Topics:  Steele Hall; Jennifer Cashmore; King’s Birthday honours


11 June 2024



Sonya Feldhoff: Well, over the weekend, news of the deaths of two stalwarts of the conservative side of politics in a former Premier, Steele Hall, and of course the passing of Jennifer Cashmore.


Jules Schiller: It is odd that you have two such great figures pass away on the same day. We could almost devote half an hour to both of them.


Sonya Feldhoff: To each of them, yes.


Jules Schiller: So, look, if you’ve ever met either of them or have a memory, we’re always happy to bring you into this conversation, 1300 222 891.


Sonya Feldhoff: You have, over the last 24 hours or so, heard from John Gardner as the Deputy State Leader of the Liberal Party here in South Australia but let’s talk to our most senior South Australian Liberal in South Australia, Senator Simon Birmingham. Simon Birmingham, lost two greats from your side of politics over the weekend.


Simon Birmingham: Hello, Sonya and Jules. Yes, indeed, look, two true giants and legends of South Australian politics and of the Liberal Party in South Australia in Steele Hall, somebody who had an amazing political career that stretched all the way from 1959, when he was first elected to the House of Assembly, to 1996, when he left the House of Representatives, but it wasn’t just length of service in Steele’s case, it was what he did with that service, how he stood up for his values and what he achieved for our state in a remarkably short two years as Premier but leaving an indelible footprint and, in Jennifer Cashmore’s case, a trailblazer, a woman who really set an example but also, again, leaving a remarkable legacy in her advocacy for equality, the environment and her amazing foresight in calling out the looming disaster of the State Bank well ahead of anybody else.


Jules Schiller: Simon, what would you say… let’s start with Steele Hall. What are, you know, the things that you dwell on when you think of his legacy? What are the kind of most important aspects of it?


Simon Birmingham: In a legacy sense, of course people will look at his time as Premier and, as you’ve rightly highlighted, those electoral reforms he put in place which were in essence a self-sacrificing act – he very nearly held on at that 1970 election and, if he had not shown the way to institute ‘one vote, one value’ electoral reforms in SA, he would have continued to be Premier for longer than those two years – but, in those two years, he packed much into it, in terms of the Festival Centre and some other important reforms but he didn’t just stop then. If you look at the Dunstan years, Steele was still pushing in areas of social reform, through those years, and then continued that. He was in the Senate at the time of the Dismissal and in the Federal Parliament, throughout the Howard and Peacock battles in terms of the direction of the Liberal Party and he was always strong and fierce in the values that he brought to those debates.


Sonya Feldhoff: Gosh, when you when you say some of those things, they were very colourful times in in politics, weren’t they?


Simon Birmingham: They sure were. I mean, they predate all of us, in one form or another for some of them, but they are vivid recollections in terms of my formative years of politics and I consider myself so fortunate to have had time with Steele, to have spent… my first real stint in politics was doing a bit of work experience as a teenager in his electorate office, back when he was still the Member for Boothby, and seeing the wit and the skill and the wisdom that that he brought, along with vast experience.


Jules Schiller: Simon, how much did Steele Hall then affect your view of politics or even your approach to politics, ’cause, you know, he was a conviction politician, as you rightly pointed out…


Sonya Feldhoff: To his own detriment.


Jules Schiller: Yeah, well, he crossed the floor, you know, after John Howard’s Asian immigration speech. I don’t think he voted to block supply for the Whitlam Government – I think that is right, Simon Birmingham – so he did stand up to his convictions. You would describe him as a more progressive Liberal. People might describe you that way, as well. Did he have that influence on you, do you think?


