South Australia's discriminatory "democracy"
Michael Lardelli

In a recent essay I described how the Australian federal Labor government has been suppressing discussion and analysis of the "peak oil" issue and Australia's vulnerability to future oil shortages. This is in spite of the best efforts of one prominent Labor politician, Andrew McNamara, the former Queensland state Labor member for Hervey Bay who served as Minister for Sustainability, Climate Change and Innovation from late 2007 until 2009. Andrew became famous in peak oil circles for chairing the Queensland Government's Oil Vulnerability Taskforce which, in 2005, released a report titled, "Queensland's Vulnerability to Rising Oil Prices". The report is described in Wikipedia as "the first of its kind to be commissioned by any government in the world". McNamara used his position to try to inform others in Labor about peak oil. I remember speaking at a street corner meeting a few years ago to my then local member Kate Ellis and handing her a couple of articles about peak oil. I mentioned McNamara and she told me he had been sending them [federal Labor] lots of information on the issue.

A common transformation I have observed among those who become concerned about peak oil is that they also become passionate advocates of stabilizing population numbers. This makes obvious sense - when resources are limited or declining every extra person requiring support means less resources for the rest of us. When McNamara lost his seat in the 2009 Queensland state election it seems he felt less inhibited about speaking out on the population issue. He gave a brilliant speech to the Queensland Conservation Council on 17 July 2009 titled, "The Problem is Us" in which he described in detail how population growth is not the basis of national economic wellbeing. Others in the Labor Party are similarly concerned about Australia's very rapid population growth, the most notable being the federal Member for the Electorate of Wills in Victoria, Kelvin Thompson. He has given numerous speeches on the population issue including some in the federal parliament.

The situation is different in South Australia where the Irish Catholic roots of the Labor Party are still very strong. As the online newspaper InDaily pointed out in February 2011,

"From the moment the reshuffled Rann Cabinet was sworn in yesterday, the Catholic Right was running the show more than ever.

"Bernie Finnigan, Tom Kenyon, Kevin Foley, Pat Conlon, Jennifer Mary Rankine, Michael O'Brien and John Snelling - it sounds like a round of introductions at an Irish church social."

Of course,Mike Rann has now been seen off by his successor Jay Weatherill and others on the list are also gone but little has changed. Apparently, the real control over the Labor Party in SA has long been wielded by the "Shoppies Union" (Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association).

The pro-population growth attitudes of the SA Labor government are all the more damaging because of the intimate relationship between property developers and Labor. There are numerous shining examples of this. The current executive director of the Property Council in SA is Nathan Paine who previously worked for "The Hon Paul Holloway MLC" and (according to the Adelaide Advertiser) "continues to have strong Labor Party links". Paul Holloway himself later became Minister for Urban Development and Planning in 2005. He was largely responsible for the SA Labor Government's very contentious "30-Year Plan for Greater Adelaide" that envisages multistory apartments along transport corridors and he forced the hand of inner-Adelaide councils in approval of such developments. Near the very end of his parliamentary career, he approved expanded housing development in Mount Barker (a near-Adelaide rural community on some of SA's best agricultural land). He did this against the outraged protest of Mount Barker's existing residents and then he promptly resigned his ministry and then from parliament. If Labor had thought that Holloway's disappearance might divert public anger over its development plans then they were wrong. Recently there have been calls for parliament to reject the rezoning of land around Mt Barker that would permit the housing development. And it was also revealed that Holloway approved the development against the advice of the Planning SA, the government authority that wanted to delay the process.

In a state where the declarations of consultative democracy in urban development are only a thin smokescreen for the government's practice of "decide and defend" and where the Labor Party raises funds by flogging "intimate" access to government ministers at $1,000+ lunches an average citizen must wonder whether they have any control over their own and their children's future. The Liberal Party with its close ties to business is unlikely to take a different stance against the growth and property development lobby and the Greens have drifted steadily away from an environmental focus and increasingly into social issues as they have become a refuge for disenchanted former members of the Labor left.

The absence of voting options for people who are opposed to Australia's illogical and self-destructive push for population growth led an energetic retired public servant, Bob Couch, to invest some of his own modest retirement savings into establishing a new political party, "Stop Population Growth Now" (SPGN - Bob says the reason for the rather confronting party name is so that voters will see a clear choice on their ballot papers.) Bob has worked together with former Australian Democrats leader Dr John Coulter to establish SPGN which should soon attain sufficient membership for registration as a political party in South Australia. However, just as SPGN is about to seek official recognition the Labor Government has thrown a highly discriminatory obstacle in its way - and in the way of any other smaller political players. In what can only be described as a blatant attempt to suppress the growth of new political competitors it has made it extremely difficult for these to maintain their registration with the Electoral Commission while any party that currently has a member in parliament is unaffected. The new regulations for the revised Electoral Act of 1985 essentially state that, to be eligible for registration in South Australia, a political party simply needs to have a member in parliament. However, if they do not yet have a member in parliament, then they need to provide every year:

"(i) a document that sets out the names and addresses (as enrolled) of 200 electors who are members of the party and on whom the party relies for the purpose of qualifying as an eligible political party;

AND

" (ii) declarations of membership of the party (in the form determined by the Electoral Commissioner) completed and signed within the period to which the annual return relates by the members on whom the party relies for the purpose of qualifying as an eligible political party "

So - small, nascent political parties run on a volunteer basis with very little funds must undertake the daunting administrative task of obtaining signed declarations from at least 200 of its members every 12 months while established parliamentary parties taxpayer-funded administrative staff need do almost nothing in comparison!

It is ridiculous to apply this procedure. If one is a member of say, the Returned Services League (RSL), does the RSL expect you to declare in writing that you wish to continue to be a member every year? Of course not - you remain a member until you resign or die or breach the rules. If one was to apply this principle consistently, the Electoral Commission itself would require that electors on the electoral roll declare in writing annually that they were still eligible to vote. It can safely be said that electors in SA would not take kindly to having to comply with such bureaucratic nonsense!

Obviously this is highly discriminatory legislation. Why should the fact that a political party has a member in parliament mean that it does not have to show regularly that its membership is above the 200 person threshold that applies to parties without parliamentary members?

There is a further feature of the new Electoral office requirements that can only be described as Pythonesque. Normal procedure is that an intending member of a political party completes and signs an application to join. This is received and considered by the party and the applicant is then sent a letter accepting them as a member. Now, a reasonable person would accept that these 2 documents (the application and the letter of acceptance) were clear evidence of party membership. However, the Electoral office in SA does not! They require that the party then obtains from the party member a formal signed declaration that they are a member of the party, straight after having been sent a letter saying they are. This is straight out of Monty Python!

The revised legislation promises to solidify South Australia's political system into its current form just when converging crises of energy, climate, food and population require new ideas for how to organise our economy and society. So much for South Australia's "democracy"....


Declaration - the author is also proud to be a member of the Stop Population Growth Now Party of Australia.

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