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The Premier's lesson from mercurial Kyrgios

Opinion

It’s easy for political leaders to swing and miss if their rhetoric is out of step with their decisions. Matthew Abraham perceives lessons for the Premier from the courts of Wimbledon.

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Keen observers of the Kyrgios Condition can pinpoint the moment the Australian’s shot at Wimbledon glory went down the toilet.

Ric Finlay, ABC sport analyst and co-creator of the cricket database CSW, called it early.

“Bad news for Kyrgios. He’s started chuntering,” Finlay tweeted at 11.57 p.m. last Saturday, soon after Nick Kyrgios had won his first and only set against Novak Djokovic in the men’s tennis final.

Chuntering? Ooh, that’s a new one for me. A quick dictionary check revealed to chunter is to “talk or grumble monotonously”.

How could someone who has wasted much of the past 50 years listening to politicians blather endlessly about themselves, blaming everybody but themselves for their performance, not have heard of chuntering until now? Finally, we have a word for when they start losing the plot.

Defeated Premier Steven Marshall spent a lot of time chuntering about Lot Fourteen in the mistaken belief voters knew what it was, or if they did, were vaguely interested. They didn’t and they weren’t. He made the same mistake banging on about the space whatever it is. Houston, he didn’t get lift-off.

Which brings us to Premier Peter Malinauskas and his frequent monologues on running a “pro-business” government.

The Labor leader and former shoppies union boss promised throughout the election campaign that he’d run a “pro-business” government. It paid handsome dividends.

Two weeks out from the March election, SA’s peak business groups plunged into a virtual bromance with him. It must have been a morale killer for the Liberals.

As Premier, he loves deploying the “pro-business” line as guest speaker at business lunches. He’s even promised to invite business leaders to sit around the Cabinet table.

Since the election, however, he’s revealed a strange understanding of the term “pro-business”.

This is a government that has pledged to tear up the Marshall Government’s $2.1 billion, 12-year contract with private consortium Keolis Downer to run Adelaide’s metropolitan train services.

The consortium took over Adelaide’s train network on January 31 last year and seems to be doing a fine job.

Just over two weeks ago, Transport Minister Tom Koutsantonis junked a promised $1m commission of inquiry to advise on breaking the contract. Instead, he said the rail and tram service operators, Keolis Downer and Torrens Connect, had “agreed to work collaboratively with the Government in meeting its election commitment of publicly owned rail services”.

Oh really? Do tell.

The “pro-business” government is also burning cash trying to reverse the former government’s courageous and fair decision to reject the Adelaide Crows’ bid to plonk its new HQ on the plum Brompton Gasworks site.

InDaily’s Thomas Kelsall reported in May the government will appoint an independent firm to review the “consistency and appropriateness” of the Marshall Government’s choice of Melbourne-based MAB Corporation to develop Brompton with the usual 120-room hotel, cafes, flats, yadayadayada.

They can’t be serious. Haven’t the Crows had enough free kicks?

But the real “pro-business” doozie is the Premier’s decision to push ahead with legislation to block large shopping centres from charging staff and shoppers to park.

This is aimed squarely at the nation’s shopping centre goliath, Westfield, which has lodged a planning application to install boom gates and pay stations in its Tea Tree Plaza carpark. But the proposed bill applies to all shopping centres over 34,000 square metres.

Let’s put aside the hypocrisy of the Premier announcing this across the road from Modbury Hospital, where the government is merrily reintroducing paid parking for staff and visitors.

It’s simply breathtaking that a “pro-business” state government thinks it makes sense to tell a valuable ASX-listed company what it can or can’t charge people to use its own land.

“I think it’s wrong that a company of Westfield’s stature and profitability would be seeking to install boom gates right at the time that people can least afford it,” the Premier says.

For consistency, why not extend the legislation to fix the way mega shopping centres treat their smaller tenants, many struggling to survive with steep rents and onerous contracts?

Under the Malinauskas bill, big shopping centres wanting to charge for parking will need to jump through hoops, winning approval through a community consultation process run by local councils, who have trouble running themselves. What answer do you reckon a “community consultation process” on paid versus free parking will come up with?

Can a state government actually do this? Incredibly, yes it can. Does it need to compensate a business for interfering in its ability to run at a profit? Incredibly, no it doesn’t.

The federal government has no such luck. It’s bound by the quaint notion of compensating “on just terms”. If you’ve watched The Castle, you’ll be up to speed on this.

Section 51(xxxi) of the Australian Constitution currently allows the Parliament to “make laws for the acquisition of property on just terms from any state or person for any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws”.

Would the proposed Malinauskas free parking law pass the “on just terms” test? Suffer in your jocks.

Bob Katter, the independent MP for Kennedy, attempted to strengthen compensation rights with his Constitution Alteration (Just Terms) Bill 2010.

The excellent federal Parliamentary Library explains that, among other things, the Katter Bill, which lapsed, proposed adding a section 115A to the Constitution “which would prohibit state laws acquiring property or restricting the exercise of property rights of any person, except on just terms”.

“This is because the states’ constitutions do not have a guarantee on just terms compensation,” the library’s Diane Spooner points out.

When Nick Kyrgios starts muttering to himself, a prelude to verbally abusing his coach, dad, the umpire, ball boys and girls and spectators, his opponents sense he’s losing the plot.

As his opponent Novak Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic said: “When Nick starts to talk, he’s going to be vulnerable. And that’s what happened.”

With his first 100 days under the belt, the “pro-business” Premier needs to watch out for chuntering. If deeds don’t match words, you’ll get whacked all over the court.

Matthew Abraham is one of South Australia’s most experienced political journalists. His column is published on Fridays.

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