Legislative Council: Thursday, March 23, 2023



Dunstan, Hon. D.A.

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. R.B. Martin:

That this council—

1. Acknowledges that 7 March 2023 marks the 70th anniversary of the election of Don Dunstan as the member for Norwood; and

2. Recognises the significant social, cultural and economic contributions made by Don Dunstan to the state of South Australia.

(Continued from 9 March 2023.)

The Hon. E.S. BOURKE (16:12): As the Hon. Reggie Martin pointed out when speaking to his motion, Don Dunstan changed the fabric of our society. He did that to such an extent that it is easy to take for granted the reforms he championed. Imagine or remember, for the older people in the room, a state without anti-discrimination legislation, where Aboriginal people had no land rights, where women were not allowed in the front bar of the pub—that is outrageous—where being gay was a criminal offence and rape within marriage was not.

Imagine South Australia without the Adelaide Festival Centre, the South Australian Film Corporation or the State Theatre Company. Imagine a state without the environment department or a container deposit scheme that took 35 years for another state to replicate. These are just some of the reforms that Dunstan was responsible for, many of them nation-leading firsts.

Dunstan was a champion of women. As Attorney-General, in 1965 he nominated Roma Mitchell QC as a justice of the South Australian Supreme Court, the first female Supreme Court judge to be appointed anywhere in Australia. Dunstan established the Women's Advisory Unit, created the position of equal opportunity commissioner, the Sex Discrimination Act was passed by his government and women were given the right to permanent part-time work in the Public Service.

One story about Dunstan people might not know so much about is that he put up his hand to be the campaign manager for the first Labor woman ever elected to parliament, Molly Byrne, in 1965. There had been a few other women candidates for the ALP before Molly, but no woman had ever won a seat.

At the beginning of 1963, Molly was preselected to run in the seat of Barossa. Historically, it was not considered a winnable seat for the ALP but with new housing developments, Barossa and Glenelg were two seats the ALP thought it could win—and needed to win—in order to form government for the first time in 33 years.

Molly was a wife and a mum of a two year old, but she had significant experience working in unions for two senators and had been active in the ALP from a young age. Nevertheless, a newspaper headline at the time declared, 'Housewife endorsed by ALP'. This was the time of the 'marriage bar', when women were required to resign from the Public Service once they married, so it was significant that the ALP endorsed a married mother when there were three men also contesting preselection for the seat of Barossa. Molly won the seat through sheer hard work and determination and with the help of Don Dunstan. As Don recalled:

We endorsed Molly Byrne, an earnest and extremely hard-working woman who campaigned tirelessly…In boiling heat Molly and I drove out into the country to knock on the doors of tiny settlements with a few houses like Bethany and Nain. During the week Molly canvassed in the inner suburbs of the district and soon established an enormous personal following.

In an interview Margaret Allen recorded with Molly in 2007, Molly said:

…during the latter end of the campaign, Don Dunstan practically gave up looking after his seat of Norwood and left Gretel there in charge while he came in and helped me.

It was because they drove down every dirt road and knocked on every door that Molly won that seat. What Dunstan did running that campaign helped pave the way for women to follow in Molly's footsteps.

Molly showed women, wives and mothers that they were good enough to sit in this place and Dunstan showed them that they would be supported. Significantly, after the death of Molly's husband five years into her political term, Molly became a single mother. She was not only the first Labor woman to be elected into this place but the first single mother, showing women that they could aspire to run for parliament no matter their circumstances.

Some say change takes time, but I think it takes persistence and vision and that is what Dunstan had. Dunstan allowed things to be seen differently and to be done differently. His reforms and ethos are the reason so many of us joined the Labor Party. His nation-leading policies helped make our state what it is today.

I wish Dunstan could be here this Sunday to see another Australian first with the passing of the legislation for the South Australian First Nations Voice to Parliament. Our Attorney-General can be rightly proud that he is building on the legacy of Dunstan and his vision for a fairer and more just society.

