SA Independent MP Bob Such Dead At 70

VETERAN SOUTH AUSTRALIAN MP Dr Bob Such has died, aged 70; his passing — confirmed this evening — will trigger a by-election for his seat of Fisher, and an overwhelmingly likely win for the Liberal Party would tighten, but not overturn, the result of the South Australian state election in March. This column wishes its condolences to Dr Such’s family. Even so, life goes on: and a re-energised swipe at another Liberal turncoat now falls due.

I wanted to comment e’er briefly tonight on the sad news that former Liberal turned SA Independent, Bob Such, has passed away, aged 70; re-elected just seven months ago for a further four years, Such was one of two Independents who held the balance of power after the state election in March, until erstwhile “Independent”and ALP stooge Geoff Brock took it upon himself to re-install the ALP in office despite the Liberal Party winning more than 53% of the statewide two-party vote.

At that time, and amid uncertainty as to who did what in ceding the election outcome to Labor, this column incorrectly apportioned blame to Dr Such in what was at the time the common view he had collaborated with Brock to return Labor to power. I apologised and issued a correction at the time, and it remains a point of regret now.

I certainly wish to minute my condolences and good will to Dr Such’s family at this difficult time; the terrible affliction of a brain tumour is one I have witnessed more than once within my social network in recent years — once involving a young boy — and it must rank as one of the most awful things to have to deal with. I do wish those who mourn Dr Such peace, as I do Dr Such himself in death.

But life goes on, and this development will quickly have consequences for South Australian politics; it seems almost certain that the Liberal Party will now reclaim the seat Dr Such took with him when he left the Liberals in 2000, winning re-election as an Independent on four subsequent occasions.

The news of Dr Such’s death is barely an hour old at time of writing, and already there is an overwhelming amount of social media chatter suggesting the Premier, Jay Weatherill, will find some cynical ploy to deny the voters of Fisher a by-election and/or to rig the outcome. Whilst I don’t subscribe to either of these ridiculous conspiracy theories for a moment, the fact they are being floated at all belies the real cynicism and disenchantment that exists in South Australia in the wake of an election conducted on rigged boundaries, whose outcome was determined by a stooge and a treacherous ex-dog of the Liberal Party.

Any by-election in Fisher will take place against a statewide backdrop of 24 Labor seats, 21 Liberals, and one other “Independent,” which is Brock; the starting point would have been 23-22 Labor’s way were it nor for former Liberal leader Martin Hamilton-Smith selling his party and the state out to accept a ministry earlier this year.

With no disrespect to the late Dr Such, it seems the 2014 state election simply won’t go away in South Australia; should the Liberals win his seat — and had Hamilton-Smith put responsibility before his back pocket and his ambitions — then a deadlocked Parliament, 23-all between the Liberals and Labor, would again place Brock in the hot seat, but I contend would make it far more difficult for him to justify backing his Labor Party mates.

Certainly, the justification he relied on most heavily — that Labor needed a single additional vote for a majority whilst the Liberals required two, and in Dr Such’s absence this could not be provided — would no longer exist.

Whilst the death of Dr Such is very sad, South Australians are once again going to be forced to confront the fact that their state election — without putting too fine a point on it — was rigged, and that they are saddled with the resulting illegitimate government for a further three and a half years before another opportunity to be rid of it presents itself.

I would remark, however drily, that it now seems impossible for the Liberal Party to win a majority in South Australia: with the exception of the Labor landslide in 2002, the party has now won a majority of the two-party vote in that state at every election for the past quarter of a century, winning an outright majority only in 1993.

Ultimately, the culpability of Liberal turncoat and former leader Martin Hamilton-Smith grows that little bit heavier with tonight’s news, for a win in Dr Such’s electorate — added to Hamilton-Smith’s vote — would have given the Liberals 23 of the 47 lower house seats and with them, an overwhelming moral case to form government.

