I caught up with David Winderlich, an independent member of the South Australian Legislative Council late last week in Adelaide.
The Northern Myth: I’m always interested in the etymology of people’s names – what is the origin of Winderlich?
David Winderlich: It is of German origin. I’m told that it is a derivation of “winter light.” Maybe we are in the dark winter of Rann’s reign over South Australia as the land of “bread and circuses” and the “state of suppression”.
TNM: So you are from one of the German migrant families that settled in South Australia?
DW: Yes, one side of the family came here in 1838.
TNM: Moving on to more serious matters – cats, dogs or neither – and why?
DW: Both cats and dogs – mainly by accident because I have five children so we have many animals. No direct reason other than that we have children and that seems to attract animals.
TNM: When did you last break the law?
DW: I have a speeding ticket and I think I have a red-light camera ticket as well. I’ve actually had two of those since becoming a member of Parliament – so I have a long way to close in on the former Minister for Road Safety’s traffic record.
TNM: What would be your desert island disc?
DW: Wild Swans by Elena Kats-Chernin – a Tasmanian composer. My choice might be different in five minutes but right now I would take that with me.
TNM: What do you sing in the shower?
DW: Mostly folk music – or rock music from a decade or two ago.I was in an Italian folk singing group for a while so some of those songs…could be all sorts of things.
TNM: What are you reading at the moment?
DW: I’m reading 1968 by Mark Kurlansky which looks at the social and student revolutions in the late sixties. Right across the world, the US and Europe and links all the things that were going on at that time. The worship of Che, Paris, the Prague Spring. A very interesting read.
TNM: You are an independent member of the upper house in the South Australian Parliament and you’ve been in there for about 12 months
DW: Oh, about 11 months.
TNM: You will have to contest your first election in March. You were appointed as a Democrat just over a year ago and you copped a lot of flack for resigning from the party. Is it going to be hard for you to be elected without the support base provided by a party?
DW: The unfortunate thing is that the Democrats in South Australia ceased to operate as a functional party – separate from their MPs – years ago.
The party couldn’t really provide any substantial support in any event so it is actually much easier operating as an independent. There is much greater freedom of movement, there isn’t the baggage that had built up with the Democrats over the last decade that had unfortunately obscured much of the party’s good work.
And there is a much greater willingness for all sorts of groups and people to work with an independent. So in every way it is easier.
TNM: You’ve recently been quoted as telling the American cyclist Lance Armstrong to “Get on your bike” because of his comments in support of South Australian Premier Mike Rann and the politicisation of the Tour Down Under. But haven’t those sporting spectacles always been politicised?
DW: Well, I guess the events have been politicised in that they basically operate to completely obscure the fact that we are having an election in mid-March – just a few weeks away. So the Labot Party throws the state into party mode.
The Tour Down Under is only one of half-a-dozen major events that we have between January and the election in mid-March.
Apart from the Tour Down Under there is the Clipsal 500 (touring cars), the Fringe Festival, the Adelaide Festival, there is WOMADelaide – they are the major events during that period. It seems that we just move from one party to another. This is fine but for a few months the state seems to be in constant party mode.
The media is full of entertainment and arts stories – and there is very little room for the important issues-based stories that should be aired during an election campaign.
However unpopular elections might be they are our main chance at exercising democracy. I think it is very unfortunate that our festival of democracy is completely overshadowed by all the other bread and circus entertainment and sports festivals that go on.
TNM: What are the big issues for South Australia over the next, say 5 years?
DW: For me the big issues include water, which we talk about incessantly here. That is going to be a critical issue. Particularly if we are going to continue to pursue plans to increase our population.
We are having real trouble providing water for our existing environmental requirements and our current population. For example any day now 30,000 people may have to go onto bottled water because one of the pumping stations near Tailem Bend will exceed – be well over – the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for salinity in drinking water.
Just last year there was up to 800 kilometres of algal bloom on the Victorian and NSW side of the river.
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Adelaide as a whole could be on bottled water.
Water is a critical issue here and equally critical is how we respond – there is a critical need for greater efficiency in stormwater etc most of our money is going into desalination – which is expensive and which in effect is going to see the government let fresh water run out to the seas, become sea-water, then they will spend a lot of money extracting that sea water and turning in back into freshwater – and then pump out hyper-saline water into a fairly still [Spencer] Gulf.
Another issue of real concern to me is what might broadly be described as the state of democracy in South Australia. I think in many ways we are heading towards a Singapore or Malaysian style of democracy where there is widespread use of litigation to silence and intimidate people.
And we now have great restrictions on our freedom of association in this state. If you are a member of an outlawed organisation, a declared biker club organisation for example, a person that you know – innocently or otherwise – can go to jail for five yeas for associating with you.
The law provides that if a person associates with them on more than six occasions in a year – and that could be in person or by Facebook or email or by text then you could be taken to Court and you could be convicted on the basis of what is called “criminal intelligence”.
Which is evidence that you are not allowed to see. And yes, it is almost Kafkaesque and really a quite bizarre situation.
And in South Australia we do not have an independent corruption authority. We have existing public authorities where their regulatory bodies are compromised. For example the Police Complaints Authority reports to the Police Commissioner.
In the event of a disagreement they go to the Minister for Police. There is no real independence there in relation to complaints against Police.
And the Ombudsman in South Australia is not empowered to investigate complaints against the Police.
It can be more like a game of snakes and ladders where you go up and down and you run into blocks and keep trying to find your way though the maze – and you meet barriers at all times.
TNM: I’ve asked the South Australian government about payments to Lance Armstrong and others but have received no answers.
DW: I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t disclose how much they are spending on sportsmen like Lance Armstrong – unless of course they are ashamed of it. But there is also the fundamental question that is paramount in any democracy – which is transparency – why shouldn’t people know these things – what is secret about it?
I think the general default position is that everything should be open unless there is a good reason for it not to be.
I cannot think of a single good reason why Lance Armstrong’s fees for coming to South Australia to ride in the Tour Down Under should not be publicly disclosed.