I am proud, too, that the Malinauskas government is building on Dunstan's legacy in other ways. In 1976, Dunstan appointed the first disability adviser to the Premier and now I am honoured to be the nation's first Assistant Minister for Autism. We will soon have established the nation's first Office for Autism. It is a sign of how much society's recognition and understanding of disability and neurodivergence has grown. But it has taken Labor governments to lead in this space.

I am grateful to the Hon. Reggie Martin for moving this motion because it is so important to pause and reflect on our history. It is a reminder of how far we have come and an inspiration to be courageous—to take difficult decisions because they are the right decisions. I commend the motion to the chamber.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (16:18): I rise to affirm the Liberal Party's support for this motion. Donald Allan Dunstan AC QC was born in 1929 in Fiji before moving to South Australia as a six year old in 1932. He studied law at the University of Adelaide and was first elected to the South Australian parliament in his late 20s. His career crossed two decades of change and he is widely regarded as a progressive and modern thinking political leader.

During his first term as Premier, Dunstan was instrumental in the abolition of the death penalty in South Australia through the amendment of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935, bringing South Australia in line with other jurisdictions around the country. His government introduced significant amendments to our state laws and consequently to our way of life. The Liberal Party acknowledge the enormous impact he made during his career.

Don Dunstan's political career is well documented and widely known. I would like to take this opportunity to speak instead on his impact on the arts and culture in South Australia. The establishment of the South Australian Film Corporation and the opening of the Adelaide Festival Centre are perhaps two of his most notable contributions.

It is fair to say that Mr Dunstan was a passionate supporter of the arts through his foundation. He himself was a trained actor, something that was perhaps useful to him in his political career. His Art for Good arm of the Don Dunstan Foundation continues to support several important initiatives, including recognising South Australian emerging artists and the South Australian Living Arts Festival.

The foundation also supports the Len King Scholarship in remembrance of the late former Chief Justice of South Australia, the Hon. Len King AC QC. This is a prestigious scholarship, assisting high-achieving students who for financial reasons would not otherwise be able to attend university to study law. The Dunstan Foundation has worked in conjunction with the University of Adelaide and Flinders University for many years to deliver this scholarship.

Don Dunstan remains one of the few Australian politicians to produce a cookbook during his tenure. I admit it contains, amongst other recipes, some excellent curries. My father received this 96-page volume as a Christmas gift one year, purchased by my husband, and at family dinners I have been the recipient of many delicious meals, cooked by my mother, out of this cookbook.

The book, published in 1976 and simply titled Don Dunstan's Cookbook, is dedicated to multicultural cooking, weaving in an informal style of cooking he embraced through years of travel. There is an entire chapter dedicated to Indian and Malay recipes, published at a time when Australians were only beginning to embrace a more diverse and multicultural appetite for food. French, Italian, Greek and Swedish cuisines also featured, as it was Mr Dunstan's way to embrace multiculturalism in all aspects of society.

It should be noted that he was also a champion of alfresco dining. He encouraged this approach to be adopted through the streets of Adelaide, our suburbs and our towns. Mr Dunstan was responsible for the extension of drinking hours in South Australia at licensed establishments. He sponsored the change that allowed service to occur right through to 10pm.

Post political life, he became the inaugural Director of Tourism Victoria and then Chairman of the Victorian Tourism Commission. His political memoirs, Felicia, were published in 1981. Don Dunstan was National President of the Freedom from Hunger Campaign throughout much of the 1980s and the National Chairman of Community Aid Abroad for a short term in the 1990s. Don Dunstan passed away in Adelaide on 6 February 1999. The Liberal Party acknowledges the significant contribution of Donald Allan Dunstan AC QC and supports the motion put forward by the honourable member.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:23): I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion, acknowledging the 70th anniversary of the election of Don Dunstan to this parliament and the significant contribution Mr Dunstan made to our state. As has been observed by other members, Don Dunstan was a trailblazer. His government, a social democratic government, offered our state a bold and transformative agenda, and we still see the consequences of that today. It certainly changed the face of South Australia.

