Members' Behaviour

18 March 2015

Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 15:23:05 ):  On 26 February 2015, I invited 20 guests to listen to a speech I was making about the impact of the train horns in my electorate. Most of those who attended parliament that afternoon were doing so for the first time. The spectacle that they witnessed is a black mark against all of us. Two government members, including a senior minister, and four members of the opposition were ejected from the chamber following a melee about the dirty tricks and racist tactics used by the Labor Party in their campaign to win the seat of Elder, a matter which I am pleased will now be subject to deliberations by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

My visitors saw the very worst of the South Australian parliament. They saw a puerile display of irrelevance. They saw all their stereotypes of politicians reaffirmed in a few short minutes: childish hollering, personal attacks and the circus of a division. It was sickening, it was pointless but, more than anything else, it was irrelevant to them as South Australian citizens. When I joined them for afternoon tea afterwards they munched on their Parliament House danishes in hushed shock. It felt like a wake for democracy. They were ashen and horrified at what they had been witness to. For the first time in a long time, the main topic of discussion was not train horns, it was the state of their parliament.

I am very conscious about sounding holier than thou and sanctimonious in making this statement. This is not an attempt to pressure my own standards on to this parliament, standards which I may not perfectly fulfil myself; rather, I am providing a voice for my constituents who feel completely disenchanted with their parliament.

I regularly distribute community surveys into my electorate. These surveys pose a couple of questions. First, they ask what residents would like changed in their community and, secondly, what they would like raised in parliament. One of the most common items to be raised regarding the parliament is our standards of behaviour. Repeatedly, people raise the immaturity of the parliament, the lack of bipartisanship and the games and dirty tricks. They are beyond angry: they have reached a point of not caring. Rather than being a hallowed institution respected for its wisdom and vision, this building represents irrelevance.

At the moment I am undertaking a concerted doorknocking campaign. The first thing that strikes me about this is that when I arrive on people's doorsteps they are completely bemused that a politician would actually front up to listen to them. They are cynical, they are disillusioned, they are disempowered and they have completely lost faith in us. As a class, we are simply hated. We are irrelevant and we are useless in their eyes.

I believe that most people in this place are here for the right reasons. Individually, we are predominantly people with the right motivations and a desire to serve the communities we love, but collectively we are a laughing stock. If anyone disagrees with me, just get out into the suburbs and speak to the tradies, the mums, the grandparents, the guys down at the surf club. Making a statement like this may not make me popular in this house, but I can tell you that I am doing my job by speaking up, because that is what I hear directly from the doorsteps of my electorate. The truth hurts. Don't get me wrong, I love this job. I love its diversity, its challenges and the rewards of effective representation. I love the patch of South Australia that I am privileged to serve. My gripe is not about the role I have chosen to fulfil; rather, it is about one segment of the world I have chosen to be part of: it is the nonsense of this chamber.

We wonder why the average South Australian cares more about Madge and Harold's reunion and the 30th anniversary episodes of Neighbours than they do about one second's worth of activity within these four walls. We tell ourselves that there is some bold legislative agenda on the table for us to deliver. We tell ourselves that we are changing South Australia. We tell ourselves that we matter. Give me a break! Give me Madge and Harold.

I think that we think that the South Australian public is to blame. I think we look down on them, lament their apathy and lack of engagement. We think that they do not understand what we go through, that they do not understand the importance of our positions. Let me be clear with the house: it is not the fault of the South Australian public, it is because of us. We are trapped in our own version of The Truman Show, the same movie sets, the same storylines, the same cloistered bubble.

We wonder why poor old Frank from Marino yelled out, and I quote, 'Piss off, you idiot' from the gallery when he saw the transport minister being ejected. We should not wonder for one minute. If we had a skerrick of self-awareness, we would be asking why he did not express that sentiment to every one of us, because collectively in the eyes of those who we seek to represent we are an irrelevant rabble and we only have ourselves to blame.

Extracted from Hansard