Address in Reply to the Governor’s official opening of Parliament | SPEECH


The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart—Minister for Energy and Mining) (20:43): I rise, as have many others in the last couple of weeks, to contribute to the Address in Reply. I will not go into too many details, but let me say that, like everybody else, I have enormous respect for the Governor and his wife and for the work they do. Many people have gone into far more depth than that, and I will not repeat their words, but we are incredibly fortunate to have the Hon. Hieu Van Le as our Governor, so ably supported by his wife, Lan. I personally thank them for their work. As with most good people, you get good people into a job to do it the best they can and they deliver way more than they need to, and I thank them for that.

Of course, it is a great pleasure for me and for my colleagues to be in government. It would be unbelievable if I were to pretend any differently. We do not take it for granted. We were in opposition for a very long time. I played that role for eight years and for some others it was 16 years. Some were very fortunate to be elected into government immediately. However, the members of the Liberal Party, from the President and the Premier all the way through to an occasional volunteer—none of us takes this for granted. None of us found it easy to get here. None of us underestimates the responsibility that we have as a parliamentary team and as a party more broadly to deliver for the people of South Australia, and none of us will do anything other than our very, very best on behalf of the people of South Australia who have trusted us with this opportunity.

Politics is a funny game; it is a funny business. It can be quite fortunate at times; it can be unfortunate at times. It can be kind and cruel. The reality is that, as with most things, if you put the work in you get the results. Let me say of the former government that, while of course we have many disagreements and of course there is a very long list of things that we have different views about, some stridently so and some only slightly different, I am sure that the vast majority of people in the former government were doing their best at the time in their way. We will do our best in our time in our way.

In Australia, whether at the state or federal level, I really believe that in most instances most members of parliament and most political parties want the same result. For example, in energy it would be silly to think that anybody does not want affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible electricity, but we do have very different paths that we believe are the right ones to get to that end result.

I use that as an example of how fortunate we are in South Australia, in other states and in Australia nationally, and in many other countries, too, compared with other places in the world where it does not work that way. So we will have disagreements and we will fight hard against each other, but let us recognise that we are very fortunate here in this chamber that, overwhelmingly, we have good people trying to do the right thing.

In terms of the electorate of Stuart, much has been said by many, particularly on our side of the chamber, about how incredibly wonderful their electorates are. I was overwhelmed to hear a couple of my colleagues talk about their vast 1,000 square kilometres of electorate. I was overwhelmed to hear from some of my colleagues about the two or three industries that they have in their electorates. I was overwhelmed to hear about the hospital or two that they might have, the school or two that they might have or, in some cases, the hundreds of kilometres of roads.

Let me tell you, Deputy Speaker, as you well know as the member for Flinders, there is absolutely nothing better than representing a large country and outback electorate. The electorate of Stuart has an area of 372,000 square kilometres and 30 different communities. It is an amazing electorate with a wide range of diverse views and diverse industries.

I said once in this chamber that there is absolutely nothing that happens anywhere in the state of South Australia that does not happen somewhere in the electorate of Stuart, but I was pulled up I think by the member for Florey, who said, ‘What about lobster?’ Actually, no, we do not have a lobster fishery in the electorate of Stuart but, apart from that, I think we have all the bases covered. I am incredibly fortunate to represent the electorate of Stuart. Let me say that there is never ever a day that goes by that I do not know that, and I am sure that is true for almost all MPs here.

I never expected to be a member of parliament. It was not in my plan, in my background or in my expectations at all. I have worked incredibly hard to get preselected, I worked incredibly hard to get elected and now, as a minister, I work incredibly hard on behalf of my electorate and the people of South Australia. I thank the people of my electorate and the people of South Australia for that incredible opportunity.

Of course, it makes it harder representing a country and outback electorate and being a minister at the same time. The Premier has been incredibly kind to me with regard to the portfolio I have of energy and mining. There are huge synergies in the electorate of Stuart with energy and mining, and that is no accident, and I thank him for that. I also thank him for the fact that the energy and mining portfolio, while there is a very wide range of responsibilities captured in that, does have some very clear and measurable outcomes.

