Former Member for Hammond Peter Lewis passes away, aged 75

Controversial state politician Peter Lewis has died, aged 75.

Mr Lewis represented the Murraylands in South Australia’s lower house of Parliament between 1979 and 2006.

He served for more than 20 years as a Liberal MP, but will be remembered for agreeing to bring Labor Premier Mike Rann to power in exchange for a long list of demands, and for his tumultuous three years as Speaker of the House of Assembly.

Mr Lewis succeeded Bill Nankivell as the Liberal Member for Mallee, as it was then called, on September 15, 1979.

However, on July 5, 2000 he publicly called for the leader of his own party, Liberal Premier John Olsen, to step down in favour of Dean Brown.

His colleagues expelled him from the party that night, but Mr Lewis stuck to his guns, telling The Murray Valley Standard the next day “I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve said or done”.

He was re-elected as an independent MP, under the Community Leadership Independence Coalition banner, at the 2002 election despite trailing the Liberal candidate for Hammond on first preferences.

Neither Labor nor Liberal won a majority at that election, and it fell to Mr Lewis to decide which would form government, a task he regarded as both a burden and an opportunity.

His decision to support Labor leader Mike Rann led him to receive death threats, but again, he said he had no regrets.

“You should get out of public life if you haven’t got the guts to face it,” he told The Standard.

“Of course it’s hurtful, but it mustn’t be allowed to affect the logic or the objectives.”

Those objectives included improvement to South Australia’s system of government, including the introduction of citizen-initiated referenda, a reduction in the number of MPs and the removal of political parties from the upper house; and benefits for rural areas, including better consultation, job opportunities, infrastructure and services.

In Hammond, he wanted gillnetting to be banned, roads to be improved, the weed branched broomrape eradicated and private school students allowed on public school buses.

He told The Standard the words of US president John F Kennedy had guided him: “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”.

In return for his support, he was elected Speaker of the House of Assembly on March 5, 2002.

However, in March 2005 he sensationally claimed that a sitting MP and senior police officers were paedophiles, but did not provide any evidence.

He resigned as Speaker on April 4, moments before a vote of no confidence could be brought against him.

He remained in Parliament, but an attempt to shift from the House of Assembly to the Legislative Council at the 2006 election failed, and his political career was done.

He spent the later years of his life involved in mining investments.

Recollections

The current Member for Hammond, Liberal MP Adrian Pederick, said Mr Lewis would be best remembered for the decision he made in 2002, a decision whose repercussions were still being felt after 15 years of Labor government.

“Peter and I certainly didn’t agree on everything, but he was a long-standing Member for Hammond and Member of Parliament,” he said.

“My condolences to his family.”

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