I want to reflect on some of the achievements of Don Dunstan and his government. In 1965, he appointed the first female justice of the Supreme Court, Dame Roma Mitchell, which was a first for our nation. In 1971, he created the ministry for the environment. In 1971, he also lowered the drinking age to 18. In 1972, he established the State Theatre Company. In 1972, he also established the South Australian Film Corporation. In 1973, his government reformed this council, enacting universal suffrage, lowering the voting age and abolishing malapportionment.

In 1975, under his government, South Australia became the first state in the country to decriminalise homosexual acts. As an out and proud gay man, I think people of my generation owe the Don Dunstan government and the politicians at that time a great debt for their leadership. In particular, I acknowledge the leadership of Anne Levy in this place and other members of the Legislative Council who were so integral in achieving that social reform.

In 1976, SA abolished capital punishment. In 1976, we were also the first state in the country to legislate to make rape within marriage a crime. In 1976, under Don Dunstan, South Australia introduced Friday night shopping in the city and Thursday night for the suburbs. In 1976, we saw the first container deposit scheme in the country, which is a model that has continued to be rolled out around the country.

In 1976, we saw the establishment of Rundle Mall. It is interesting, looking back at the newspaper reportage at that time: one would think that would be the end of the world to be closing off that part of Rundle Street to traffic and turning it into a mall. What we have seen, of course, is that it has been hugely successful, a demonstration of good planning and pedestrianisation and certainly something that could be emulated today.

For me, one of the things that really impressed me about Don Dunstan was his decision to wear those pink shorts in 1972—not something that I would ever seek to emulate. I often skip leg day. I have seen the photos of Mr Dunstan—he did not, he looked very good in those shorts. There are lots of things, though, that the Greens would seek to emulate from the Dunstan era and the policies of that time.

Heritage protection was an area of focus for Mr Dunstan and his government. He took action to protect so many of our iconic heritage buildings. I wonder what he would think of the approach that many governments that have followed have taken to heritage in our state. He was a huge advocate for the arts and consumer protection, and a crusader against censorship. He cared deeply about inequality and sought to eliminate poverty—a mission that is more important today than ever.

In 1999, the year of Don Dunstan's death, the Don Dunstan Foundation was established to bring together research, policymakers and community groups to meet social needs in South Australia. During my time on Adelaide City Council I had the privilege of working with the Don Dunstan Foundation on issues to do with homelessness, and I saw firsthand the valuable role that foundation plays in South Australian civic life. The Adelaide Zero Project, which sought to achieve zero homelessness, is a good example of this and certainly a credit to the legacy of Mr Dunstan.

For me, Don Dunstan represents the power of politics and governments to change lives for the better. He once observed, and I quote from his remarks:

We have faltered in our quest to provide better lives for all our citizens, rather than just for the talented lucky groups. To regain our confidence in our power to shape the society in which we live, and to replace fear and just coping with shared joy, optimism and mutual respect, needs new imagining and thinking and learning from what succeeds elsewhere.

Those words were true then, and they are certainly true now as we deal with myriad challenges as a community.

It is certainly the hope of the Greens that Mr Dunstan and his legacy continue to serve as an inspiration for all members in this place and encourages us to think creatively about how we can improve the lives of the communities we seek to represent.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (16:28): I thank the Hon. Reggie Martin, who is not here at the moment, for his motion that celebrates the life and times of one of Australia's greatest political figures and social reformers. I was born a year after Don Dunstan entered politics in 1953. My formative years were during his meteoric ascendancy, while the beginnings of my journalism career at The News fell into that Dunstan decade of sweeping change and his eventual fall from office.

