SA Premier Mike Rann plays smoke and mirror politics, writes Paul Russell.
Over the first six months of government SA Labor Premier, Mike Rann, has barely put a foot wrong. “Media Mike”, as he is commonly known, has held court in a thoroughly professional way, making announcements about law reform and financial restraint, among other things, that have resonated throughout the electorate, and rightly so.
But is this good news for South Australia or simply clever management by a poll-driven performer with another agenda?
Any similarities between Rann’s political management and that of his long-time friend, Tony Blair, in the opinion of the writer, is purely deliberate.
Rann has not given his opponents so much as a look at the ball, let alone any free kicks.
He currently enjoys the status of Australia’s most popular Premier and has made himself a small target for criticism by his poll-driven approach.
To prove the point: honoring an election promise, Rann recently instigated a discussion paper on the issue of religious vilification and discrimination laws.
An overwhelming response from Christians against the proposal has seen it effectively buried for the time being at least.
The “Premier for all South Australians”, as he has styled himself, has dipped his toe into uncertain waters and, finding it too hot, has ventured no further.
However, any hopes this could be taken as an indication that SA Labor would not follow the social reform agenda of Labor in other states has been recently dashed.
News Weekly readers will be well aware of the gay law reforms introduced over the past few years in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales under Labor governments. Tasmania is also currently debating reforms.
SA Labor’s gay reform agenda has been introduced as a private member’s bill by Labor’s Frances Bedford MP, in what is seen by many as an attempt by Mr Rann to deflect any damage to his personal popularity.
The Statutes Amendment (Equal Superannuation Entitlements for Same Sex Couples) Bill 2002, as we have seen elsewhere, is a de facto recognition of homosexual union and what one MP has described as a “Trojan horse” that will “put a foot in the door for other reform”.
Labor has not granted a conscience vote for its members, which is hardly surprising.
However, an alternate private member’s bill, introduced by Liberal Backbencher, Joe Scalzi MP, has thrown a large spanner in Labor’s wheel of progress.
Scalzi’s alternate bill seeks to provide superannuation entitlements to “Domestic Co-Dependents” – a much broader category than the de facto government bill.
It seeks to recognise that there are many varied forms of relationships of a co-dependent nature (e.g., two brothers, two sisters, long term friends etc.) where, regardless of any sexual union, people have co-habited and have provided for each other in day-to-day living.
This bill would not create any necessity to alter other state laws in regards to, nor recognise for the purposes of the act, a person’s sexuality or homosexual unions.
If the basic motive for the government bill were simply a matter of correcting some perceived injustice, then one might have expected Mike Rann to either allow a conscience vote on Scalzi’s alternative or to demand a ‘yes’ vote en bloc. Not so.
He has made it clear to his party colleagues that they will vote against the alternative bill, thereby making it patently obvious that Labor is clearly pro-recognition of same-sex unions as being on a par with heterosexual marriage.
Unless a number of Labor MPs defy their leader and cross the floor, Labor’s bill will pass to the Upper House and the alternative will fail. Were the Liberal Opposition Leader, Rob Kerin, to demand that Liberal MPs vote en bloc, the result could prove an interesting test for the casting vote of the Speaker, the Independent Peter Lewis, whose compact with Labor brought them to power.
Lewis is a known social conservative. Had Rann introduced Labor’s bill as a genuine government initiative, and under the scenario above, Lewis’ vote may well have challenged the validity of Labor’s rule.
Perhaps another reason for the private member’s bill strategy and one that may well become a pattern for any future legislation of a contentious nature.