We have heard many of my colleagues talk about delivering on our election commitments. The Premier has been incredibly clear from probably two years before the election, when we were starting really to get serious about articulating our election commitments, because we had spent a lot of time before that developing them, to say that we need to describe them, we need to plan them, we need to organise them and we need to develop them properly, because if we are elected we will deliver them properly. That has been a common theme between speakers—brand-new speakers and returning MPs as well—on our side of the chamber: we are going to deliver our election commitments properly.

In my ministerial area of responsibility, there are some very clear deliverables. I know that if electricity prices become more affordable and electricity supply becomes more reliable I will be considered a person who did my job properly, with enormous support from my office, the department and many others. If that does not happen, I will be considered a person who did not do his job properly, and I accept that responsibility. I am very comfortable having things outlined that way, and I will do my best.

I say again that I will not be doing it on my own. There is a ministerial office that is nearly at completion. We have some amazing, wonderful people who have come into this office, and the whole department, approximately 330 people who, I have to say, have been invigorated for a few reasons: I am sure that, partly through a change of government—and that is not to say that they are Liberal voters, as I know for a fact that there are strong Labor people in that group; that is not what I am talking about—I think a change has invigorated them.

Another very sensible decision the Premier made well before the election was that he wanted to set up a government with, essentially, one minister, one CEO and one department wherever possible. What will officially on 1 July make up the department for energy and mining was a section of State Development previously, and then, when electricity got very difficult for the government, became a section of the Premier and Cabinet.

I am very fortunate to have officially, currently, deputy CE Paul Heithersay, who has been in charge of many things, but broadly this energy and mining area, and who will continue on as the CE for the department of energy and mining. He is an outstanding person with an outstanding leadership team reporting through to him. I am very fortunate to have him, so we will have a minister, a CE and a department to focus on energy and mining.

I say again that the people I have met in that department—and it is not nearly all of them but many, many of them—are reinvigorated. They are very keen to get on with the job, and I pay tribute to them because these are the people who were doing the very best they could to deliver on the previous government’s energy policy. We have sat and we have talked about it and I said, ‘Well, the reality is that I was in opposition, I was the shadow minister, I was the one saying that the previous government was not doing a good job and you were the ones helping the previous government do that. Do you want to get on board with the new government? Do you want to get on board with our policies?’ Unreservedly, they do, and I thank them and congratulate them on that.

They are high-quality public servants, regardless of their personal political preference, which of course is varied in the department just as it would be out in the real world. They want to get on with the job, they are keen to get on with the job and I, as a person who had never come into the role of minister before, was extremely pleased to see the work they had done during the caretaker period to put together, to the best of their ability at the time, the best way for a new energy and mining department to deliver the new Liberal government’s energy and mining policies. I thank them for that. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us and we will do it together. They are outstanding people and outstanding public servants doing the very best they can to deliver for the people of South Australia on behalf of and with the new government, and I think that is absolutely tremendous.

None of us here will ever get elected on our own—never have, never will. All speakers who have contributed to this debate have talked about a different range of people. It is not possible for all of us to name everybody, but let me start with my electoral staff. I have extraordinary electoral staff in Kapunda, in Port Augusta and, until very recently, in Parliament House as well—people who have done their jobs amazingly: Tracey Freeman and Sandra Spaeth from Port Augusta, as well as a series of very good trainees along the way, including Cassandra Delaney currently.

Stacey in Kapunda does an amazing job. Stacey is extraordinary in the sense that she comes from a station in the Far North, Farina Station, and adores family. She has worked as a journalist and editor for a range of country newspapers and now, as Stacey Davidson, has moved to Kapunda with her husband and family—closer to her in-laws. There is just an example of an incredibly broad range of experience, background and local connection which spreads across most of our vast electorate, and I could go into that sort of detail for any one of our staff.

I also want to mention Mr Chris Hanna, who most people in this chamber are aware of. He was previously a very highly regarded electorate officer and is now a ministerial adviser in energy. Chris has been my longest serving staff member. He started with me a month or so after the 2010 election and I thank him enormously for working side by side with me for eight years in opposition and for wanting to continue side by side with me into government. Again, I could go into details of the others as well, but they already know how highly I think of them and for what reasons.

