30. The surprise election result
South Australia held a state election on Saturday 9th Feb. 2002. The polls predicted it was going to be a cliff hanger. The Liberal Party (conservative) had been in power for six years and looked to remain so for another term. The Labour Party (socialist) had a chance of winning government, if they could persuade some independent Members of Parliament to vote with them.
Every politician believes that the worst day in government is better than the best day in opposition. Labour was desperate to sit on the right side of the Lower House. Its leader Mike Rann’s future depended on this election. I had been politically active since joining the Liberal Party in July 2001. I was actively assisting the sitting Member of Parliament at my state branch with the task of having her re-elected. During late 2001 and early 2002 I gained valuable experience in both a Federal as well as a state election campaign. Being a government Minister at the time, the outcome of the election meant a lot to her.
As predicted the result was very close. So close in fact that the final outcome was not known for a number of days. The Liberal Party did win 50.3 % of the primary vote. However, our state operates under a preference system, which means the second choice vote is redistributed and can decide the result of an election. In this case it did.
If things were to go according to plan, if the independents, who had previously voted for the Liberal government, would continue to do so, there would be no change of leadership. This was what everyone expected. Until one rebel MP, the previous Liberal Party member and now independent Peter Lewis, decided to call a press conference for 4 PM on Wed. 13th Feb. 2002.
Our state was on suspense on that sunny Wednesday afternoon. Rumours had circulated about a possible surprise in the outcome. After all, why call a press conference, if you can just issue a press release with either the word Liberal or Labour. But Peter Lewis knew the importance of his decision who to support. Four years of either political power the dry wilderness of opposition was at stake for the politicians of South Australia.
Peter Lewis was a colourful individual. He would only sleep a few hours a night and was active in businesses as well as a politician of over 20 years. The previous year he’d had arguments with his Liberal colleagues which eventually led him to stand as independent candidate. It is interesting to note that Peter Lewis stated in the run up to the election that he would never support the Labour Party. He won the seat of Hammond as an independent. Only hours before his press conference, PL signed a document with his former Liberals that he would support them.
Around the time of the election I had been kept informed on issues, because we had the daily newspaper, the Advertiser, home-delivered. On Wednesday Feb. 13th I was sitting at my P/C typing. I listened to the radio as journalists prepared for the press conference of the year, where one man had been given all power. My mind did not settle very well on my writing that afternoon. At 5 pm I had a driving lesson scheduled. It was already after 3 pm and I knew not much progress would be made in the piece of writing I was doing.
A thought dropped into my brain. Why not go into Parliament House and watch the Press Conference live. If it starts at 4 pm I could easily make my driving lesson by 5 pm. I relished the thought of witnessing political history being made. ‘Don’t be stupid’ I argued with myself. Watching parliament from the gallery is one thing, attending press conferences is another. ‘It would be very educational,’ I convinced myself. One day, who knows, I may become a politician, even a Member of Parliament?
It was about 3.15 pm when I phoned Parliament House. The person I spoke to did not say that the public is not allowed in. He only said, it would be very crowded with journalists. I went back to typing and listening to the radio. The broadcaster from Parliament House mentioned how the “Balcony Room” where the press conference was to be held, was surprisingly empty. This did not add up to what I had heard a moment earlier from an employee in the same building. Perhaps I should go? No better not.
The radio station played a song to fill in time before the show starts. I overheard the last few words of the song that was played: “…I must go.” This was the impetus I needed. I grabbed my diary, my mobile phone and yelled out to my wife: “I’m going to Parliament House before my 5 o’clock lesson. See you after that!” I ran out the door fast because I did not like to have to explain why I am going.
It was very easy to slip into Parliament House. I just followed another man. I was sure the electronic scanner beeped as I walked through, but it was so busy, the attendant had his attention already on the next person who walked through. ‘My goodness’, I thought, ‘how easy it would have been to smuggle in something sinister’. Not knowing where to go I followed the same man, who I thought must be a journalist leading me in the right direction. We entered a large room with a handful of people already waiting. I recognized some faces from the TV news.
I played it cool and half sat on a table along a wall. As it got closer to 4 pm the politicians started walking in slowly. Rory McEwen and Karlene Maywald stood beside me. She popped the all important question: “Have we met before?” I had seen her once in the basement of Parliament House. She exited the ladies, I had just finished in the men’s. I replied: “Probably not…” I noticed she turned and whispered something to Rory McEwen. Was that about me? I wondered. Bob Such was sitting by a microphone on a table in the middle of the room, waiting as was everyone else.
Angus Redford, who I heard during the Prostitution debate walked in. There was a lot of small talk. The 4 pm deadline passed, quarter past 4, half past four and still no Peter Lewis. Each time the door opened everyone hushed, only to find it was another false start. Jokes were floating around. Some MP’s went next door to play a game of snooker.
