Regional Development Australia Motion | SPEECH


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 12:19 :10 ): I rise to wholeheartedly support the member for Goyder in this motion. His motion is very, very genuine and I know it comes from the bottom of his heart. There are a few of us here on this side who have, at different times, had the shadow ministry for regional development, and every one of us—and others on our side who live and work in regional areas—live and deal with this issue all the time, so I believe the member for Goyder without any hesitation when he says that this is not about politics, this is not about wedging anybody, this is not about trying to create an issue that does not exist. This is actually about continuing to press the same very genuine issues home to the government.

These are vitally important issues and I am an incredibly strong advocate of the three-tiered system where local government, state government and federal government all jointly contribute to regional development in each part of the state. I think that is just common sense. You cannot separate those and say, ‘Well, it’s only local and federal,’ or ‘It’s only local and state,’ or whatever anybody else might like to say. All three levels really must contribute because you are dealing with the real nitty-gritty of small business development (and trying to help somebody get a small business off the ground with the details that go along with that), all the way through to significant major infrastructure development that just cannot proceed without federal government support, so it only makes sense that that happens.

I was very happy to publicly support and thank the state government when it, with the federal government—state Labor and federal Labor—jointly set up that three-tiered funding about six years ago. I was not in parliament then, but it gave me no concern whatsoever, although I was a Liberal candidate, to say that Labor had done a good job. After becoming a member of parliament, I did not hesitate to say that Labor had set up a good system to make that happen. But, unfortunately, I also had to say very clearly and very strongly how disgraceful I thought it was that, less than a year after establishing that system, the state Labor government, which helped create it, withdrew from that system.

I thought that was a terrible thing to do for many reasons—because there was a good system in place, to start with, so it just does not make sense to pull it apart but also because so many of the people who work in regional development (what were regional development boards and became Regional Development Australia organisations) had worked so hard to reorganise themselves to fit into this new world. Any corporate or organisational restructure is difficult for the people who are involved in it, even when they know they are heading the right way, but there is uncertainty in jobs. Not everybody stays; new people come in. Geographic boundaries are adjusted and where you might have dealt with a state organisation, you start dealing with a federal organisation or vice versa.

People went through all of that believing they were going to come out the other side with a better structure, and they did. They did come out the other side with a better structure that had funding contributions from all three levels of government. They had structured term financial contributions from all three levels of government and they had representation on their governing boards from all three levels of government. Less than a year after that was established, the state government said, ‘Oh well, we’re going to pull out,’ and it was disgraceful.

It really was a dreadful kick in the guts for the people who work in regional development across our state, but they stuck with it. Good people have done a fantastic job, doing everything they possibly could to continue doing that good work. Then, the state government said, ‘We’re going to fix it. We’re going to fix it all. We’re going to replace the funding.’ I will not go through in all the detail the contributions I have made on exactly this topic before but, suffice to say, they did not replace all the funding and the funding that was replaced was given under competitive grants, not core funding.

Deputy Speaker, you know that I believe in competition. You know that I think healthy competition where you have a level playing field and not a monopoly is great. I really do believe the cream rises to the surface when people have equal opportunity, but this is a different kettle of fish. You cannot have six-months by six-months, or one-year by one-year, or even two-year by two-year government funding for people to do work in regions, because you cannot then attract good people to stay and do the work in regions. Certainly, the competition will make sure that the regional areas or the RDA that has the best projects to put forward will get the funding, and that is positive; I support that, but you have to have a component of core funding so that you can attract and keep good people working in regional areas.

You will not get one of the best people working in regional South Australia, wherever it happens to be, to stay doing what they do if another organisation that can give that person permanent employment or potentially a five-year contract on likely more money says, ‘How would you like this?’ They will say, ‘Well, I don’t really want to leave what I’m doing, but yes, I’ve got a family, I’ve got a mortgage, I’ve got kids, I’ve got the normal pressures that families have.’

You cannot keep the best people doing this work and you cannot attract the best people by saying, ‘We’d love you to come and work. We’ve got some great projects, fantastic regions, we think we make a significant contribution to the state’s economy and we’d like to give you a 12-month contract because that’s the only funding that we get from the government.’ It is not practical and it is unfair on the people who work in regional South Australia and it is unfair on the regions and it diminishes the productivity of the regions.

The government said, ‘We’re going to replace the funding’, but actually did not. They were still $4.1 million per year short in total on what they had taken away and the component that they did replace was competitive funding, not core funding, so there is not money to pay rent, to pay electricity, to keep people on longer term contracts so that there is some security in the work, because we all know the vast majority of work that is done in regional development takes several years to show benefits. You cannot get benefits from work that takes several years to do when you can only offer people one and two-year contracts and so, I think that was disgraceful.

I think, without trying to put words in his mouth, that is largely what is behind the member for Goyder’s very positive motion: to try to encourage this government to understand that they have to do more; to try to encourage the government to know that if they want to continue to get the benefits that regional South Australia contributes to our entire state, they have to give regional South Australia some security; that the support the state government gives them will be there for the long run as well, and certainly that is not here at the moment.

Let me say very clearly that this is not about the member for Frome. This is not about the situation that he is in. If he was on our side, or if he was on the government’s side, or if he was an Independent as he was for the last four years, as everybody else who is here was here for the last four years, he would have heard me talk about exactly these same things. It is not about him. He has the opportunity now to contribute more than he ever did before to this debate. I urge him to do that. I know he wants the best for his region. I know he wants the best for regional South Australia. He now has a better position than he has ever had before to make a difference here, but we do not bring this forward because he is in that position; we have been saying the same thing for years. We have known it is true and we will continue to fight for regional South Australia.

This is not regions asking for money. This is not regions just putting their hand out and saying, ‘Please support us, give us money so we can create jobs’, this is an investment. This is an investment of taxpayer money in regional South Australia; regional South Australia which contributes 54 per cent of our state’s exports. It is only sales to other states and other nations that bring real money into our state, and 54 per cent of overseas exports comes from regional South Australia. What better place to invest taxpayer money so that people can continue to do that work.

There are four RDAs that share geography with Stuart: the Far North, Yorke and Mid-North, the SA Murray-Darling Basin, and the Barossa. They are the ones that, as the member for Stuart, are first and foremost in my mind, but I know that the other three that work across the state do exceptionally good work as well, and I urge this government to do everything they can to support them in that work.