On Friday, July 29, Peter Malinauskas, the 30-year-old state secretary of the shop assistants’ union, accompanied by Treasurer Jack Snelling, a former ‘shoppies’ official, walked into Premier Mike Rann’s office and sacked him. Few of the public had ever heard of Mr. Malinauskas. People were shocked that a faceless union boss could dictate who leads the Labor Party and the state. Many began to wonder what power the same union might wield over Rann’s replacement, Jay Weatherill.
The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) is South Australia’s biggest trade union, claiming a membership of 23,000 – a number inflated by including the Northern Territory – drawn from the retail, fast food and
warehouse industries. This tiny minority effectively rules SA and dictates every move of the Labor Government.
Without their express agreement, all SDA members contribute a levy of $5 to ALP coffers, amounting to over $904,000 between 2001 and 2010. This financial clout and its membership numbers deliver the SDA a controlling clique of delegates to Labor’s state conference.
For years the grassroots membership of the ALP has been sidelined from preselection decisions. Branches are stacked; candidates chosen by party headquarters are simply imposed on safe seats. Union hacks of dubious talent from the SDA, unfit to face the voters in Lower House seats, are given a secure place on the Upper House ticket and installed for six- and eight-year terms of undistinguished anonymity. The SDA thus has the numbers in the party room to dictate ministerial appointments, lucrative parliamentary committee roles and nice little earners for family members and other cronies. The SDA controls the dominant right-wing Labor Unity faction and wages an endless internal war against the socialist Left.
Further, in SA, the ‘shoppies’ MPs tend to be far-right reactionary Catholics (devotees, for instance, of the Latin Mass) who use their influence to deliver preferment and taxpayer dollars to the Catholic Church. Nowhere else in Australia has a Catholic clergyman – Monsignor David Cappo – been given a place in Cabinet, brazenly transgressing the constitutional separation of church and state. Monsignor Cappo runs political interference for the Rann government on a range of controversial issues as the so-called Independent Commissioner for Social Inclusion.
One tragic consequence of this system of patronage is that ability and character play no part in preselection or ministerial promotion: you simply rise to the head of the SDA queue, it’s your turn, and in you go. Events currently before the courts may in due course expose a sad example of this. As well as lucrative attachments to the public purse, the SDA delivers direct
benefits to its members by undemocratically dictating the very laws that govern the state.
The most obvious example is SA’s absurd shopping restrictions: with the retail industry at a 50-year low, Rundle Mall and major shopping centres are forced to shut on their most profitable days of the year, over Christmas/New Year and public holidays. Tourists arrive to find Adelaide closed for business. Of course, shop assistants deserve their leisure time: but retailers are prevented from rostering temporary staff because the SDA hates casuals who don’t join the union.
Direct grants of taxpayers’ money to the SDA by the Rann Government are commonplace, often under the guise of ‘workplace safety’: in 2007 alone, $450,000 was given to subsidize ‘safety information schemes’, among them a blatant recruitment commercial for the union. icac-sa has identified appointments to public office of some 36 SDA bosses, exofficials
and their cronies – brothers, sisters, wives, de factos and girlfriends – which cost the SA taxpayer several million dollars a year and effectively cashflow the operations of the ALP.
Senator Don Farrell, universally known as ‘The Godfather’, is a former state secretary and national president of the SDA who exercises a stranglehold on power within the South Australian ALP. Such is his influence, he was one of a small cabal of factional conspirators who deposed Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister (to be rewarded with a promotion to parliamentary secretary by Julia Gillard).
This was the first time most Australians had heard his name. Long before he was elected to any public office, Don Farrell orchestrated the elevation of Mike Rann to parliamentary leader in 1994. He has been the patron of other rapid risers from the ranks of the SDA, notably federal MP for Adelaide and Rudd/Gillard minister Kate Ellis, who was awarded preselection at the age of 26.
Farrell’s father, Edward (Ted) was a serial candidate for the DLP in the 1960s and 70s, an early indication of the deeply conservative Catholic bias that permeates Rann Labor. Don Farrell was the failed ALP candidate for the federal seat of
Adelaide in 1988.
In 2008 Farrell anointed himself to the safe #1 position on Labor’s senate ticket, replacing Linda Kirk – an SDA protegee of his – whom he axed after she disobeyed his direction to support Kim Beazley against Rudd for the party leadership. He was made parliamentary secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water in 2010, although his voice has seldom if ever been heard throughout SA’s sustained water crisis.
