Road or Ferry Closure (Consultation and Review) Bill


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (10:32): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I indicate that I am the opposition's lead speaker on this bill from the other place. I will not go on for too long but there are some important issues to raise with regard to this bill and I know that some of my opposition colleagues will speak on this bill as well.

Let me say at the outset that I compliment the Hon. Robert Brokenshire from the other place for bringing this bill forward. Essentially, it requires a statutory obligation to consult with identified stakeholders and local communities prior to a ferry or road being closed. Let me also say that the opposition strongly supports this bill, and that is for many reasons, which I will come to shortly but, just for the benefit of the house, I will read a few short excerpts which really do capture the essence of the bill. With regard to the closure of a ferry:
A public ferry service maintained by a ferry authority must not be closed by the authority otherwise than in accordance with this Part.
And this part deals with consultation, and I quote again:

(1)Where a ferry authority proposes to close a public ferry service maintained by the authority, the authority must give notice of the proposal to the following persons or bodies...

(a)the Commissioner of Highways;

(b)if the service is in a council area—the council for the area;

(c)each owner of land adjoining a principal ferry road at any point within 5 kilometres of a terminal of the ferry.

This part goes on to explain that a ferry authority must also give notice of the proposal to the public through a newspaper that circulates throughout the state and also a local newspaper—in fact, all local newspapers I think is the intent—circulating in the area in which a terminal of a ferry is situated. Very similar provisions exist for the possible closures of roads.

Why are we dealing with this at all? Why has this come about. It has come about, I suppose, for two reasons. It is a common sense piece of legislation. It is a common sense suggestion that if you are going to close a road or a ferry—and these would typically be in rural areas—you would consult with the local community and everybody else who might be affected by it.

So, I suppose it is common sense to have legislation that supports what you think you should naturally be doing, but the other reason it has been brought here is that the government did not follow that common sense path. The government did not consult with the local community or any other community—perhaps a community of public servants within the transport department, maybe, but broader than that there was no consultation whatsoever with any community when the government announced that it was going to close the ferry at Cadell.

Cadell is in the electorate of Stuart. It is a very precious and important part of the Riverland in the electorate of Stuart. As we all know, the member of Chaffey represents exceptionally well the majority of the Riverland, but Cadell, Morgan, Blanchetown and Murbko—that small section of the Riverland—is in the electorate of Stuart, and it is a very precious part of the electorate of Stuart.

I think every member of this house would agree that the government had absolutely no idea what they were doing when they tackled the small community of Cadell and told them that they were going to take their ferry away. They had absolutely no idea how hard those people would fight against that. They had absolutely no idea how much support the people of Cadell would get from other communities up and down the river and in fact all over the state.

I will share a very brief story with the house. I visited Lindon Station in the far north-east of South Australia, near Cameron Corner, right next to the New South Wales border. The people at Lindon Station were talking to me about a whole range of issues to do with their pastoral enterprise and business and succession plans and drought and fire and challenges, and many positives to do with station life on a very remote outback station.

During that visit they also said to me, 'What's going on with this ferry at Cadell? I can't believe it. I can't believe that the government wants to close this ferry at Cadell. That's outrageous.' That is how far and wide the anger with the government was that they would consider doing this. That is how far and wide the anger was with the government that they had actually made a decision to do it without consulting with anybody, outside quite possibly, as I said, a small community of public servants within the transport department.

I do not mind that the government considered it, because it is fair to consider all the options. If you are trying to save some money, you have to consider all the options. What I mind is that they progressed with the intention after considering it. They should have just considered it and said, 'Yes, we are thinking of all the different things we can possibly think of—the ones that seem very sensible all the way down to the other end of the spectrum of things we probably will not do—but let us just consider where we can save money anyway.'
What is absolutely crazy is that, immediately after that, they did not discount the possibility. They did not understand the importance of that ferry to the provision of emergency services to the Cadell community and the provision of emergency services to the surrounding community. They just thought to themselves, 'Well, there is a ferry at Morgan. There is a ferry at Morgan that can get you to Cadell as well.' They just did not think about the fact that the Cadell ferry was so pivotal to the provision of emergency services, was so pivotal to the provision of Meals on Wheels and was so pivotal to the movement of farming machinery across the river.

