Condolence Motion - Mr Raymond Steele Hall

19 June, 2024

The Hon. J.S. LEE (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (15:43): I rise today with great sadness to support this condolence motion.

I would like to firstly convey my deepest condolences to Steele's loving wife, Joan, his six children, six grandchildren, other family Members and friends on the sad occasion of the passing of Mr Raymond Steele Hall at the age of 95. Known affectionately by his middle name, Steele Hall was a giant of South Australian politics and public life.

I have had the pleasure and honour of meeting Mr Steele Hall at various Liberal events, always accompanied by his wonderful wife, Joan, by his side. I recall that Steele Hall was a panel guest speaker at one of those forums. He was already in his 80s then, but he provided clear, concise, compelling answers during the Q&A session. It demonstrated that he was a formidable figure.

I would like to take this opportunity today to pay tribute to an incredible political leader with a career that spanned 33 years. Most remarkably, Steele Hall remains the only Australian who has served as a State Premier and also in both Houses of Federal Parliament.

Steele was born on 30 November 1928 in Balaklava, South Australia, attended primary school in Owen and subsequently graduated from Balaklava High School.

After leaving school, he worked on a family farm property in Owen. As a young man, besides his growing experience as a grain and sheep farmer his main activity was becoming the President of the Gouger Young Liberals. His leadership for the Young Liberals movement, with a high level of political and social activities, was inspirational. About 10 local members of the party contested the preselection, but Steele Hall, the youngest, the boldest and the clearest speaker, won the day.

At the age of 30, Steele Hall began his political career in 1959 as the Member for Gouger. He would remain a Member of the House of Assembly for 15 years, where he was also the member for Goyder for a brief period. Quickly gaining a reputation for his independence and the strength of his views, Hall rose through the Liberal and Country League Parliamentary ranks to assume party leadership following Premier Sir Thomas Playford's retirement in July 1966.

I was reading the book by Baden Teague, The Liberal Story. He describes Steele Hall as very popular, very clear in his speeches and courageous in his decisions, and good-looking as well. He was applauded like a film star by many in the public.

From 1966 to 1972, Steele Hall served as the Leader of the Liberal and Country League, and in 1968 won back Government from Labor after Don Dunstan's first term and became South Australia's 36th Premier.

His term was marked by far-sighted achievement and constitutional reform, including modernisation of electoral laws and the removal of the 'Playmander', which were necessary for the state's future even though they damaged his own chances of re-election, as many other Members have reflected on.

In fact, his commitment to his principles was a consistent fixture of his time in politics. As stated by former Premier, the Hon. John Olsen, Steele Hall 'carved out a place in history'. He said:

His principles were always unimpeachable. He was a politician that had courage of his convictions and followed through on them, even though he put at risk his government and his premiership.

That was the hallmark in the way in which he operated—always of principle, applying integrity and certainly courage in politics.

I would like to touch on the significant electoral reforms in 1968. In March 1968, Steele Hall's approved election policy had been to change the House of Assembly from having 39 seats to become 45 seats. A compromise was made and eventually the House of Assembly established 47 seats, which is the same number as it is today.

In October 1968, Labor's bill to reform the Legislative Council was debated, where the two leaders, Steele Hall and Don Dunstan, agreed to another compromise.

This is a very important reform for all of us who have the privilege to serve in this Legislative Council, and I therefore would like to highlight the debate that happened at the time and acknowledge Steele Hall's foresight and impeccable negotiation skills.

During the debate to reform the Legislative Council, Steele Hall offered to agree to adult franchise for the Council if Labor agreed to drop its policy to abolish the Council and further agreed to guarantee that any major change to the Legislative Council could only proceed if passed by a people's referendum.

I would like to quote some of the exchanges between Hall and Dunstan. Hall said:

I will vote for the adult franchise on the condition that they include in their Bill…a provision similar to the New South Wales provision, that the Legislative Council cannot be abolished unless such abolition is agreed at a referendum of the people of South Australia. Let Members opposite indicate their decision on that.

Dunstan said, 'We'll accept that.' Hall then said, 'Right, I will accept. I am not bluffing,' just to show the character of the man. Dunstan said, 'Right, let's get together on it.' Hall remarked, 'If Members opposite will accept this, then I will support this.'

His term in office also saw significant progress in other areas, including women's health, Aboriginal affairs and the fluoridation of South Australia's water supply, a measure controversial at the time but which has led to significant dental health improvements for generations of South Australians.

Notably, it was Steele Hall who determined the site of the Adelaide Festival Centre and negotiated financial support from the Commonwealth and enabled its construction to begin. The site is now widely regarded as a superb choice. Five decades later, while his successors may have secured naming rights and public recognition, the achievements of this iconic artistic institution must now be included as part of Steele Hall's legacy, given the pivotal role that he played in its creation.

After his time in state politics, Steele Hall continued on at the federal level, first as a Senator from 1974 to 1977 and then in the House of Representatives as the Member for Boothby from 1981 to 1996. In my opening remarks, I mentioned that he is the only Australian who has actually achieved that remarkable political life.

I join all Members of Parliament and the people of South Australia to thank Mr Steele Hall for his significant contribution to South Australia and to this nation. Steele Hall will remain in our hearts and minds as a true legend of South Australian politics. He will be remembered forever by all sides of politics, as has been demonstrated today, for his legacy of principle, conviction and wisdom.

Our sincere thoughts and sympathy are with Joan, their family and loved ones during this sad time.

Vale, Mr Raymond Steele Hall