Of course, I am in many ways incredibly fortunate and perhaps spoilt to be moving into a new ministerial office with staff. The people who have come out of the department, or in fact other departments, to support our ministerial office are off to a great start. I am incredibly fortunate to have Mr Dominic Kelly as my Chief of Staff, who committed, subject to our success at the election, to shift here from Sydney. He tells me that he only came because of the wine in South Australia, but I suspect that he is actually very keen to get on and do the job, too. He is a very highly qualified person, and there will be others who join our team as well.

It is with people at every level—in the electorate offices, in the ministerial office, in the department, in this chamber—that we will get great results. It is great people, working very hard, with skill, with ability, with intent, with character—that is how we will get results for the people of South Australia. You cannot do it on your own; you should not do it on your own. You would fool yourself if you thought you could do it on your own. Let me say in my first significant contribution in this chamber as a minister that I know that every single thing that I may be able to achieve on behalf of the people of South Australia in this chamber will be with the support and because of the support of very, very good people who surround me.

I move on to the absolutely most important person in my life, my wife, Rebecca, who like most, is a spouse who supports their husband or wife as a member of parliament. I often joke, but it is true that one of the most important things about my wife, Rebecca, when it comes to supporting my role in parliament and politics is that she is actually not very interested in politics. Do you know what? That is absolutely perfect. She cares about me, she cares about the community and she cares about people anywhere; she cares about the nuts and bolts of real people in the real world, and that is where her passion is.

She wants to support me to help them and she also does a lot herself to support them directly. For that, to the love of my life, I could never be thankful enough. I would never have been preselected without Rebecca’s support, I would never have been elected without her support and I would never be standing here now as a minister without her support. I am sure that most people here would feel the same way about their spouse.

Just to get to a few more nuts and bolts things, consistently in the electorate of Stuart in the country areas—so if you look at the freehold land, the non-pastoral zone from, say, Port Augusta down to Truro and Kapunda—overwhelmingly the top two issues that people are concerned about are health and roads. In the northern part of the electorate, broadly defined by north of Port Augusta and in the pastoral zone, people are concerned by roads and communications. They have a lot of other concerns of course—education being one of them, access to a wide range of services being another, feeling left out and disconnected and forgotten in many ways and not being able to access things—but largely and consistently those are the two key things.

I became a candidate for Stuart back in May 2008 when the former government announced its country health plan, which, Mr Speaker, you will remember and other members will remember was roundly rejected by people all over the state. I was a brand-new candidate trying to learn how things worked, never having had a connection to a political party or politics in any way, but I can tell you it took about three seconds for me to realise that country health and country hospitals are incredibly highly valued, incredibly important for people in country areas, in our electorate particularly.

The electorate of Stuart has nine hospitals inside its boundary. It also has another eight hospitals just outside the electorate boundary, which are the closest hospitals for some people who live inside the electorate. So there are 17 hospitals in South Australia, each of which is the closest hospital to some people in our electorate—17 hospitals; incredibly important.

I and my colleagues hold the delivery of health services to country South Australia as a sacred obligation. There are other incredibly high priorities, but the delivery of health services to people in country and outback areas is a sacred obligation of a government. We so strongly believe in that. Of course, it is important to say that the delivery of the health service is not just about hospitals, but the majority of those hospitals—even, very often, GP clinics—are connected physically and in many other ways with country hospitals as well.

The delivery of roads is incredibly important. It is no accident that the Premier and our team have delivered a commitment before the election and will deliver in reality 30 per cent of all mining royalties going to transport and infrastructure projects in regional South Australia. That is about delivering services that should be there, that should have been there, and also about delivering growth opportunities.

