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MPs plot to kill Dorothy Dix after Speaker coup

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Government MPs could be banned from asking staged questions as Upper House crossbenchers prepare to back a Bill that saw Speaker Josh Teague turfed from the chair in a mid-week midnight coup – with a new push to also mandate an independent Legislative Council president.

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Teague was unseated after Labor and key members of a burgeoning House of Assembly crossbench backed a Bill from ex-ALP independent Frances Bedford to mandate an independent parliamentary Speaker – with a presiding member forced to choose between party and position.

The passage of that legislation prompted a further push against Teague himself, to be replaced by newly-minted independent Dan Cregan, who quit the Liberal Party last week.

Premier Steven Marshall today railed against the speed with which the contentious legislation, which amends the state’s Constitution Act, passed the House – and urged the Upper House crossbench to closely examine the proposed changes.

“Amendments were introduced without consultation – it was extraordinary,” he told reporters.

“It’s extraordinary that in SA we can change the constitution of our state without… even a reference, for example, to the Electoral Commission in SA, which is now inextricably linked with some of the dates that are incorporated into amendments.”

An Electoral Commission spokesman declined to comment today but it’s understood the commissioner has no authority over the implementation of the Constitution Act.

Marshall was asked about Liberal MP Adrian Pederick’s description in parliament yesterday of Cregan’s betrayal as a “dog act”, saying: “I thought that was quite a good description.”

“It was rushed legislation,” Marshall went on, “but I think we’ve now got an opportunity in the Legislative Council to take another look at it.”

“They will review it – so let’s just see where that ends up,” he said.

The Bill is on the notice paper for the middle of the next sitting week, which means it won’t become law for at least a fortnight – despite Teague already having been removed.

But crossbenchers contacted by InDaily indicated it is likely to garner enough support to pass the Upper House and become law.

However, the Greens are seeking further changes – which may have to be incorporated by changes to standing orders to avoid a costly statewide referendum.

“One of the things I’m investigating is trying to get the president of the Upper House to be independent as well,” Greens MLC Robert Simms told InDaily.

However, he said, “to change the constitution with the respect to the role of the Upper House, you need to have a referendum – which is different to the role of the Lower House”.

“It’s interesting that the Upper House has such different requirements in terms of its powers… what we can’t do is pass legislation that changes the powers of the Upper House without a referendum – that’s the advice I’ve been given by parliamentary counsel.”

That’s under a section of the Act declaring “the powers of the Legislative Council shall not be altered” other than via a statewide plebiscite.

However, Simms said the Greens would push for the major parties to “commit to ensuring they’ll nominate independent presiding members” in both houses.

That could involve changing parliamentary standing orders “to require them to remove themselves from party room meetings”.

This already applies in the case of incumbent Upper House president John Dawkins, who has been exiled from the Liberal Party for his tenure in the chair after breaking ranks to nominate for the role against the Government’s endorsed candidate Jing Lee.

Simms also wants to make further changes to the way parliamentary operates as part of the same debate.

“Things like getting rid of Dorothy Dixers, which are a waste of time for parliament and the community,” he said.

Dorothy Dixers are the Australian term for the longstanding practice of planting questions from government backbenchers to ministers, enabling them to chew up Question Time with self-promoting propaganda.

The term was coined from American advice columnist Dorothy Dix, who reputedly invented her own questions so she could publish more interesting answers.

However, Simms said the Greens would be broadly supportive of Bedford’s Bill, saying it was “consistent with the position of the Greens in terms of having an independent chair”.

“The idea of having someone who is independent and removed from partisan politics, that’s a model that’s worked really well in other jurisdictions,” he said.

“But if you’re going to do that in the Lower House, we should do it in the Upper House.”

SA Best is yet to commit to a position, but it’s understood a meeting of Legislative Council crossbenchers indicated support for the Bill.

“I wouldn’t want to pre-empt it but I think the general principle of having an independent chair is a really good one,” Simms said.

“I think there’d be a lot of enthusiasm to try and get that as a principle locked in place, not just in the House of Assembly but also the Upper House.”

Veteran crossbencher John Darley told InDaily he intended to vote for the constitutional change, saying: “Yeah, for sure – it’s done elsewhere, so why not?”

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