This column enthusiastically and unapologetically tore into Hamilton-Smith when he defected earlier in the year to accept a ministry in Labor’s government. I stand by every word penned in that article, and it deserves to be read again now by anyone with an interest in South Australian politics and where it is headed in the aftermath of Dr Such’s passing. Readers can access the article here.

Vale, Bob Such.

 

SA MP’s Brain Tumour Terminates ALP’s Legitimacy

NEWS TODAY that South Australian Independent MP Bob Such is being treated for a brain tumour is very sad, and he is to be wished a speedy recovery; the revelation — in wake of an inconclusive state election which Labor technically lost — destroys any shred of legitimacy to govern the ALP may claim, and sees Labor continue in office by virtue of an arcane numerical calculation that hardly constitutes the confidence of the House of Assembly.

First things first: I will retract my description of Dr Such as a bastard; quite clearly, if Such is suffering from and receiving treatment for a brain tumour — including a surgical intervention — then all bets, in terms of his attendance to his parliamentary duties, are off. If he or his family read the original column that described him as a bastard, I apologise to them. The revelation makes sense of his sudden disappearance from view a week ago, and I wish Dr Such a full and rapid recovery.

Even so, I do believe the Such camp should have been upfront about the nature of his condition; notwithstanding any considerations of privacy, Such stood for his electorate of Fisher and was re-elected, and had a duty to fulfil by virtue of the hung result South Australia’s recent state election delivered. A brain tumour is not a condition he would ever have been able to keep secret, and on account of the fraught political environment that applied it would at least have been reasonable for all players in the situation to be properly informed of the nature of his illness.

All of that aside, today’s development shows the agreement between the other Independent, Geoff Brock, and the ALP to govern together in a renewed and distasteful light.

The final outcome of the state election was 23 ALP seats to the Liberals’ 22, with two Independents elected to traditionally ultra-safe conservative rural electorates, and given the indefinite absence of Dr Such from Parliament this means the only possible numerical permutation to produce a majority (short of some kind of “grand coalition,” which obviously isn’t going to happen) is the 23 Labor Party MPs, plus Brock.

In other words, Premier Jay Weatherill remains in government not because of the confidence of the House, but because an unforeseen and highly unusual circumstance — Dr Such’s illness — has made it impossible for the House to fully express its will.

With the numbers as tight as they are, this is no moot point. It is publicly unknown who Dr Such might have preferred to lead South Australia, and even had he thrown in his lot with the Liberal Party then Brock could still have restored Labor to office on his own.

But we’ll never know: it may have been that both Independents might have been prepared to back the Liberals. But with one of them missing, for the other to do so would have deadlocked the South Australian Parliament, and that — rather obviously — is the worst conceivable result of any election.

Knowledge of the reason for the absence of Dr Such amplifies the judgement that Brock is a bastard, however; not for supporting the ALP, consulting Tony Windsor, or defying both the statewide result and the clear wishes of his own electorate (although those reasons are bad enough), but because the disgusting cloak and dagger game he indulged in — telling Liberal leader Steven Marshall that his decision was several days away whilst finalising an alliance with the ALP that secured him a ministry and a pay rise — is, in hindsight, a disturbingly amoral way to operate given Dr Such’s condition.

South Australians now have a government that a majority of their number voted against, that failed to secure a majority of seats, and which holds office only on account of the latest turncoat Independent MP to thumb his nose at conservative constituents by sealing the ALP in government for four years.

It has a government that will now carry the taint at its genesis of the tacky, tasteless manner in which its numbers were cobbled together, using the cover of a serious illness suffered by Dr Such to engage in deception, deceit, and misleading conduct.

Not that such qualities are unique to SA Labor; the ALP nationally seems to be predicated on them these days.

The fact that Labor plus Brock constitutes the only viable majority that could be constructed does not equate to an election win, an expression of the will of the people, the confidence of the House, or any kind of moral endorsement. It is simply the government South Australia will have because there is no other option possible, when in ordinary circumstances there may well have been.

