03 June 2007

State government rejects call for anti corruption commission

Not surprisingly the state government has rejected calls by federal Labor MP Rod Sawford that SA should have an anti- crime and corruption commission similar to those in some other (though not all) states.

What is surprising is that Mr Sawford is of the same political hue as the state government..

The local media haven't exactly been forthcoming with the story. Only the ABC (see link above) and The Independent Weekly of the MSM seem to have reported it. It's not on the latter's website, but the latest print issue does have a page 2 story "Labor MP slams SA Govt", with, unusually for the paper, no byline. Surely whoever wrote the story doesn't fear retribution?

Mr Sawford's speech in which he made the contentious remarks is here.
The relevant section is:

The wider electorate has turned off the political process. It no longer believes the government. It no longer believes the media. It is holding the power of its vote until election day and refusing to seriously indicate what it is really thinking.

On the topic of governance, leadership and the ineffective media in this country, I would like to put on the public record a view of what I believe is happening in my own state. I have said some of these words in the Main Committee previously, but they are worth repeating in the context of this address-in-reply. No matter where you look in South Australia , politics, business, unions, education, health, public transport infrastructure, governance and leadership are all too often seriously compromised. It is a dynamic that has dogged my state for the last 30 years—and it has dogged Victoria too. The tripartite relationships between the top end of town—and the corporate world—the media, particularly the commercial media, and the executive government are too often clouded in questionable goings-on. State governments in South Australia have had a far too comfortable and accommodating relationship with the top end of town. Who could forget the State Bank fiasco of the late 1980s which shamed all political parties and the media?

During the Liberal term from 1993 to 2002 we endured the folly of waste of taxpayers’ money on a national wine centre, overspending on the Hindmarsh Stadium and the botched sale of the TAB. During the current government’s term it is going to happen again. A sum of $55 million—mostly taxpayers’ money—has been allocated to build a grandstand in Adelaide’s parklands to be used for car racing and horseracing. The grandstand—or ‘the stand for the grand’—was originally planned to be four storeys high, 248 metres long and 10.8 metres wide. Despite taxpayers paying for this monstrosity, there will not be one public seat. It is a facility for government and the corporate world. The cost of the project will just grow and grow. The arrogance and the contempt for the taxpayer so implicit in this funding beggar belief. Any government should realise that getting into bed with the car racing fraternity is not what it is cracked up to be. Adelaide once had a formula one grand prix. Claims of its so-called economic benefits were always greatly exaggerated. This very fact has been stated by the Victorian independent watchdog, which has said that the cost of holding the grand prix in Melbourne is $6.7 million. The Victorian state Auditor-General, Des Pearson, released a report on 23 May that found many studies justifying the use of taxpayers’ dollars for major events are inadequate. You bet they are. South Australia is no exception. The Clipsal V8 car race in South Australia will eventually tell a similar story.

Another matter is the all too comfortable, ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’, cosy relationships that state governments have had with the media. Although wrong, it is at least understandable that the media would protect its income stream and the people who provide the advertising revenue. Nevertheless, it far too often compromises the fourth estate in South Australia and it shows. In fact, respected journalists over the years have told me of their frustration at the lack of resources for investigative journalism and overzealous editorial control. The national media’s complaints about the prohibition on information release are largely correct. However, you cannot think that the very same media would be as selective in what it chose to make available. The next question to ask is: would it be done on an ethical basis? Governments protect themselves. High-profile business and media personnel are strategically appointed to government boards and paid handsomely for their time, participation and support of government. Whether these individuals recognise it or not, they are badly compromised.

I have always believed that the sale of the TAB in South Australia demanded a royal commission. I think the same about Cheltenham Racecourse and the Victoria Park development—a parklands monstrosity. However, the likelihood of that happening is probably pretty small. Have a listen to this: the lobbyist for the South Australian Jockey Club, promoting the sale of the Cheltenham Racecourse—the best stormwater retention site in the western suburbs—and the Victoria Park development is appointed by the government to give advice on stormwater management. South Australia, like Western Australia and Victoria, needs the establishment of an anticorruption and crime commission to be monitored by the federal government and—(Time expired)

As Mr Sawford pointed out, he's retiring from parliament , so no doubt his remarks will be disparaged by he and his party colleagues, but there's plenty of food for thought here.

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