There is a ferry at Morgan and there is a ferry at Waikerie, so the small community of internal public servants who would have considered this issue would have just said, 'There is one up the road and there is one down the road. There is a good saving; we will shut it off.' But they did not fully consider the fact that, if you have got a significantly large piece of agricultural machinery on one side of the river near Cadell, and you need to move it to the other side of the river near Cadell, it is just not practical to go approximately 15 kilometres down the road to Morgan, or approximately, I think, about 25 kilometres up the road to Waikerie, to get onto that ferry, to then travel the same distance back on the road, on the other side of the river, to get back to Cadell. It is possibly excusable that the government did not consider that because they are not in sync and they are not in tune with the needs of primary producers across the state, but how could they possibly not have considered those sort of ramifications for emergency services at Cadell?

For me, all of the issues are important, but the most important issue of all was that of the school. I think, at the time, there were 23 or 24 children who went to Cadell Primary, and approximately five of them lived on the other side of the river. So, approximately five of them would come across on the ferry every day to go to Cadell Primary, which is an absolutely outstanding small school in South Australia. They do a really wonderful job in many ways.

These children were going to be brought to school from the other side of the river, and this is where I cannot accept that it was just an accident or an oversight, the way I can with regard to agricultural machinery. This is where the government thought to themselves, 'Goodness, if those kids do not have a ferry to go to Cadell Primary, they will have to go by road, either via Morgan or via Waikerie to their ferry, to get across the river and then back to Cadell. Goodness gracious! If they do that, why would you drive right past one perfectly good primary school to get to another one?'

Those kids would not have continued. It would not have made sense for them to continue at the Cadell Primary School, so they would have had approximately 20 per cent of their students taken out of their student population, and that would have quite likely led to the closure, a few years down the track, of the Cadell Primary School. Now, that is the sort of saving the government was really after. I have no doubt they wanted to save the $200,000-odd a year to run the ferry, but it was not only about the saving to the transport budget through the closure of the ferry, it was actually about trying to just get out of providing a whole range of other services—just sneakily get out of providing those other services. The government would have been very happy to just let the Cadell Primary School close.

Do you know what? If you had let the Cadell Primary School close, then the town would have shrunk and become very much more difficult to sustain itself. If you do not have people coming into town every day to take their kids to school, then the businesses suffer. If you do not have a school, young families cannot live there. If you do not have a school, grandchildren cannot live there, so grandparents do not want to live there, quite understandably.

The school is absolutely pivotal to small regional communities, and that is actually the target the government had in their sights—that and other services they provide in that region. The government was hoping that the ferry would be the catalyst: if they could get rid of the ferry, they could get out of their responsibilities to the community far more broadly.

Another issue in regard to the Cadell ferry, and the reason that we are debating and supporting this bill today, is that not only did the government not consult with the broader community, the government did not consult in cabinet. There is an expectation that these issues actually go through a full cost-benefit analysis in cabinet. I am sure they discussed it around the table, but not in the detailed, thorough way that they are obliged to do.

It was very unfortunate for the government that, shortly after this announcement was made, estimates came along and I was able to ask minister after minister after minister, or have asked on my behalf if I could not be at that particular session, 'Were you consulted? Did you or your department do a full cost-benefit analysis on the closure of the Cadell ferry?' Minister after minister after minister had to say no. They are on the record, in estimates, in parliament, on Hansard: no was the perpetual, repeated answer.

Not only did the Cadell community fight, not only did they show that they could not be pushed around, not only did they get support from other communities and councils up and down the river and around the state, not only did they refuse to submit, but the government had not done its own internal consultation properly. Mr Deputy Speaker, I invite you to check the Hansard of estimates a year and a half ago—two estimates ago—and minister after minister had to say, 'No, actually, we didn't do that properly.' That is why we need this bill.
We need this bill because we all know that the government does not consult with the community, particularly in regional areas, the way they should. This example shows us, proves to us and has it on the record that the government does not even consult thoroughly; it does not do the homework that it is meant to do and obliged to do internally before it makes these sorts of decisions to try to shut down regional communities.

That is why we need this bill, and that is why the opposition wholeheartedly supports it. You would think it would be common sense that you would do this anyway, but when you have a government that has proven that it will not do it, and that it will try to sneakily shut down a ferry, to sneakily shut down a school, to sneakily disarm emergency services, Meals on Wheels and a whole range of other services without doing its own thorough internal cost-benefit analysis of the broader impact on that regional community, that is why we need this bill.



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