And should Dr Such be forced to retire from his seat, prompting a by-election in Fisher likely to be thumpingly won by the Liberals, even that will fail to destroy the numerical coalition that now exists between Brock and Weatherill although it will certainly add to the almost overwhelming case against Labor continuing in office in South Australia at all.

What shreds of credibility Labor and Weatherill might have claimed existed to justify their arrangement with Brock — certainly on the grounds of any ethical consideration or moral imprimatur — have been rent asunder by the news of Dr Such’s condition this morning.

Still, it could have been worse. Had Weatherill not threatened to quit on election eve over a key preselection, South Australians would probably have defeated Senator, union puppet master and factional numbers henchman Don Farrell as their Premier today; and if we’re talking about moral vacuums and the obscene illegitimacy of the results thrown up by the state election and its aftermath, Farrell as Premier would be an infinitely worse proposition altogether, and would make a mockery of having had an election in South Australia at all.

 

 

Bastards: SA “Independents” Have Some Explaining To Do

IN FAIRYLAND, the stunt orchestrated at the weekend by South Australian “independent” MPs Geoff Brock and Bob Such to prop Labor up in office might pass muster; in reality — in the face of virtually every political indicator — it simply doesn’t cut it. The public is entitled to a genuine explanation, or confession; and hospitalised Dr Such might well be, but these matters go to the heart of his legitimacy as an MP too, and he must account for them.

Two things at the outset: one, readers will know I have been heavily critical of the marginal seats campaign conducted by the Liberal Party in South Australia and the consequent poor return in terms of seats gained from the ALP, and I stand by my assessment; today I am obviously looking at the outcome of the SA state election from the alternative perspective, but my remarks today are entirely consistent with my criticism of the poor showing the Liberals managed in failing to win marginal seats from the ALP.

And two, “independent” MP Bob Such is reportedly unwell, having been hospitalised late last week, scheduled for surgery today, and apparently now absent for “a couple of months” from his duties as an MP. I have always emphasised the human nature of politics, and that people should remember that MPs are human too, and in this spirit we wish Dr Such a full and speedy recovery.

Even so — at the risk of being called all kinds of things — I’m afraid he comes in for a kicking today every bit as hard as his crony Geoff Brock does: it’s either that, or he should have resigned his seat and forced a by-election, even this soon after the votes in it were counted. He can’t have it both ways.

Notwithstanding any criticism I have directed at my own party over its lacklustre (and frankly abysmal) gains at a state election that should have been a lay-down misere, I ask readers to consider the following points.

At the state election nine days ago, the Liberal Party recorded a primary vote of 44.8%, an increase from 2010 of 3.1%.

At the same election on 15 March, the ALP achieved a primary vote of 35.8%: a decrease of 1.7% on its 2010 result.

After preferences on a statewide basis, the two-party vote for the Liberal Party — remembering the count is still to be finalised — was a shade under 53%.

On a statewide basis, there was a swing after preferences to the Liberal Party — again, with the count still to be finalised — of about 1%.

It is true that the ALP won more seats than the Liberals, by 23 to 22 in the 47-member House of Assembly. Yet both major parties were able to be supported in government by the “independents” elected in the remaining two seats.

Those seats, in turn, are traditional rural conservative electorates in Frome and Fisher; indeed, Dr Such was originally elected in Fisher as a Liberal in 1989.

Both are two-candidate contests between the “independent” MPs and the Liberals, and whilst both Brock and Such were re-elected last weekend, both seats swung sharply back toward the Liberals in line with the overall statewide trend.

Polling — both of the formal variety and the kind of half-arsed straw poll you might expect these blokes to conduct off their own bat as a “survey” of their electorates — was undertaken in both Frome and Fisher; the reputable variety found voters in both seats split roughly 60-40 in favour of their MPs supporting a minority Liberal government with Steven Marshall as Premier.

