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Richardson: The legacies of Bob and Isobel

Opinion

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In the local shopping centres of many an electorate, most voters would be hard-pressed to name their local member.

In Aberfoyle Hub, though, the question doesn’t merely elicit recognition, but a warm smile. They didn’t just know Bob Such; they liked him.
I told his loyal office staff this week that I had stopped by to seek tributes from local shoppers; they assured me I’d get a lot of kind comments. They were right.

Bob’s relaxed demeanour belied his obsessive diligence. For a reporter on a tight deadline, this could prove inconvenient, for — as others have noted in the week since he died — he frequently delayed the hollow theatre of question time with interminable notices of motion, on subjects near and dear to his heart. Natural burial grounds, for instance, or euthanasia. If this suggested a certain morbid fascination, it was advanced with a zeal that belied its macabre matter. His lot was in improving the lives – and deaths – of those he represented.

Ideologically born into Steele Hall’s Liberal Movement (his 1971 honours thesis from Flinders Uni is even footnoted in the official history of the movement, A Liberal Awakening), he served under Dean Brown as Minister for Employment, Training, Further Education and – ironically, since Bob was, like a political John Gielgud, an eternal anachronism – Youth Affairs.

He never forgave the Liberal Party for his unmaking as a minister, and the bitter aftermath of factional knifing. Like Steele Hall, Bob left the party he once loved, a party that had lost its idealism and purpose.

Ironically, though, this was the making of Bob Such as a politician. Unlike those moderate colleagues he left behind, the ensuing years proved fruitful for him.

I suspect in some ways he was never more at home in his career than in his brief stint as Speaker, replacing the divisive Peter Lewis. He loved the minutiae of parliamentary procedure; like Mick Atkinson now, he devoured the nuances of standing orders as others devour romantic poetry, with passion and studious respect.

He won every booth in his seat in 2006; and then, in 2014, fate handed him perhaps his greatest triumph: the power to pick the next Government. But sadly, fate is a fickle beast. His diagnosis, a brain tumour, came before he could anoint a Premier. Labor insiders have no doubt Jay Weatherill was his choice; some on the Liberal side were confident Steven Marshall had swung him over. We will probably never know.

Without him, though, Geoff Brock was convinced he had no choice but to back Labor; interestingly, when repeatedly given the opportunity this week to pledge his ongoing support, he declined. Out of respect for Bob, he said, he wouldn’t talk politics.

Of course, Bob loved to talk politics.

But the hideous illness took him with rapacious speed; Weatherill conveyed his request to the house for sick leave; twice, he sought to extend it. Then he was gone.

He was an esoteric ornament to the parliament, and to the state’s political life.

There is an irony in the likelihood that a by-election in his seat of Fisher, which he guarded against conservative Liberal entreaties for over a decade, will run concurrently with that in neighbouring Davenport, as his long-time factional opponent Iain Evans bows out. There remains the outside prospect of a Super Saturday of by-elections, all in the southern highlands.

Isobel Redmond has herself, in her time, been an esoteric ornament to parliament. She should have been proud this week; the Independent Commission Against Corruption claimed its first scalps, with the arrest of eight police officers accused of abuse of office, amongst other charges. Corruption watchdog Bruce Lander’s first annual report was tabled in parliament, documenting 923 complaints with 172 deemed to have raised potential corruption that might result in prosecution. There are 71 ICAC investigations currently in train. She once intimated that she would leave public life happy if she had managed to bring about an independent corruption watchdog. There’s little doubt her tenacity on the issue helped to do just that.

But it seems Redmond’s leaving of public life won’t be a happy one, nor a proud one.

There are many things that can be said about Isobel Redmond’s recent wretched contribution to political life but, ironically, one might require parliamentary privilege to do so.

Her behaviour since storming out of the leadership in January last year is a million miles from the open, convivial, thoughtful woman who used to answer her phone with a tunefully carefree: “Isobel Redmond!”

These days though, the phone simply rings out.

The closest she’s come to speaking to a journalist in two years was when she hissed at a female reporter who happened to be waiting in the queue for a drink in the Premier’s corporate suite at the Clipsal.

She seems wont to use parliamentary privilege to air vendettas, in recent months besmirching the electoral commissioner and now Adelaide’s Lord Mayor, who happens to be fighting for re-election.

Her evident dismay at the verbal spray she claims Stephen Yarwood delivered her (a claim, incidentally, he denies) is somewhat tempered by the fact, revealed on 9 News last night, that she delivered her own verbal spray to a 19-year-old Dignity For Disability candidate running in her seat of Heysen, who proffered her hand and a courteous “congratulations” at the declaration of the poll. The outstretched hand was refused, and the well-wishes greeted by a tirade denouncing the minor party for preferencing Labor over the Liberals (which, as it turns out, they didn’t!) , after all the self-professed hard work the incumbent had done for the disability sector.

While Redmond, I understand, eschewed the profanities of which she accused Yarwood, the dressing-down was significant enough for the Returning Officer to intervene, and for the party’s sole MLC Kelly Vincent to complain to Liberal leader Steven Marshall (who doesn’t remember whether he apologised, nor whether he ever raised the matter with Redmond).

Having independently verified the details of the incident, I left Redmond a voicemail message to give her fair right of reply (though I knew she would not respond), and then shot off a text inviting her version of events. In doing so, I was taken aback to notice our previous text message correspondence floating in the backwaters of my iPhone’s memory; it was a message she’d sent me back in 2011, after I was fortunate enough to win a media award for my work. “Hi Tom,” it read: “Ridgy told me about your big win last night – CONGRATULATIONS! Well done – hard work and persistence always pays off. Enjoy your day. Regards. Isobel.”

I wish I could remember her that way; I wish too I could remember her as the serious and diligent legal affairs campaigner.

There are many things that can be said about Isobel Redmond’s recent wretched contribution to political life but, ironically, one might require parliamentary privilege to do so.

She frequently embarrasses her party when she opens her mouth and then compounds the embarrassment with her subsequent silence. There are no doubt those who would prefer to see the back of her well before 2018, but there is no guarantee the Liberals would retain her seat (amusingly, it could be Dignity For Disability preferences that see to it).

If this is indeed Redmond’s farewell performance, then nothing in her political life was so unbecoming as the leaving of it.

Let’s remember Bob instead.

Tom Richardson is InDaily’s political commentator and Channel Nine’s state political reporter.

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