Simon Birmingham: I think Steele certainly showed that the Liberal Party… and Jennifer Cashmore very much so, too… that the Liberal Party was a place for liberal ideology, liberal philosophy and convictions and values and that is something that is so important for us to hold onto, as a party, and to remember that, as John Howard used to emphasise in his days as Leader, we are the strands of two threads of philosophical tradition – John Stuart Mill’s liberal traditions and Edmund Burke’s conservative traditions – and it is how we bring those together when we are at our best and certainly Steele did that. It was an era, I think, where there was more room, scope and occasions of dissent and difference as to how they played out publicly, probably because it was without the rigorous 24/7 media cycle and social media scrutiny that comes up with every nuance and word that each of us utter, nowadays, but we have to make sure that we remember those values, those principles, and do fight for them when required.


Sonya Feldhoff: You’re listening to 891 ABC Radio Adelaide. We’re talking… and you’re hearing the voice of Simon Birmingham, SA Liberal. Senator, as we remember the lifes and legacies of both Steele Hall and Jennifer Cashmore. Let’s talk a little bit about Jennifer Cashmore. I mean, there’s no doubt that she was groundbreaking in terms of women’s involvement in Parliament but, also, she was a Minister, I think in the Tonkin Government, but most of her time was spent in opposition. I think… would you agree that she was one person that showed that you can really make huge waves in opposition?


Simon Birmingham: I think that’s definitely the case in the way that Jennifer did drive, as I said, not just equality questions but also matters of the environment and I look at what she achieved in terms of that early calling out of the State Bank and it was really a bringing of the forensic Senate Estimates-type process of scrutiny of government into the State Parliament and looking in that detail at the accounts of the State Bank, the direction of it and taking advice and then having the courage to say what nobody else was saying at the time and that, of course, takes great courage sometimes…


Sonya Feldhoff: And…


Simon Birmingham: …because, if you get it wrong, it blows up in your face terribly but…


Sonya Feldhoff: And she was vilified…


Simon Birmingham: …sadly, for the state, she was right.


Sonya Feldhoff: She was vilified for that, though, too, wasn’t… well, she came under a huge amount of pressure for continuing on, though, that questioning and yet she maintained her resolve.


Simon Birmingham: She did. There were absolutely attacks, not just from within the Labor Government of the day but also parts of the business community and others who wanted to believe that it was a ride that could continue forever in the way the State Bank was operating and, sadly, if people had heeded Jennifer’s warnings much earlier, we would have then been in the position where the state would have potentially saved billions of dollars.


Jules Schiller: Yeah, two or three billion ($2b-$3b), as well, I think, it was estimated they could have saved if they’d heeded her warnings earlier. Before you leave us, Simon Birmingham, two Labor Premiers were honoured for… in the ‘gongs’ yesterday, for the their contributions to health when it came to, you know, managing COVID in their states – that’s Mark McGowan and Dan Andrews in Victoria. Our own Premier at the time, Steven Marshall, was not honoured. A lot of people have been commenting on the fact that, with Labor government, we have two Labor Premiers honoured, not our own Premier here in South Australia. What’s your view on that?


Simon Birmingham: I certainly don’t wish to see national awards politicised and so I’ll be careful in what I say here, because I think it’s important we maintain integrity and value in them. I hope that the committee and Government House and the Honours Secretariat look pretty carefully at the reaction to this. Recognising long-serving former Premiers is longstanding and there’s no doubt that, in terms of Dan Andrews and Mark McGowan, they both won multiple elections, did so decisively and had a marked impact on their states, whatever issues I might disagree with in terms of some aspects of their management of those things, so I don’t deny them recognition. I trust and hope that somebody like Steven Marshall, who, again, like Steele, achieved much in one term – four years, not two – deserves…


Jules Schiller: Well, I mean, but… if we’re honouring them on a health basis, I mean, you know, COVID was managed, you could argue, quite well here in South Australia, you know, and th…


Simon Birmingham: Well, I… yeah, I think, if we look back, we were really the ‘Goldilocks’ state, didn’t shut down as hard as WA in our borders, didn’t lock down for the length that Victoria did, but still got pretty much the best health outcomes and economic outcomes in the country and Steven Marshall along with Grant Stevens and Nicola Spurrier deserve huge, huge credit for that.


Sonya Feldhoff: Liberal Senator for South Australia Simon Birmingham.