And to cap it, Brock at least said he would listen to the opinions of his constituents before making any decision. He may have listened but on any objective assessment, he still went ahead and did whatever he liked.

Against all of these facts, where is the compelling case for a discredited, exhausted and bankrupt 12-year-old Labor government to be propped up in office?

Why did Brock see the need to consult with — of all the clowns on Earth — former federal “independent” Tony Windsor, a man whose visceral hatred of the Coalition parties is palpable? He has admitted as much himself in the past, at least where Prime Minister Tony Abbott is concerned. But Windsor is singularly and totally irrelevant to state politics in South Australia. Brock must state publicly why he regarded Windsor’s counsel as in any way valid or relevant.

Why did Brock see the need to tell Liberal leader Steven Marshall that he would make a decision in the middle of this week, whilst engaging in subterranean final negotiations with Premier Jay Weatherill? His conduct in doing so doesn’t show Marshall up as being gullible or naive; rather, it reflects extremely poorly on Brock himself. Shabby, underhanded, and treacherous.

What inducements were offered for the electorates of Frome and/or Fisher in return for support of a Labor government? This is a clear matter of public interest. We already know Brock gets a 40% pay rise and a ministry in Weatherill’s government. But what else? If the case was so compelling, it must be made public — again — to dispel public scepticism over the decision that has been made.

If Dr Such is so sick as to be away from Parliament for two months then I feel very sorry for him, and trust he recovers swiftly. But was there any attempt made to explore the option of gaining a “pair” during Such’s illness to neutralise the effect of his absence on parliamentary votes? If not, why not?

Such — according to the statements that have been issued by his camp — is due to return to Parliament within “a couple of months.” The decision on who should form government after the election, theoretically at any rate, is a decision for four years. What is the basis for Such abrogating the discharge of his duty in this critically important aspect of a hung Parliament over a four-year term on the basis of a two-month absence?

Why couldn’t he, at the minimum, made a statement of his support subject to the confidence of the House?

If Such is so sick as to warrant the abandonment of his duty in this matter, why has he not resigned his seat in Parliament?

This entire episode — the reinstallation of the ALP on such a questionable pretext — is a public disgrace. Brock, at least, can kiss his re-election prospects goodbye right now; his voters are said to be furious, and rightly so. Whilst I don’t condone it in the slightest, it’s not hard to see why he’s received death threats since the announcement yesterday he would back the ALP. He can hardly feign surprise at the outrage he has generated.

 

Weatherill crowed on national radio today that the only thing that matters, in the end, is the seat count: the number of seats won by the respective parties in the lower house of Parliament.

That count was skewed by one “independent” leaving his mate to carry the can, who promptly filled it with a ministerial salary and agreed to put Labor back in government. I’m not sure most people would see the soundness of this strategy.

Brock needs to make a public statement outlining in every detail why — apart from pocketing a pay rise — he thinks Labor should govern for four years. Forget “stability;” that could be delivered in the context of the numbers by the Liberal Party. Forget “care” about regional SA; Labor has never really cared about the bush, and if Brock thinks it does now then he is as gullible as he attempted to make Marshall look. And forget the “careful consideration” bullshit: it’s fairly obvious Brock simply wanted to ensure Labor continued in office. He must substantiate his reasons beyond the nefarious claptrap he has offered up to date.

Simply stated, what gerrymandered boundaries couldn’t quite manage to achieve on their own Brock has finished, thanks to the questionable pretext given by Such for his abandonment of his duty and against the overwhelming backdrop of the clear public desire for a Liberal government in South Australia.

If this is simply a matter of personal political preference, Brock should say so.

But for any other justification, a detailed and complete disclosure of the reasons and any inducements is required. Otherwise the Weatherill government will limp on as just another morally bankrupt Labor government that lives well beyond its use-by date, with neither legitimacy nor public consent to sustain it.