Don Farrell’s wife, Nimfa, was installed on Senator Linda Kirk’s parliamentary staff – salary range typically $90-100,000 – but resigned in mid-2003 after a falling out which led to Ms. Kirk being dumped from the Senate ticket. On 28/2/07, Linda Kirk told The Advertiser of Farrell’s ‘absolute power’ over preselection by the Right, and claimed he had pressured her to resign after his wife left her staff.
SENATOR LINDA KIRK
A former industrial officer for the SDA, Linda Kirk served a single term in the Senate 2002-08, often under criticism for her overseas travel costs and allegations that she spent office hours working on her PhD. After being forced from Labor’s
Senate ticket, she was promptly given a $127,000-a-year job by Kevin Rudd as senior member of the Migration and Refugee Review Tribunal. Unlike many SDA appointees, it could be said she had some qualifications after her service on parliamentary committees related to these issues.
Under Don Farrell’s patronage, and via her SDA membership, the strikingly attractive Kate Ellis had a meteoric rise from 15-year-old checkout operator and university dropout to federal MP for Adelaide at age 26 and Australia’s youngest ever federal minister. At 23, she had already caught the eye of Kevin Foley, who hired her as a ministerial adviser on a salary of $93,000. Her junior ministries of Sport, Youth, Status of Women and Early Childcare have made headlines for her fashion shoots, an $11,000-a-night junket to Switzerland for the World Cup Soccer bid debacle, and her 130% staff turnover, a record for any parliamentary office.
Kate Ellis’s brother, Matt Ellis, is Health & Safety Officer of the SDA.
At age 27, former Woolworths Mitcham trolley boy and checkout operator Peter Malinauskas succeeded Don Farrell as SA state secretary of the SDA. He was promptly installed in a $50,000-a-year position on the board of Workcover, while still to complete his economics degree at the University of Adelaide. He replaced Unions SA secretary Janet Giles, who resigned in protest at new laws which significantly disadvantage injured workers and produce the worst return-to-work outcomes in Australia. The appointment was one of the last decisions by outgoing Industrial Relations Minister Michael Wright, himself a former organiser for the SDA. Malinauskas joined former provincial racecourse manager Philip Bentley, Mike Rann’s best friend, and Sandra de Poi, fiancee of Labor MP Leon Bignell, on the Workcover board. Since the Rann Government took office in 2002, Workcover’s unfunded liabilities have blown out from $68 million to $1.2 billion, while slashing workers’ rights and benefits.
Younger brother of Peter Malinauskas, in his early 20s Rob Malinauskas has gone from third-year cadet journalist at The Advertiser on $40,000 a year to earning three times as much, first as an adviser to then Treasurer Kevin Foley and lately to Corrections Minister Tom Koutsantonis. Both Foley and Koutsantonis are former officials of the SDA.
The sister of Peter and Rob Malinauskas, Elizabeth Malinauskas was appointed liaison officer for Attorney-General John Rau on a salary of $93,293.
The ex-girlfriend of SDA secretary Peter Malinauskas, Elizabeth Hollidge is a junior solicitor in the law firm of Scammell & Co., where her father is a partner. A former ministerial adviser to then Attorney-General Michael Atkinson, himself formerly of the SDA – salary $93,293 – she was recently appointed to the SA Development and Advisory Committee – fee circa $35,000 – a role for which she has no discernible qualifications. As is often the case, the formal biographies of such committee appointees conceal more than they disclose. Ms. Hollidge is described only as ‘a person with wide experience in commerce and industry’.
No fewer than eight ex-shoppies are present or former ministers in the 16-person Rann Cabinet. On promotion, they appear to suffer selective amnesia: with the honourable exception of Tom Koutsantonis, their trade union histories are completely excised from their formal biographies on government and party websites.
Kevin Foley joined the SDA on leaving school at 15. He was warehoused as an adviser to Bannon government minister Lynn Arnold before becoming his Chief of Staff when Arnold replaced the disgraced John Bannon as Premier. He was the member for Hart before parachuting into Labor’s safest seat of Port Adelaide. Mr. Foley’s membership of the dominant SDA/Right faction has protected him from the consequences of his often loutish behaviour in and out of parliament. Mr. Foley’s ministerial offices have provided a career path into politics for numerous young SDA apparatchiks, in public service positions not advertised on merit.