The South Australia I grew up in was yet to shake off its conservatism. The old Adelaide establishment still controlled the strings of power in parliament. Postwar migration was at its peak, with hundreds of thousands coming here from Europe and the UK, filling jobs in the manufacturing, mining and construction industries. South Australia was on the verge of becoming the second largest economy in the nation. Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War was coming to an end, with Adelaide Uni students running the gauntlet of police in street protests. Racism, aimed mostly at migrants, and homophobia were commonplace.

The political system, presided over by long-term Liberal Country League Premier Sir Tom Playford, was heavily biased against the Labor Party in metropolitan seats, even when it had popular support. These were the times when the city's unelected affluent elite still controlled the Legislative Council. When he won office, Don Dunstan changed that, with his one vote, one value ending the gerrymander, and proportional representation was introduced in the upper house. In his vortex of reforms, Dunstan helped unshackle South Australia from its deep-rooted conservatism and class structure with an ambitious push for a more social-democratic society, progressive thinking and equality.

As a young man, I was in awe of his persona. He oozed charisma—the rare and unique quality that stood him apart from his staid conservative rivals. Intelligent, articulate and a skilled orator, Dunstan was simply spellbinding. Dunstan was not aloof and was able to easily cut through and resonate with all levels of society, particularly migrant communities like the Greeks and the Italians, who copped lots of racist sentiment.

I was at events where they showered him with adulation because of the respect Don showed them. Perhaps it was also because Don was also seen as being one of them, a migrant. He was a man born of mixed-race parentage in Fiji who made a real go of his life in South Australia. Even he was subjected to a cruel, racist whispering campaign that he was a Melanesian, orphan, half-caste bastard.

He won his seat of Norwood in 1953 on the back of a strong presidential-style campaign that targeted the large Italian community in the area, using posters plastered on light poles and a translated pamphlet highlighting an astonishing racist gibe by his LCL opponent Roy Moir, who had shamefully declared:

These immigrants are of no use to us—a few of them are tradesmen but most of them have no skills at all. And when they intermarry, we will have all the colours of the rainbow.

Unsurprisingly, Don won easily, and he became their champion who fervently fostered the strong multicultural community we enjoy today. It was Don Dunstan who dubbed Adelaide the Athens of the South. As their local member, he would set aside two days a week with his constituents, even while he was Premier of the state. He established economic and cultural links with our nearest neighbours in South-East Asia, including the relationship between Adelaide and Penang in Malaysia, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in December.

Such was his popularity that he held an approval rating of 82 per cent six years into his government. Bob Hawke held him 'in greater esteem than any other Labor parliamentarian with whom I have been associated in the past generation'. Another of Labor's charismatic stalwarts, Gough Whitlam, was equally effusive in a tribute after Don's death, saying that no-one had done more to transform his own community and society and, by his example, the whole of Australia, and that he brought extraordinary joy, zest and style to the process. Don Dunstan revved up South Australians at mass rallies after the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1972.

Controversy and scandal reared too when Dunstan shut down South Australia Police's special branch, which had been set up to spy on German Australians during World War II—but they did not stop there. They held tens of thousands of secret files containing information on left-leaning individuals and organisations, including members of parliament, unions, the ALP, church leaders, communists and the so-called pink files on gay activists. This was a gross invasion of civil liberties that would never be tolerated by today's standards.

A judicial inquiry in 1977 found that the files were scandalously inaccurate, irrelevant to security purposes and unfair to those citizens spied upon. Don Dunstan's actions were vindicated, and the final report led to the sacking of the police commissioner, Harold Salisbury. However, the treatment of Salisbury, who was recruited from the UK, divided the community and damaged Don Dunstan's image, precipitating the eventual downfall.

Don Dunstan's extraordinary reforms and achievements have been well documented by others speaking on this motion, and I will not go through them in detail again. They led the country in health, education, consumerism, the environment, the arts, heritage preservation, jobs, equal opportunities for women, the gay community and decriminalising homosexuality, and being a voice for minorities—especially First Nations people, whose social justice rights he championed with vigour. Don Dunstan was an integral player in dropping federal Labor's support for the vile White Australia policy.

