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Malinauskas won't rein in policy rebels

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Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas says he’s comfortable with his MPs speaking out on policy issues before Labor has formalised its position, insisting the party remains “united and disciplined”.

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The Labor leader says his party won’t commit to a position until he’s seen legislation, declaring it “unbelievable” that the Marshall Government is yet to introduce bills on its “centrepiece proposals” – rate-capping and shop-trading hours.

His comments follow two MPs breaking ranks to publicly criticise the Liberals’ policy proposal to impose caps on council rates, as reported by InDaily yesterday.

Labor is yet to decide its position on rate-capping and says it will wait until the legislation is introduced – understood to be due within weeks.

Malinauskas told InDaily he was aware that MLCs Russell Wortley and Justin Hanson – from the party’s right and left factions respectively – had publicly aired their own opposition to the proposal.

“The Labor Party had grave reservations about rate-capping before the election – it won’t surprise you that some have reservations about it after the election,” he said.

But he left Labor open to backing the Liberal plan when it is introduced.

“We lost the election – elections have consequences,” he said.

“It’s entirely appropriate that we consider our position as a result of that… we also have to be making a conscious effort to consider what community’s aspirations and desires are as well.”

Malinauskas would not rule out the possibility that Labor’s pre-election opposition to rate-capping might have cost it votes in key seats, saying: “We’re going through a review… I think there are a number of contributing factors when you see seats change hands.”

“I think we’d be unwise to form judgment around one specific thing that contributed,” he said.

The Liberals have also hammered the fledgling Labor leader over frontbencher Nat Cook’s repeated social media criticisms of the Marshall Government’s policy to mandate police entering schools with drug sniffer dogs.

Cook has noted that “police can already go into schools if there is a drug dealing issue”, calling the policy “just popularism at its worst”, and adding: “That’s only one part of what’s wrong with this disgraceful policy.”

That appears at odds with Malinauskas’s own comments on ABC radio last week, when he said “the Opposition and I do not have any problem with police sniffer dogs going into schools if there’s a reason to believe that there are drug problems in a particular school… there aren’t any reservations around the policy itself”.

He said Labor’s issue was with the process, in particular safeguarding the independence of police operations.

“Nat doesn’t say anything that’s not consistent with what we’ve said – we don’t believe there should be a policy of sending drug dogs into schools, unless the police decide that’s what they want to do,” he told InDaily.

Malinauskas said he was comfortable with his MPs speaking out on policy issues, saying: “It’s entirely reasonable for MPs to express their concerns about a policy proposition.”

He said any suggestion of internal division “couldn’t be further from the truth”.

“We’ve always been united and that continues to be the case,” he said, adding SA Labor had long been “one of the most disciplined caucuses anywhere in the nation [and] that’s a tradition we’re upholding”.

Malinauskas said he was surprised the Marshall Government was yet to introduce either its rate-capping legislation or its shop-trading deregulation bill to parliament – both of which it has committed to under its plan for its first 100 days in office.

There are three sitting weeks remaining before the milestone is reached.

“They were in Opposition for 16 years, and we still haven’t seen legislation on what these centrepiece proposals are… where is it?” the Labor leader said.

“I can’t believe we haven’t seen the shop trading hours legislation – this is a pretty simple exercise, everyone knows what their position is. I would have thought this would be in the parliament by now.”

Treasurer Rob Lucas said far from being simple, the shopping hours legislation had several complications to work through, including delineating exemptions on Christmas Day, Good Friday and Anzac Day morning.

“We’re still aiming for June to introduce the legislation,” he said.

“There’ll be more than enough time for Peter to think about why he’s opposing it.”

On rate-capping, Malinauskas said Labor’s position would be “largely defined by what the legislation actually does”.

“The devil will be in the detail,” he said.

“We had a policy position we took to the election – our concerns about services being cut in communities remains [but] we want to see what the legislation is… we don’t know if it’s going to be draconian.

“We’ll be formulating our position on what we think is in the best interest of the community and local government generally.”

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