Current Issue #479

Slings and Arrows:
The Annual Audacity Awards 2019

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Each month Slings and Arrows unpicks the city’s web of baffling bureaucracy, fudged numbers and local government intrigue. From council gag motions to millions in unpaid rates, 2019 has been a banner year on all fronts, but who deserves special recognition?

The Democracy Trophy

Goes to Adelaide City Council for locking away reports about 108 touchy subjects discussed between July 2018 and June 2019 under confidentiality orders allowed under the Local Government Act 1999. Its 1 October draft annual report also proudly recorded 698 reports retained under lock and key between January 2011 and now – all secret today. Six 2011 reports about the Adelaide Oval redevelopment remain so hot that subsequent annual reviews have rolled over the secrecy orders ever since.

The Democracy Medal

Goes to the city’s deputy Lord Mayor, Houssam Abiad, who in June 2019 led his majority faction Team Adelaide to vote to amend Standing Orders amid much controversy. These included changes to rules that aimed to gag councillors from discussing with the media their proposed motions on notice in the days leading up to the release of meeting agendas. Abiad then called for release of advice that said it was legal to do it.

It was pounced on by none other than Mark Brindal, the former (but now long-retired) Liberal party local government minister who participated in passing city council legislation in 1998. He claimed that Abiad’s bid wasn’t lawful. “For a democratically elected body to turn around and try and muzzle its members from talking to the people that elected them – I can’t work out why anyone would ever try to do that. Do we live in a democracy?” Uproar led to the revocation of the decision weeks later.

The Opportunity Plate

Goes to first-term central ward city councillor Simon Hou for successfully doubling the city’s funding for the 2020 Chinatown Adelaide of SA Inc (CASA) Lunar New Year street party. This nets $30,000. In June 2019 council agreed to cough up $15,000 (same as last year), even though CASA wanted $50,000. It must be some party. (To put this into context, in 2018 central ward councillor Houssam Abiad had also successfully convinced his colleagues to add another $15,000 for the January 2019 event out of funding not linked to the rigorously applied Events and Festivals Sponsorship Program (EFSP) criteria, thereby handing CASA a double-dip bonus, totalling $30,000.)

Hou’s 2019 bid mirrored that 2018 Abiad tactic, and he was delighted to have his June 2019 motion seconded by none other than… Cr Abiad. Administrators were keen to see it succeed (contrasting last year’s resistance), noting: “Additional funding of $15,000 to be prioritised through a quarterly budget review.” Only problem for all the other bodies seeking funding is that they didn’t get any double-dip allowance, regardless of ‘budget reviews’, and had to cop the disciplined funding limits under the EFSP criteria. The vote got up, scoring Cr Abiad’s full Team Adelaide support.

The ‘Third Time Very Lucky’ Pennant

Goes to CASA for suddenly scoring a 22 October 2019 triple lucky dip handout from the city council, winning an additional $10,000 (to the above $30,000) for its one-night-only Lunar New Year party in January 2020, taking its handout tally to $40,000. The mover was Cr Simon Hou, seconded by the planning minister’s father, Franz Knoll, a trader at the Central Market, adjacent to Chinatown.

Administrators noted that the additional $10,000 will pay for “a third party event manager who can work with the organising committee to mentor, offer advice and assistance in the planning, delivery and acquittal of the event”. The $40,000 means that, thanks to the astonishing generosity of the council, CASA has set a high bar, scoring 80 per cent of what it originally wanted earlier in the year, a request-to-funding ratio of which other community event applicants can only dream.

The triple-dip windfall means that CASA takes on special Adelaide status. It’s the only community group nabbing additional funding not just to run an event, but to organise and plan for an event. As administrators noted: “The growth and complexity of delivering this event has exceeded the capacity of the dedicated volunteer event committee.”

The ‘Arise Sir William’ Gong

Goes to StudyAdelaide South Australia, for knighting 1837 city surveyor, Colonel William Light, as Sir William Light, usurping Queen Victoria’s (or Queen Elizabeth’s) exclusive role. The shock announcement was buried on page 60 of the 2018 International Student Guide (‘A guide by local experts’) in text highlighting Light’s Vision ‘up Montefiore Hill’. The booklet was circulated by the city council in October 2019. Since Colonel Bill has been dead for 180 years, his posted Buckingham Palace gong will probably wind up in the GPO’s dead letter office.

The ‘Everlasting Life’ Award

Goes to that guy Steve, otherwise known as Premier Marshall, who in June 2019 came email – knocking soon after May’s 2019 federal election day, during which federal Labor learned over several agonising, post-poll hours what it was like to descend into the dark pit of electoral despair. Steve flicked a jolly email across Adelaide offering the people of SA an opportunity to turn over a new leaf, take the pledge, and join the state Liberals.

“If you have ever considered being active in politics – there has never been a better time! I invite you to become a member of the Liberal Party to help shape the future of South Australia,” he wrote. “As a member, you will hear first-hand about the government’s priorities over the next few years and contribute ideas to shape the future of our state. Please take the step today to join the Party.” The offer coincided with Stage 1 of the Party’s slow haul to restore funds, via new memberships, as its tacticians began long-term strategic planning for what will be a costly 2022 election campaign.

But what of state Labor, its March 2018 election budget spent and its members stranded in opposition? They never call. They never write. They should. In the pledge game, everlasting life is expensive.

The Secret Discount Sash

Goes to city-based universities for annually escaping $8.7million in rates under the Local Government Act 1999, despite nowadays being some of the most hard-nosed commercially run businesses in the City of Adelaide. Equal winner is the Adelaide Oval Stadium Management Authority for its new Adelaide Oval Hotel (under construction), which will dodge $140,000 in annual council rates under the Oval’s special legislation.

The Sash is awarded annually to those whose super-competitive businesses claim that they operate on the same financial level playing field as every other business in their segment, the massive discounts of which never appear in their annual reports (especially adjacent to the executive remuneration disclosures).

Sweetness and Light Cup

Goes to… er… us, the folks of the City of Adelaide, for being nice. As the city council noted last winter, everyone behaves impeccably. “In terms of social behaviour, the Adelaide community is considered to be polite,” it observed in a 4 June ‘Safer city policy and action plan’ report. “We line up in orderly queues at bus stops and conform to a series of unspoken community norms. This suggests a high standard of social amenity and normative standards. Community members will usually reinforce these standards if people do not comply. For example, it is not unusual for members of the public to advise smokers that they are smoking at a non-smoking area of a café.”

That may be true, but it’s different when the sun goes down, the pubs begin to fill and the booze flows. A council safety report claimed that crimes reported in Adelaide’s licensed premises in the most recent data (assaults, threats, harassment) topped 1070. But policing is working, because the figures back in 2002 totalled 1736. Still, who’s game to tell a shickered drinker on his fifth pint in a non-smoking area of Hindley Street that he’d better put out that cigarette?

You go first. That’s it folks, for another audacious year!

Ash Whitefly

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Ash Whitefly is Executive Director of the Adelaide Whitefly Institute of Diplomatic Studies.

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