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9The Independent Weekly
October 30 - November 5, 2009
state politics Tom Richardson
As parliament dissolved
into chaos on Wednesday
afternoon, Labor MPs glaring
daggers across the chamber and
berating Opposition members as
"grubs", a colleague sidled quietly
up to deputy Liberal leader Steven
Griffiths and pointedly gave him a
congratulatory pat on the shoulder.
Only minutes earlier he had been
berated by Kevin Foley as "the
weakest Liberal Treasury spokes-
man we have ever, ever, ever seen".
But then he had stood and delivered
the inquiry that derailed question
time: "Does the Premier stand by
his assertion that he has not met
nor spoken to Michelle Chantelois
in four years?"
Michelle Chantelois is the
estranged wife of Richard Wayne
Phillips, the Adelaide business-
man who allegedly assaulted the
Premier early this month with a
rolled-up Winestate magazine at a
According to witnesses, Rann's
attacker uttered "Do you remember
my wife?" before he started raining
blows. The Premier has acknowl-
edged a friendship with Chantelois
but says he has long since lost
contact with her.
Little else is known about her
(including, apparently, how to
pronounce her last name, with
Griffiths offering the fourth
variation on the theme I've heard
in as many weeks). But what little
is known has been analysed and
scrutinised to the point that her
lawyer has written to media outlets
warning them to back off.
Amid uproar, the Premier took to
his feet long enough to reiterate that
he would not comment on a police
investigation, and that he stands
by any previous remarks. The
Opposition's follow-up question,
though, did nothing to quell Labor's
Mitch Williams took to his feet
and asked whether the Premier had
refused to be interviewed by police.
This time, Rann never got a chance
to respond, as the House dissolved
in acrimony. With a heavy sigh,
Speaker Jack Snelling suspended
sitting and walked, disgusted, from
Most of the Government venom
was directed at Griffiths, whom
Labor has identified as a soft target
for his lack of political experience
and tactical nous. So that pat on the
back as colleagues made a beeline to
stand with their deputy leader was
It is a month since Rann
was attacked at the National
Wine Centre and, save for Rob
Lucas -- as he puts it -- "dipping
his toe in the water" in an Upper
House grievance on the issue, the
Opposition has not gone near the
circumstances surrounding the
assault until now.
For Griffiths, and the Liberal
frontbench, this was a line in the
sand. After weeks of taunts from
Kevin Foley et al, this was them
saying: "If that's the way you want
to play, let's play!"
For as unedifying as the
scenes in parliament were this
week, the Liberals have put the
circumstances surrounding Rann's
assault back on the agenda, back
in public consciousness, and that
is something Labor desperately
wants to avoid. Not because it has
anything to hide, but because -- like
Martin Hamilton-Smith over the
"Dodgy Documents" -- the Premier
feels unable to respond to specific
questions on the issue for fear of
Thus, the Opposition can
continue to beat him with the
blunt hammer of innuendo, while
foolhardy Labor MPs take the bait
by giving the Opposition exactly
what they crave -- media exposure.
For it was not the Premier's
measured response to Griffiths'
question that made headlines, but
the strident outrage of his fellow
frontbenchers, who contributed to
parliament's public shaming and
gave the television cameras what
they wanted -- fire and brimstone.
After a 10-minute interval,
parliament resumed, with
Vickie Chapman continuing the
Opposition onslaught. At this
point, Attorney-General Mick
Atkinson noted that Liberal leader
Isobel Redmond had "well and
truly lost control of the tactics of
the Parliamentary Liberal Party".
Hardly. True enough, Redmond kept
her head down while her underlings
got their hands dirty in a spiteful
question time. But no more so than
Rann has done consistently for the
past seven-and-a-half years.
The Opposition has been
criticised for being too diffident, for
not cutting through. This week they
cut through in the most devastating
manner for Labor. It was, though,
a calculated assault, a warning
shot. But the days of Kevin Foley's
Griffiths-bashing may now be over.
It was a sad day for SA's parlia-
mentarians to once again drag
the institution through the mire
because, as it happened, it was also
rather a significant moment in the
state's political life. After several
failed or aborted bids by various
MPs in little more than a decade,
Greens MLC Mark Parnell finally
managed to steer a bill legalising
voluntary euthanasia through
parliament's Upper House. The
margin was a single vote, and it was
a vote he had to fight for.
The make-up of the 22-seat
chamber has changed somewhat
since Legislative Councillors
downed Sandra Kanck's proposed
legislation back in 2005. But Parnell
had not only to convince several
new MLCs to back the proposal, he
had to persuade at least one who
had helped defeat Kanck's bill to
shift their stance and support his.
That one was Liberal Michelle
Lensink, who believed that Parnell,
in another life an environmental
lawyer, had "framed his bill very
carefully" to avoid the risk of abuse.
The deciding vote, though, went
to Ann Bressington, a largely
conservative independent who
was elected to parliament on the
Xenophon tidal-wave. While most
MPs expected her to reject the
bill, she kept an open mind during
debate, and was persuaded to keep
it alive (no pun intended), at least
It must progress through another
Upper House debate and, if it
does, it will be on the shoulders of
Lower House MPs -- who have not
distinguished themselves this week
-- to determine the fate of Parnell's
legislation. It will be a conscience
vote, but the Premier has already
made it clear where his will go,
stating that while euthanasia laws
may sound a fine notion, the reality
can be "extremely dangerous".
At any rate, there are a mere
six days of sitting left before that
interminable pre-election lull.
After that, it's back to square one
for Parnell and his legislation. No
doubt there will be bills to which
Labor will give urgent attention in
fevered late-night sittings before the
parliamentary recess, but a "right
to die" proposal from a lone Greens
MP will not be one of them.
As our own Hendrik Gout pointed
out to me this week, why bother
abolishing the Upper House when
they can simply ignore it?
Pat on the back: deputy Liberal leader Steven Griffiths.
Photo Kate Elmes
Libs fight fire with fire
Most of the
was directed at
Griffiths, whom Labor
has identified as a soft
target for his lack of
and tactical nous.
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