We know that country South Australia deserves extraordinary support and attention because country and outback South Australia deliver for metropolitan South Australia enormously. Mr Deputy Speaker, as the member for Flinders you know that, as do many of our colleagues on this side. The Labor Party is incredibly unfortunate to only have one non-metropolitan member. It is a great shame for the Labor Party. They do not get the importance of regional communities, and perhaps it is not their fault because it is not part of who they are or what they do. The electorate of Giles is a Labor-held seat. Beyond that there is not one, and I think that does that party a great disservice.

The reality is that the metropolitan area of Adelaide is growing and growing. In the views of many people, it goes quite far down the Fleurieu Peninsula and north of Gawler these days. The seats that include the Fleurieu Peninsula and the fringes of Adelaide, and the seats that include Gawler and the northern fringes of Adelaide, are not country seats. They might have some parts of them that are considered country, and those parts are incredibly important but, overwhelmingly, the vast majority of electors, constituents in those seats, would be considered greater metropolitan people. So good luck to those Labor MPs who have some country in their electorates—that is fantastic—but they are not country electorates.

There is another issue I would like to just touch on very quickly, and that is the issue of wild dogs. It sounds like a great topic. Who knows if that is the name of a movie or the latest, greatest TV show? The reality is that it is a very serious and very unfortunate topic. I raise this topic because it affects my electors very seriously, and it is starting to affect other electors and will continue to affect other electors if we do not get on top of it.

Wild dogs—essentially dingoes—once roamed free all over Australia and then were largely only above the dog fence, but in the last few decades have started to come further south below the dog fence for a wide range of reasons that I have enumerated in this place many times, and I am sure I will again. I will not go into that, but the reality is that if we do not get on top of this problem, our grazing industry hundreds of kilometres south of the dog fence is going to face even more challenges.

A dog was shot at Caltowie a week and a half ago. I have not done the sums, but Caltowie has to be 400 kilometres or thereabouts below the dog fence. The week before that, there was one at Laura. This is a reasonably close country area. There was one at Port Neill and one at Waikerie. This is an issue that, if it is allowed to get further out of hand, will cause enormous grief for our grazing industry.

We went to the election with a commitment to deliver funding towards two full-time trappers. Shooting, baiting, fences and a range of other things go to address wild dogs. Trapping is the big piece that is missing at the moment, and we will deliver on that program because that is the way, the experts tell me—and I do not pretend to be an expert—that you can get the smart dogs that do not get shot, do not take bait and have managed to get their way through the fence and, in many cases, to live and breed south of the dog fence for many years. They are the ones that will not be taken any other way. That is a very important issue.

I would like to finish with two things; one is with regard to Aboriginal heritage and Aboriginal people. Port Augusta, as you know, is the heart, population-wise, of the electorate I represent, and it has an Aboriginal population of approximately 20 per cent. Let me say very clearly that it would not matter if there were one Aboriginal person living in Port Augusta or if it were 90 per cent Aboriginal—every single person in this electorate gets represented. Young or old, male or female, Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, rich or poor, farmer, town dweller or factory worker, it does not matter. Every single person in the electorate of Stuart gets represented.

Every single person knows that they can come to me with an issue and that they will be represented. Aboriginal people, multigenerational Anglo-Saxons, recent migrants, migrants who have been here for a few generations—every single person in our electorate is important. It does not matter what they do or where they come from, or whether their family has been in Australia for tens of thousands of years or if they came just recently. If they came legally, with the right attitude and the right approach, and they want to contribute to our community, they get represented.

The last thing I would like to say is that one of the key directives that our leader, the Premier of South Australia, has given our members—whether they be ministers or the broader team in which we all serve—is that our government will act with humility, accountability and delivery in our minds every single day. Humility, accountability and delivery: everyone on our team is committed to that. We are very pleased to be in government. We are very pleased, but we are not going nuts, we are not going crazy and we are not saying, ‘How good are we?’ We are very pleased because now we can get on with the job. We are all accountable.

We know that we are accountable to our electorates. We know that every single one of us is accountable to deliver our previously opposition but now Liberal government’s election commitments. We will do that with humility, accountability and delivery. They will be the hallmarks of the Marshall Liberal government, and every single person on our team, including those in the other place, is fully committed to doing that on behalf of our electorates and on behalf of South Australia. We will do that.