A former Advertiser journalist, Michael Atkinson was an adviser and press secretary to former federal ALP Minister Chris Hurford before becoming an advocate for the SDA. He was Attorney-General in the Rann government for eight years, where poorly drafted legislation was often subject to amendment and, in the case of anti-bikie association laws, was thrown out by the High Court. Mr. Atkinson has sued numerous of his critics for defamation at taxpayers’ expense, and when successful has pocketed the proceeds. Taxpayers footed the bill when Magistrate Andrew Cannon successfully sued him for defamation; a suit by Advertiser journalist Colin James was recently settled for an estimated $100,000.
Mr. Atkinson lived in the home of fellow MP Bernard Finnigan for three months after his divorce from his wife, Joan, herself a former SDA official. He resigned from the front bench a day after the 2010 election. Mr. Atkinson is widely regarded as a numbers man for Labor’s Right faction; his ministerial office has provided employment for several ex-SDA figures.
A former taxi driver and Young Labor stalwart, Tom Koutsantonis was an industrial officer for the SDA before his election to the state seat of Peake (now West Torrens) in 1997 at the age of 26. In 2009, his appointment as Minister for Road Safety lasted 47 days before he was forced to shift portfolios when his driving record of 58 speeding offences became public. He is now Minister for Mineral Resources Development, Industry and Trade, Small Business and Correctional Services. Other salaried positions include membership of the Economic Development Board of SA. Questions are beginning to be asked about Mr. Koutsantonis’s conduct of the application by Marathon Resources to mine in the Arkaroola region of the Flinders Ranges, and how this may have related to the dismissal of Premier Mike Rann from office, reportedly on the orders of SDA
supremo Don Farrell.
Jack Snelling was elected as MP for Playford in 1997, aged 24, but according to his ALP biography he did not exist before that date. He was in fact a staff member of the SDA and an ALP electoral officer. After serving as Speaker of the Lower House, he was briefly Minister for Science, Road Safety and Veterans Affairs before his elevation to Treasurer, in the wake of Kevin Foley’s removal at the hands of the Right faction. Mr. Snelling was one of the two factional messengers despatched to inform Premier Mike Rann he had lost the party’s support.
Minister for Road Safety Tom Kenyon followed the standard career path from SDA organiser to electorate officer and ministerial adviser before being installed as Member for Newland in 2006 and fast-tracked into cabinet. Mr. Kenyon is the
protégé of former ALP Senator John Quirke, at whose behest he is alleged to have falsely vilified former Burnside councillor Rob Gilbert under parliamentary privilege. At the next sitting of parliament, Mr. Kenyon may face a demand to explain his conduct to the House. It is not expected he will quote from the MacPherson Report, in case he finds the name of his mentor’s wife, Davina Quirke, inadvertently on his lips.
SDA stalwart and state convenor of the Labor Unity (Right) faction 1995-2002, Trish White was MP for Taylor from 1994 to her retirement in 2010 and Minister for Transport in the Rann Government. Said retirement has been good to Trish: a
super payout of $93,300 p.a. for life and lucrative directorships of the Motor Accident Commission and Australia Post. Trish is a graduate electronics engineer, just the qualification for the board of multibillion-dollar public enterprises. She is also a strategic adviser to global corporation Worley Parsons, which provides services to the energy and resources industries.
Bernie, affectionately known by all as ‘BFF’, joined the SDA in 1995 years as a protégé of Senator Don Farrell, and was assistant state secretary for five years before being parachuted unelected into the Upper House in 2006 after the death of
MLC Terry Roberts. An enthusiastic joiner of parliamentary committees – and who wouldn’t be, at $18,000 a pop – Bernie was parliamentary secretary to Premier Mike Rann until appointed Minister for Local Government in 2011.
There his glorious reign lasted for 72 days until he abruptly resigned without explanation. Since, he has been suspended from the ALP, equally without explanation, and has attended parliament for minutes at a time just often enough to remain on the public payroll. Why did one of the SDA’s most illustrious graduates suddenly and mysteriously become The Vanishing MP?
Former SDA member Lindsay Simmons was warehoused as a member of the Equal Opportunity Tribunal before becoming the failed federal ALP candidate for Sturt and then the one-term state MP for Morialta, 2006-2010. One rare venture into the headlines was for allegedly abusing her hairdresser. On involuntarily leaving parliament, Lindsay was consoled by an appointment to the Training and Skills Commission, on $30,000 a year or $3750 a meeting.
SDA patronage boosted Carmelina Zollo into a safe Upper House seat in 1997, although she was born in the Campania Region of Italy, not the more favoured Puglia. Via lucrative service on numerous committees she became an entirely
undistinguished Minister for Correctional Services and Road Safety until replaced by younger SDA appointees like Tom Koutsantonis and Tom Kenyon.
