going to see an epic clash of grand ideas and ambitious plans, the cold reality dawned overnight – as both parties used the parliamentary privilege they’ve been afforded by the Legislative Council’s final sitting week of the term to air their collection of dirt files.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’d have noticed that outgoing Treasurer Rob Lucas has been left to enthusiastically play the ‘political headkicker’ role, leaving the Premier free to be the statesman.

And so it was last night, as Lucas aired untested allegations from Maggie Dawkins – wife of former Labor deputy PM John and mother of controversial Spence preselection challenger Alice – about “party members and staffers who say they are afraid to provide information to the SA Police Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team for fear of being labelled disloyal to the party”.

“Apparently they feel that if they contact police they may spoil Labor’s chances of winning the next state and federal elections,” Dawkins wrote to Lucas last year – who seized the chance to read the letter into Hansard before parliament rose.

He also revisited an issue first aired by InDaily four years ago after an extensive investigation, about claims made concerning a “toxic” workplace in the office of Labor frontbencher Katrine Hildyard.

Lucas says whistleblowers had provided documentation to him “unofficially”, detailing claims of  “abusive, insulting or offensive language or comments, unjustified criticism or complaints, excessive unreasonable workload and a variety of other issues as well”.

“To be fair, the information I was given was that the member obviously rejected some or all of the complaints that had been lodged by this staff member,” he conceded.

However, he alleged – under privilege – “a one-on-one meeting [that] ended up with Katrine yelling, screaming and throwing a chair across the office”  and another exchange in which “Ms Hildyard stormed out of a meeting, locking herself in the office and a more senior staff member trying to coax Ms Hildyard out of her office for a period of time after that”.

Responding to the claims today, Labor spokesman Stephen Mullighan said: “This is typical Rob Lucas… unsubstantiated allegations under the cover of parliamentary privilege, designed – five weeks out from an election – to cast aspersions against sitting MPs.”

He then illustrated the nature of the offence by reiterating some previous unsubstantiated allegations made under parliamentary privilege against unnamed Liberal staffers.

Not to be outdone, his Labor colleagues also got in on the act, with retiring veteran Russell Wortley today airing claims about inappropriate behaviour by a staff member in the office of Liberal MP for Newland Richard Harvey.

“It started with a male employee of the member for Newland making rude comments that were possibly intended as a joke, but then escalated into alarming and disturbing behaviour,” Wortley told parliament.

“The male staff member would say things like, ‘That perfume smells good, it’s given me a perfume stiffy’… then the inappropriate and unwanted touching started.

“That soon progressed to grabbing their bottom with his hand. We are told this happened quite frequently, despite the male staffer being told to stop.”

He also alleged the use of Snapchat to send “a photo of his erection… with the parliamentary carpet in view.”

Lucas responded that “those issues were elevated as they should have been, they were investigated as they should have been”.

He said the alleged perpetrator’s contract “was not renewed whilst the investigation ensued”.

Harvey told InDaily: “A complaint relating to a dispute between two staffers was raised and appropriately acted upon.”

Later this afternoon, a lawyer representing the unnamed staffer issued a statement saying his client “participated in an extensive investigation [and] the allegations were found not to be proven”.

“The investigation was intended to be confidential… the Government did no favours to my client in the investigation and he had no support from Dr Harvey or anyone else within Government,” the statement from lawyer Peter Pedler said.

“My client found it to be a very difficult and harrowing experience and his mental health was seriously adversely affected… it is appalling that confidence has been broken [and] that Russell Wortley is taking advantage of that breach of confidence for his own short-term political advantage.”

Nothing more than a s**t-show

One might ponder whether all of this somewhat undermines the po-faced claims yesterday that parliament’s Lower House must be recalled to preserve the sanctity of our democracy.

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A bemused SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo perhaps summed it all up best by declaring the parliamentary spectacle: “Nothing more than a s**t-show.” [His italics, not ours!]

“Those responsible for the mud-slinging match… should be disgusted and ashamed with their behaviour,” he said.

“South Australians deserve more from their politicians.”

Still, asked about the litany of claims today, Steven Marshall said: “I’ll let the Treasurer answer that – I’ve been focussed on growing our economy.”

So at least someone is looking at the stars.

The people’s minister

On a lighter note, Environment Minister David Speirs may have missed out on his party’s deputy leadership, but he’s always considered himself a Man Of The People.

“I’m happy to have robust debate in the public arena, but I will not allow my character to be denigrated,” he declared last year, amid a Facebook debate in which he expressed frustration about being accosted by “online trolls” before evidently deleting the entire thread.

But he wasn’t up for a debate in the public arena this week when approached with a question about his troubled sand-shifting exercise to replenish West Beach.

Speirs recently decided that a planned pumping station at Grange would not form part of the project, after local objections, instead looking at extending the sand pipeline to Largs Bay.

But Speirs was probably not expecting to field questions on the topic after a scheduled media conference in Port Lincoln this week.

As he walked away from the cameras, he was approached by a woman who asked him what was next for the project – filming him with her phone as she did so.

“I’m a resident of Grange and I was just wondering where you’re going to get the sand from now that you’ve stopped Grange being a sand collection area,” she posited.

Speirs politely began: “We’ll continue to look into that…”

And then that was that, as he quickly sauntered off.

Leaving the constituent a tad bewildered.

Vision of the exchange has been posted by Labor deputy leader Susan Close, after originally appearing on the Facebook site of outspoken entrepreneur Shane Yeend – whom readers may remember as the man behind the doomed Australian Cannabis Corporation who took former Premier Jay Weatherill to task for failing to hand his start-up the keys to the defunct Holden site for their prospective crop.

Speirs could fairly point out that multiple videos of the exchange suggest at least two punters were filming before the question was asked.

But his office provided the more fulsome reply he could also have given:

“The Marshall Liberal Government is getting on with delivering a project which will benefit the entire metropolitan coastline – sand from Adelaide’s beaches naturally drifts from south to north along our coastline and unfortunately because of historical development some of our metropolitan beaches such as West Beach have suffered serious erosion.

“We are fixing this problem once and for all by first bringing a significant amount of sand to West Beach from land-based quarries and then building a pipeline to recycle the sand from north to south without the need for endless trucks up and down the coastline.

“This will replicate the pipeline built by the former Labor Government between Glenelg and Kingston Park which has saved Adelaide’s southern beaches supporting a strong dune system, revegetation and wildlife such as the iconic hooded plover.

“There have been countless studies into Adelaide’s coastline and this project to save West Beach and secure our northern beaches is the result of listening to expert advice.

“Anyone with concerns should head to Brighton or Seacliff beaches and see for themselves just how successful that project has been.”

It goes on in that vein without actually answering the specific question.

Which might suggest that the answer he gave at the time was about as much information as he’s got – for now, at least.

Notes On Adelaide is an occasional column telling the inside stories of Adelaide people, politics, institutions and issues. If you have information that you believe should be noted in this column, send us an email: [email protected]

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