If Don Dunstan were alive today, he would be delighted and proud at the passage of the South Australian Voice to Parliament and that it has been moved by our first Indigenous Attorney-General, the Hon. Kyam Maher. It was Don Dunstan who appointed the nation's first Indigenous governor, Pastor Sir Douglas Nicholls—a decision that had been met with racist derision by some quarters of Adelaide's establishment and media.

A fierce opponent of the nuclear industry and the arms race, Don would have been scathing of the new AUKUS alliance making Adelaide the centre of the construction for a fleet of nuclear submarines.

Don Dunstan was renowned for his flamboyance and, as the Hon. Rob Simms pointed out, he made national headlines wearing pink Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt into parliament when dress codes were relaxed. He looked particularly sharp in a safari suit, which was a fashion item in 1970s wardrobes.

While I did not know Don personally, I did interact with him occasionally as a journalist in my time at The News on North Terrace. One story that stands out was in 1976, when a psychic called John Nash had Adelaide gripped in fear that we were about to be wiped out by a tidal wave. People had taken Nash so seriously that many sold up their homes and moved interstate to escape the impending biblical flood supposedly coming our way because of Dunstan's decriminalising of same-gender relationships.

To reassure people it was pure bunkum, the safari-suited Premier turned it into a mega media event on the balcony of the Pier Hotel at Glenelg. With news teams from everywhere gathered, along with thousands more in Moseley Square, he raised his hands Canute-style with his tongue firmly implanted in his cheek and promised to hold back the tide, should it eventuate. Of course, it never did. His press secretary at the time, Russell Stiggants, told me he laughed all the way back into town.

Here is a secret I can reveal: Don often confided in and sought guidance from a psychic who I knew and who lived in his electorate. She only died late last year, taking with her many secrets—including the number of MPs who actually sought her advice. I will not name them.

Don Dunstan's popularity and reforms, which some saw as quite radical for their day, resulted in him becoming a political target. It heralded an era of toxic, dirty politics not really exercised before in Adelaide media circles. Although he never publicly spoke about his bisexuality, inuendo about his sexuality and indiscretions in his private life were combustible gossip. He also ran the risk of jail, as homosexuality was a crime until 1975. He was also linked to some nefarious characters around town and while there was never any evidence of corruption, journalists already had the scent of a scandal in their nostrils and were ready to tear apart his reputation.

As the whispering campaign persisted, his press conferences became more tempestuous, with hostile questions probing his personal life. It took its toll on his mental and physical health, forcing him to stand down as Premier in 1979 at a televised press conference at Calvary Hospital, where he was dressed in, I must say, quite a loud silk dressing-gown. Downcast, with a weary look of capitulation, the curtain came down on South Australia's Camelot.

In a biography, a former adviser and historian, Dr Dino Hodge, wrote that Dunstan lived as a sexually liberated bisexual man and he and his first wife, Gretel, and second wife, Adele Koh, all conducted extramarital affairs. He was also in a relationship with another man identified only as Tony before and after he set up house with Steven Cheng, with whom he established a restaurant on The Parade known as Don's Table and who nursed him until his death from cancer in 1999. Dr Hodge said Dunstan never tried to hide behind a heterosexual exterior. Hodge ruminated:

Dunstan tried to be honest. He is not one of those bisexual men who hides behind a wedding ring and the facade of a happy family.

Dunstan's problem, he proffered, was that he may have been too honest, a failing noted by one of his cabinet ministers, former Attorney-General Peter Duncan, who said that he gave his trust too generously to people who had neither earned it nor deserved it. Don Dunstan will always be remembered in this place and in our history as a bold visionary social crusader. I commend the motion by the honourable member.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.