South Australia’s most colorful pollie ever has to be Don Dunstan. Colorful, yes, (in more ways than one), controversial, clever, and even entertaining, he was twice Premier of South Australia between June 1967 and April 1968, and again between June 1970 and February 1979. Whether it was turning up in Parliament in pink shorts, sacking police commissioners, introducing major changes to just about everything, he could always grab a headline!
According to Wikipedia “Dunstan was a reformist and he brought profound change to South Australian society. His socially progressive administration saw Aboriginal land rights recognised, homosexuality decriminalised, the first female judge appointed, the first non-British governor, Sir Mark Oliphant, and later, the first indigenous governor Sir Douglas Nicholls. He enacted consumer protection laws, reformed and expanded the public education and healyh systems, abolished the death penalty, relaxed censorship and drinking laws, created a ministry for the environment, enacted anti-discrimination law, and implemented electoral reforms such as the overhaul of the Legislative Council, lowered the voting age to 18, enacted universal suffrage, and completely abolished malapportionment, changes which gave him a less hostile parliament and allowed him to enact his reforms.
He established Rundle Malll, enacted measures to protect buildings of historical heritage, and encouraged a flourishing of the arts, with support for the Adelaide Festival Centre, the State Theatre Company, and the establishment of the South Australian Film Corporation. He encouraged cultural exchanges withAsia, multiculturalism and an increase in the state’s culinary awareness and sophistication. He is recognised for his role in reinvigorating the social, artistic and cultural life of South Australia during his nine years in office, remembered as the Dunstan Decade.
However, there were also problems; the economy began to stagnate, and the large increases to burgeoning public service generated claims of waste. One of Dunstan’s pet projects, a plan to build a new city at Monarto to alleviate urban pressures in Adelaide, was abandoned when economic and population growth stalled, with much money and planning already invested. After four consecutive election wins, Dunstan’s administration began to falter in 1978 following his dismissal of Police Commissioner Harold Salisbury, as controversy broke out over whether he had improperly interfered into a judicial investigation. In addition, policy problems and unemployment began to mount, as well as unsubstantiated rumours of corruption and personal impropriety.
Dunstan became increasingly short-tempered, and the strain was increased by the death of his second wife. His resignation from the premiership and politics in 1979 was abrupt after collapsing due to ill health, but he would live for another 20 years, remaining a vocal and outspoken campaigner for progressive social policy”.
I had the pleasure of meeting Don on both professional and personal levels and found him to be incredibly enthusiastic, intelligent, sophisticated, clever and wise. We could do with a few more Don Dunstans in our political system both at State and Federal levels!!