Legislative Council: Wednesday, February 08, 2023


Strangers Gallery Renaming

The Hon. E.S. BOURKE (17:12): I move:

That the Strangers Gallery be renamed as the 'Public Gallery'.

I am very excited to do so. Often, we think of strangers and one line pops to mind, and that is 'stranger danger'. It is a line most parents have parroted to their children, as I have, and it is a line used across our community. In fact, when you Google the term 'stranger danger', the first thing that pops up in my search anyway is: Stranger Danger Tips—Safety 4 Kids:

1. Never answer the door alone—even when your parents are home.

2. Don't invite strangers into your home.

I will repeat that because it is quite significant: do not invite strangers into your home. This house we stand in belongs to the good people of South Australia. It is their home of democracy, but in this house the very people this home represents—the house that the people call on to represent them, or even the people who are elected in this chamber because of South Australians—are referred to as strangers. They are strangers in their own home, and for good reason many therefore feel they should never be invited into this home. After all, rule No. 2 on Google says: do not invite strangers into your home.

Parliament has many weird and wonderful traditions, from dragging the new Speaker to the chair in the other house, to the blood line on the floor in the other house. Some of these traditions date back over many centuries and provide important reminders of sacrifice, challenges, and changes made to our parliament. Some of these historic changes are remembered through tapestries, paintings and stories lining the walls of our parliament.

However, there is a physical plaque in this house that captures a tradition that dates back probably centuries as well, a tradition that does not sit well with many who walk through the doors of this parliament. That of course is the hanging of the sign above our gallery just behind me, the Strangers Gallery.

The Strangers Gallery plaque was certainly noticed by a group of year 6 Prospect Primary School students and sparked a campaign for change. Students set about writing letters to the President, the Speaker, the Governor and MPs to ask why this outdated and negative term was still being used when referring to the public in parliament. They felt the term was not welcoming, despite this being the people's house. They felt this term was out of step with community expectations.

Many people have mentioned to me, 'Should kids be able to change the parliament?' The Prospect Primary School students are not suggesting we throw centuries of tradition in the bin out of malice. Age should not deter us from changing. We have seen year 6 students in this very parliament before change it for the better, with the addition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flag in the other place.

They are not suggesting we should do something other parliaments have not done before. In fact, I wish we could say that we would be leading the way, but we will not be. We will be following. We will be following the mother parliament and many others. I believe in 2004 a motion was approved implementing the recommendation that the term 'stranger' no longer be used and be replaced with 'member of the public' or 'public' in the UK parliament.

The mother parliament is not the only parliament to modernise and move away from the term 'strangers' when referring to the public, the people who put us here. I am aware that other common-law jurisdictions have also taken steps to remove references to strangers in their parliaments, including New South Wales, Northern Territory and, of course, the Australian commonwealth parliament. In fact, the Australian commonwealth parliament has replaced any reference to 'strangers' with 'public'.

Our colleagues in the other place have also modernised the House of Assembly chamber by removing the term 'strangers' on the gallery door and replacing it with 'public'. This followed the member for Adelaide, Lucy Hood, taking the calls of Prospect Primary School students to the floor of the other place, where students sat in the Strangers Gallery to watch the debate for change take place. It was the last week that chamber was called the Strangers Gallery.

There was a debate on that floor. Sometimes change is hard, and people will find all sorts of reasons to challenge change—and that is not a bad thing. Just like that, a challenge was put forward. It was put forward by the member for Hartley, Vincent Tarzia. He used his time not to congratulate a group of year 6 students for wanting to engage in democracy, for wanting to show an interest in what happens in the people's place, for seeking to make this place a welcoming place, he instead used his debate for politics, suggesting the government's priorities were all wrong and that taking this debate to the floor of the parliament was not a priority.

Giving 20 minutes to a debate brought about by public feedback should be a focus of all governments. After all, we are not here to debate our personal opinions; we are here to debate on behalf of South Australians. We must always remember that if we want a strong parliament we need the next generation to be inspired to be a part of this place. We need to build trust that this parliament is not exclusive, which is what the term 'stranger' presents to people. We need to find new ways to put the welcome mat out in this place, and a good start would be to remove a sign that calls the public 'strangers'.

This motion is not taking steps to change the standing orders. This motion is simply seeking to update the gallery viewing area sign. We are taking down a sign and putting up a new sign. The door that is the entry point to this chamber, the door that should welcome voters into the chamber, should not suggest that they are strangers in this house, the house that we represent them in.

Today, the Hon. Jing Lee mentioned the importance of the education programs within this parliament, and I could not agree more: it is a fantastic program. Getting kids involved in civics is never an easy task, and when we can find new ways to get students involved and see how this place works is an incredible outcome for anyone.

To have an opportunity for some year 6 students to come to the parliament, see how change could be made, go away and put those practices in place by writing to their local MPs, by lobbying, by running a campaign and then being able to come into this place and see that that change was put into place in the House of Assembly is an incredible civics learning lesson and one that I know will inspire those kids to be more involved in what they do in their community.

I really do want to thank the Prospect Primary School students for making the lower house change possible, and I hope that we can do it in the upper house. I know at times this house makes a point of not following the other house—which I would more often than not agree with—but on this occasion I ask the members of this chamber, on behalf of the Prospect Primary School students, the many students who have come before them and the many who will come after, that we do make a change from calling the public 'strangers' when they come to view us from the gallery. I hope to be bringing this to a vote in the next week of sitting, and I look forward to having discussions on the floor with members.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. L.A. Henderson.