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Parliamentary shutdown looms as Marshall considers fresh start

Politics

The Marshall Government is considering wiping the legislative slate clean by proroguing state parliament at the end of the year – a move that would intensify the pressure to resolve a range of contentious measures before Christmas.

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The corridors of parliament are rife with rumours of a looming shutdown, which would clear the notice papers of all current Bills that haven’t progressed beyond their second reading stage.

That includes contentious changes to land tax aggregation, which Treasurer Rob Lucas has repeatedly stated must be either passed or defeated “by the end of the calendar year”.

That is something the Government may consider in the coming weeks, but no decision has been made

Greens MLC Tammy Franks raised the spectre of a parliamentary shutdown during debate yesterday that saw the Legislative Council overturn controversial regulations under the recently-enacted “Gayle’s Law”.

The law was prompted by the murder of nurse Gayle Woodford in the APY Lands in 2016, but parliament rejected regulations slammed by the nurses’ union permitting remote health workers to attend call-outs unattended if they completed a risk assessment.

Franks warned it would be “very concerning” if the regulations were disallowed with nothing in their place, adding that “the time clock is ticking in a different way”.

“Should parliament be prorogued, as has been discussed in the corridors of this place if not the chambers, at the end of this year we may lose the ability for the parliament to effect debate on these regulations,” she said.

Health Minister Stephen Wade’s response was hardly definitive: “I fear that some members may be operating under the misconception that a potential prorogation would inhibit the capacity of the council to disallow regulations.”

“I have sought the advice of the Clerk who has confirmed that any prorogation of the parliament will not interfere with the council’s ability to disallow the revised regulations,” he went on.

Asked by InDaily whether the Government planned to prorogue parliament, Manager of Government Business John Gardner responded: “That is something the Government may consider in the coming weeks, but no decision has been made.”

One MP told InDaily prorogation was “possible when we get up at the end of the year” because “the Government may want to start next year with a clean notice paper”.

Proroguing parliament used to happen regularly but has become more infrequent in recent years. Since the 2010 election, parliament has only been prorogued once during each four-year term, other than for mandated elections.

The last time it happened mid-session was in late 2014, when then-Premier Jay Weatherill shut down parliament in order to use Governor Hieu Van Le’s reopening speech to launch his government’s new “bold legislative agenda” – a move widely criticised as an attempt to cauterise wounds from ongoing controversies including the Gillman land deal.

However, the subsequent session, which ran from February 2015 until last year’s state election, spanned 146 sitting days – understood to be the longest SA parliamentary session on record.

Proroguing parliament would give the Marshall Government some much-needed clear air and a chance to re-set its legislative agenda for the lead-up to the 2022 election – after a challenging 12 months which has seen party-room dissent on land tax and backbenchers cross the floor on mining reform, a Bill that continues to cause deep divisions in Liberal ranks.

But it would also intensify the pressure to deal with pressing legislation, including a renewed push to reintroduce a ‘Fairness Clause’ into the state’s constitution act.

The former clause, which held that the party that received more than 50 per cent of the statewide vote should generally form government, had been widely lambasted – including by the man who first came up with it.

But the last boundaries commission was convinced the principle had been incorrectly applied in previous redistributions, before it radically redrew the state’s electoral map – a move many Liberals believe was pivotal to the party’s drought-breaking 2018 victory.

However Labor, with crossbench support, managed to remove the fairness clause from the Constitution Act in the final hours of sitting before parliament was dissolved for the election, with Attorney-General Vickie Chapman subsequently confirming there would be no legal challenge to its removal.

It’s understood Chapman did not accept the need to revisit the matter, but a cross-factional backbench push appears to have changed her mind, with Lucas confirming to The Advertiser today that a new stab at constitutional reform would be considered in the Upper House, and that he “wants a decision from parliament before Christmas”.

However, the push already appears doomed, with the Government seemingly unable to muster the numbers in the Legislative Council to reinstate a fairness clause.

Crossbencher John Darley told InDaily Lucas had already petitioned him about whether he would change his vote, and was quickly rebuffed.

The Greens are firmly against the Fairness Clause – MLC Mark Parnell moved the original motion to remove it – while Labor’s shadow Attorney-General Kyam Maher told InDaily: “Our position has not changed.”

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