SDA-affiliated Annette Hurley was state MP for Napier 1993-2002 but stood for and lost the marginal seat of Light in 2002. She was promptly found a Senate seat in 2005 and, under Don Farrell’s patronage, even before she had entered parliament was appointed Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs. Annette’s remarkable talents earned her membership of no fewer than 14 parliamentary committees at $10-18,000 each, before new PM Kevin Rudd dumped her from his cabinet in 2007. The Right faction forced her from Labor’s Senate ticket in 2010, but she found immediate consolation as SA director of ALP spin consultants Hawker Britton.
On the rare occasions Senator Hurley made the news, it was for her voracious appetite for travel (Cook Islands, Fiji, Bosnia-
Herzogovina) culminating in a lap of honour to Bhutan, whose national symbol is an erect pink penis.
Nick Champion embodies the classic SDA rise to stardom: from trolley boy to organiser (1994), then training officer and health & safety officer before reaching the head of the queue in 2007 as federal MP for Wakefield.
Former SDA organiser Amanda Rishworth earned national prominence as “Who’s that?” when she sat behind Kevin Rudd in parliament during his brief tenure as PM. She was the failed ALP candidate for the state seat of Fisher in 2006 and won Kingston in the 2007 federal election. Amanda chairs the House of Representatives standing committee on education and employment, and enjoys study tours abroad, though not the one to Japan earlier this year when she was stranded for five hours on the bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo.
SDA support saw Lee Odenwalder, former community liaison officer to Health Minister Lea Stevens (2003-05) endorsed for the safe Labor seat of Little Para in 2010 ahead of the man who’d been promised the job, Kyam Maher. Mr. Maher was rewarded for his stoicism with the post of State ALP Secretary. He replaced
Former SDA official Michael Brown was an adviser to ministers Michael Atkinson, Kevin Foley and Paul Holloway before becoming State Secretary, where he distinguished himself by masterminding the dodgy how-to-vote card rort for Leon Bignell which was instrumental in Labor retaining government.
Some ambitious MPs have seen the light and sought preferment by affiliating with the SDA (although they’ve never worked in a shop in their lives) which ensconces them in the dominant Labor Unity faction. Among these:
A self-made millionaire, former businessman Michael O’Brien is more likely to have employed shop assistants than been one. Membership of SDA/Labor Unity saw him elevated to cabinet as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests.
Son of Michael O’Brien, young Conor is serving a political apprenticeship as an SDA organiser. Likewise DAVID RANN, son of Premier Mike Rann.
A former high school English teacher, Chloe Fox became the member for Bright in 2006 and, although often touted as ministerial talent, not least by herself, was overlooked. In July 2011, Chloe retrospectively joined the SDA and now expects to be promoted to incoming Premier Jay Weatherill’s cabinet.
And still they come. The next generation of candidates from the SDA is being warehoused in public office at taxpayer expense:
At age 25, Daniel Romeo was appointed Attorney-General John Rau’s chief of staff. At the same time as public servants’ pay rises were capped at 2.5%, young Daniel’s salary was increased by 26% to $115,000. While previously employed in then Treasurer Kevin Foley’s office, he was mentioned in despatches for running up a debt of $39, 495 on his government credit card between June 2008 and May 2009. Daniel Romeo’s links to the SDA are via his wife, Sonia Menechella Romeo, a former shop assistant who is now assistant state secretary of the union.
SONIA MENECHELLA ROMEO
Former SDA organiser, hired as adviser to then Planning Minister Paul Holloway.
Former SDA organiser, hired as adviser to then Police Minister Michael Wright.
Ex-SDA, failed candidate for Mayo in 1996, appointed chief of staff by then Attorney-General Michael Atkinson.
SDA industrial officer, hired as adviser to Michael Atkinson.
SDA industrial officer, hired as chief of staff to Rory McEwen, independent MP rewarded with a ministry for supporting Labor.
Former SDA organiser, associate director of ALP spin consultant Hawker Britton, widely expected to replace Mike Rann in parliament.
Former adviser to Local Government Minister Gail Gago, defected from the Left to the SDA/Right faction, now senior policy consultant in the Department of Health.
The SDA routinely fields younger candidates in marginal and unwinnable seats as
practice for the career path ahead. Among these:
Young Labor stalwart, candidate for Bragg in 2010.
Twice-failed candidate for Hartley.
Former chief of staff to Trish White, failed candidate for Mawson.
Failed candidate for federal seat of Sturt, hired as adviser to Kate Ellis.