Mr. T. appeared, walking slowly towards us. ‘He is not going to talk to me?’ I thought, ‘not about the ‘nothing is too hard for God basket’? He exchanged a few words with Rory McEwen, ignoring me completely. I could not help throwing in one sentence: “Maybe it’s in the “too hard basket”. I think Mr. T. heard me. I was glad he did not comment. I really enjoyed myself being there; except it was getting late.
A girl in her mid 20’s walked over to us. She turned to Rory McEwen and said: “I am Rebekah Devlin from the Advertiser, do you mind if I ask a few questions?”
She asked a few questions which I heard quite clearly standing really close. Mr. McEwen said he was offering bets of 2/1 on the Liberals but no one would take up the offer. I jokingly said I would.
Further towards the door I recognized Michael Smith from the ABC TV news. I asked him what happened to Rosanna Mangiarelli. He said she had moved to work with the ABC in Perth, Western Australia. But why did I want to know? I said I was her driving instructor. By now it was getting very late. I did not like being late for my driving lesson; it was a first time student. Then I realized I had goofed up. My diary and my mobile phone were in the parked car about 8 minutes walk away. I could not phone the student and say I would be late.
I started to get anxious. I asked a reporter from radio 5AA if I could use his mobile to make a quick call. I rang Isobel, but, of course she could not help me with the students phone number. My diary was in the car parked down near Adelaide Oval. What a waste of a phone call. I thanked the reporter, whom I had recognized from the Peter Liddy Supreme Court appearance. I ran to my car, switched on the radio and had to be happy to listen to the political announcement of the year on radio.
The new student, a girl name Laura was very nice. I listened to the press conference even after we had started the driving lesson. (Under normal circumstances listening to the radio during a lesson is a big No-no). When I heard the words: “…will give my support to the Labour party…” I could hardly believe it. What a bombshell. The Liberal Party cried foul. Dean Brown, its deputy leader, waved the document, signed only a couple of hours or so earlier by PL, in front of TV cameras for the evening news. The affair turned into a political scandal. Eventually the Liberal Party mounted a legal challenge against Peter Lewis, but was unsuccessful.
He struck a deal with the Labour Party and became Speaker of the Lower House. Everyone thought, how ironic that the man who was dumped from the government party only the year before, suddenly became the king pin.
The reason as to why the independent, who promised never to support Labour, did so by changing his mind within an hour has never been made public, unless I missed it. One evening on the news I did see Mr. Lewis, together with Mr. T., visit a prominent lawyer to obtain legal advice. The people of South Australia read about the election outcome in the papers or see it on TV for weeks and months following. Much has been printed and speculated as to what went on behind the scenes? One day the PL secret will be revealed!
In the Advertiser was an article one day about the conversation between Rebekah Devlin and Rory McEwen. I had witnessed first hand, what was said at the time. There was some erroneous misreporting, nothing of significance, yet I felt I had to put the record straight. Here is what I wrote, commenting to a large article titled ‘My Way”.
Saturday Feb. 16th, 2002
The Advertiser Newspaper Ltd.
Mr. Greg Kelton and Kim Wheatley
My Way (God’s way)
Dear Mr. Kelton and Mr. Wheatley,
On page 64 of today's Advertiser Newspaper you published a rather lengthy article on the extraordinary events of Wednesday 13/2 at Parliament House, Adelaide.
May I point out a slight error in your report? Mr. Rory McEwen did jokingly say in conversation with your colleague Rebekah Devlin: “I asked for 2/1 bets on Peter going for the Liberals, but no one would take it”. He never yelled across the room, neither did he raise the stakes to 3/1.
You also reported that no one took up his offer. Well, I am no betting man, but I offered to take a bet with him. I stood right beside them. He may not have heard me or taken me seriously. I’m no betting man. Only recently I bought my first ever Lottery Ticket, hoping to win $ 5000. I would have had a better change in the Advertiser’s “Show me the money” game. I sometimes feel like a bit of a loser, but that is another story.
Just thought to let you know.
I took the opportunity and included a copy of the large PL letters, the poem about my doctor admitting malpractice and the Sep. 11 link to Jeremiah, 6, 6.
The “show me the money” game was run early in 2002. I found it strange that the price was $ 5000, just the amount I had asked God to supply, if it was HIS will to go to Germany. I was not tempted to enter the competition. I had a lot of emails to send yet, before I would visit Germany later that year.
1. More in number 2. A sound mind 3. Now I'm found 4. Candle and the Wind
5. Realm of Nature 6. All in his Hand 7. The Wonder of it All 8. To Think God loves