No-confidence Motion: Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation
The PRESIDENT: I have a notice in front of me that I am now to call the Hon. Ms Lensink.
I would like it to be noted that it would have been courteous to advise me that this was going to occur,
not just to come in and be told in the backrooms of the hall. You do not have to, but it would have
been a courtesy. The Hon. Ms Lensink.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:22): Thank you, Mr President. If I could address the point
that you have raised. I understand the Government Whip was advised by our whip, but we will ensure
that, should this process be necessary in the future, we will do our best to make sure that you are
informed by us. I move:
That standing orders be so far suspended as to enable me to move a motion without notice in lieu of question
The PRESIDENT: You need an absolute majority for this motion.
The council divided on the motion:
|Brokenshire, R.L.||Darley, J.A.||Dawkins, J.S.L.|
|Franks, T.A.||Hood, D.G.E.||Lee, J.S.|
|Lensink, J.M.A. (teller)||Lucas, R.I.||Parnell, M.C.|
|Stephens, T.J.||Vincent, K.L.||Wade, S.G.
|Gago, G.E.||Hunter, I.K.||Maher, K.J.|
|Malinauskas, P.||Ngo, T.T. (teller)|
|McLachlan, A.L.||Gazzola, J.M.||Ridgway, D.W.|
Motion thus carried.
MINISTER FOR SUSTAINABILITY, ENVIRONMENT AND CONSERVATION
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:27): I move:
That this council has no confidence in the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation in light
of his incompetent handling of his portfolio generally but particularly in light of his recent deplorable behaviour directed
towards ministerial colleagues and public servants.
This motion speaks for itself but it is particularly focused on the foul language and behaviour used
by this minister and whether he has genuinely taken responsibility for it. In relation to the now
infamous episode at Rigoni's on the evening of Thursday 17 November, the minister is alleged to
have directed profanities towards ministerial colleagues, used similar language towards his own
public servants in directing them to leave the restaurant, and then stormed off. He crossed a
boundary that he should not have.
The choice of words was inappropriate, particularly given the language used towards his
female ministerial colleague, Victorian water minister, the Hon. Lisa Neville. Deputy Prime Minister
Barnaby Joyce has expressed concern for the women present at the event rather than for himself;
however, he is still the Deputy Prime Minister and was Acting Prime Minister at the time. The
behaviour towards this minister's own public servants is also an abuse of his office. It took several
days before he issued an apology of sorts which, given that he has said he would behave in a similar
manner again, calls into question whether it was a sincere apology.
Other stakeholders came out following the publicity and said they had received similar
treatment. Business SA said they had complained to the Premier about minister Hunter's behaviour
last year, following a meeting with him, and I quote from The Advertiser report:
Mr McBride [Business SA Chief Executive] said the meeting attended by himself, his staff and Mr Hunter was
called to discuss complaints that the State Government was competing unfairly against private businesses.
The meeting lasted seven minutes before Mr Hunter 'stormed out'.
'He then got up when I kept asking him questions about why this was happening and stormed out saying, 'I
won't be cross-examined!' leaving our member and my policy team stunned,' Mr McBride told The Advertiser.
I called (Mr Weatherill's chief of staff) Dan Romeo, and strongly raised my concerns about this kind of
behaviour, but got no response or follow-up.
'SA deserves 'responsible ministers'…not an emotional loose cannon.'
Mr McBride said he feared Mr hunter's conduct would hurt the state's ability to conduct serious negotiations
and ensure it got the full benefit from national water agreements and other deals.
'It's time for him to be replaced with someone who can work credibly at national levels,' Mr McBride said.
The Law Society also made a formal complaint in August, and I quote from the article the following
day. Mr David Caruso, the then SA President of the Law Society, said:
The chairs of the Animal Law Committee and myself did not consider that the meeting was being conducted
appropriately by the minister or that he was conducting himself appropriately to be productive. The primary issues
were that the way in which the minister was conducting himself was intemperate and unnecessarily dismissive of
issues the chairs and I were wanting to discuss. We had attended this meeting on the basis that it would provide for a
productive dialogue. We consider the minister's approach did not facilitate this, but was rather dismissive of the issues
that we sought to discuss.
This minister should not need reminding that he is in a position of relative power and he should take
care not to abuse it. Unfortunately, we have seen a disregard for others before with this minister.
Perhaps we in this chamber are a little immune to it. We see it most days in question time.
Questioners are mocked for asking stupid questions, or the minister deflects the issue at the heart of questions to other issues without actually responding to the substantive issue. We can all think of
examples when we have been on receiving end. I was most recently offended by his response to
genuine questions on camping park passes in national parks.
Minister Hunter might think he is being clever. I think he is just plain disrespectful. In light of
his handling of the Clovelly Park contamination matters, one would hope that he might have tried to
make amends. In May this year, following local flooding caused by SA Water pipe bursts, the minister
had to be counselled, once again, about his lack of sensitivity towards those affected. It seems like
pointing out the obvious that the role of minister is a privileged one—privileged because it is a role
that provides both power and capacity.
The minister has the capacity to alter government policy and redirect funding. Those who
meet with him to express their views have the right to a fair hearing. I have heard a number of
complaints from stakeholders about the minister's rudeness in meetings from other stakeholders and
my concern is that genuine issues cannot get a fair hearing from this minister, whether they are
raised in this chamber, or in face-to-face meetings in his office.
In their response to these matters there are significant questions that the Premier himself,
and the Australian Labor Party need to confront and take responsibility for. The response of Premier
Weatherill was inappropriate in light of the Rigoni's episode. In the first instance, he said that he had
not received a formal complaint—which begs the question as to whether he genuinely believed the
minister's behaviour crossed the line—and later that he had been counselled: big deal. Rather than
provide an up-front admission on this behaviour, the Labor Party collectively decided to try to deflect
criticism by claiming that the minister was just being passionate about his portfolio responsibility.
Apparently the ends justify the means.
The River Murray is an issue that is vitally important to every South Australian and to every
political party represented in this chamber. The minister's outburst does not prove that he is more
passionate than anybody else: he is just a national embarrassment. Yesterday, in question time, the
minister and his Labor colleagues had an opportunity. They could have answered questions with a
straight bat. Instead, one by one, they downplayed the minister's behaviour.
They might think that is clever politics to do whatever it takes to back him. I believe it reflects
poorly on them, and the standing of leadership roles in government and in the parliament. This
minister has behaved deplorably, as described by White Ribbon Australia. He has breached the
Ministerial Code of Conduct. His apology needs to be sincere and his subsequent words and actions
need to reflect some contrition. I commend the motion to the house.