Steele Hall : biography
Raymond Steele Hall (born 30 November 1928) was the 36th Premier of South Australia 1968-70, a senator for South Australia 1974-77, and federal member for the Division of Boothby 1981-96.
Hall was elected to the South Australian House of Assembly as the Liberal and Country League (LCL) member for Gouger (later renamed Goyder) in 1959. Quickly gaining a reputation for his independence and strength of his views, Hall rose through the LCL parliamentary ranks to assume party leadership following Sir Thomas Playford’s retirement in July 1966. Playford, who had earlier served as premier for 26 years, endorsed Hall as his successor. Although Hall was considerably more progressive than Playford (and indeed, a large portion of the LCL), Hall gained Playford’s support partly because they shared a background as small farmers, rather than a member of the rural elite or the prestigious Adelaide establishment.
Hall served as leader of the opposition for two years before leading the LCL into the 1968 election. Considered young and handsome, he was also the first Australian state premier to sport sideburns. Indeed, the 1968 election, fought between Hall and his Labor opponent Don Dunstan, was described by the Democratic Labor Party as the battle of "the matinee idols". The election resulted in a hung parliament, with Labor and the LCL winning 19 seats each. Right-leaning independent Tom Stott announced his support for the LCL. Dunstan and the ALP were defeated in the legislature on 17 April, and Hall was sworn in as premier later that day.
Hall immediately set out to deal with the issue of electoral reform. Deliberately inequitable electoral boundaries, called the Playmander, had greatly advantaged the LCL over the past 40 years. Since 1932, the House of Assembly had 39 members—13 from the Adelaide area and 26 from country areas. However, by the 1960s, even though Adelaide accounted for two-thirds of the state’s population, a vote in Adelaide was effectively worth only half a country vote. Hall was highly embarrassed that the LCL had been in a position to win government despite winning 43.8% of the first preference vote compared to the ALP’s 52%. He was also concerned by the level of publicity and growing public protest about the issue. This made him all the more committed to the principle of a fairer electoral system.
Hall expanded the House of Assembly to 47 seats, including 28 in the Adelaide area. While it fell short of "one vote one value," as Dunstan and Labor had demanded, it was a much fairer system than its predecessor. Hall undertook this knowing that it would effectively hand the premiership to Dunstan at the next election. Whatever the public outcry over the electoral inequalities, Hall’s political bravery in introducing legislation to reform the House of Assembly to a more equitable system of representation should not be underestimated. It ranks as one of the few instances in Australian political history when a politician initiated a reform knowing full well that it would put his own party at a disadvantage.
In addition to electoral reform, Hall also introduced improvements in social welfare, aboriginal affairs and abortion regulation.
Hall and Stott soon fell out over the location of a dam. Stott wanted the dam built in his electorate while Hall thought it more use to locate it elsewhere. Constituent anger forced Stott to vote against the Hall government, leading to an early election.
Following the expected loss to the Dunstan-led ALP in the election on 2 June 1970 , Hall remained Leader of the Opposition for two years before resigning from the LCL, claiming that the party had ‘lost its idealism [and] forgotten…its purpose for existence’. He founded the Liberal Movement, a progressive liberal party that initially included about 200 former LCL members.
Hall won a federal Senate seat for the Liberal Movement at the double dissolution 1974 election, after resigning his state seat, which sparked a Goyder by-election. During the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, though opposed to the Whitlam government, Hall joined Labor (and independent Cleaver Bunton) in voting against the deferral of supply bills.
Hall was re-elected at the 1975 election. He became a member of the Liberal Party in June 1976 after the Liberal Movement reintegrated into the LCL, which was renamed to match with its interstate counterparts. He resigned from the Senate on 16 November 1977 to contest the seat of Hawker in the House of Representatives. Premier Dunstan appointed Janine Haines of the Australian Democrats to replace him.
Hall returned to national politics, winning the 1981 Boothby by-election as the Liberal Party’s candidate.
In August 1988, after the then opposition leader John Howard expressed his wish to control Asian immigration in Australia, Steele Hall (along with Ian Macphee and Philip Ruddock) dissented by crossing the floor of parliament and voting with the Labor government on a motion against the use of race as a criterion for selecting immigrants.
Steele Hall addressed the Parliament, saying:
- "The question has quickly descended from a discussion about the future migrant intake to one about the level of internal racial tolerance. The simple fact is that public opinion is easily led on racial issues. It is now time to unite the community on the race issue before it flares into an ugly reproach for us all."
Hall held the federal seat of Boothby until his retirement in 1996.
Hall was originally a farmer from Owen, eighty kilometres north of Adelaide. His wife, Joan Hall (née Bullock), was a Liberal politician representing the electoral district of Morialta (known as Coles pre-2002) in the South Australian parliament from 1993 to 2006. The couple met when Bullock was working for Hall as a political staffer.