Senate debates

Wednesday, 14 February 2018


South Australia

7:40 pm

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

As a senator for South Australia it is one of the great privileges to travel around my home state to visit the regional communities to identify and understand what the challenges are in a state where the local government is very city centric. It's not good enough, quite frankly, for state governments to focus on the inner city masses. There needs to be an equal focus, an understanding, and a commitment to supplying our regional communities with the services and the infrastructure that they desperately need. If a state is to truly develop its resources, it needs to develop its regional communities.

As I travel around the state, I go to places like Port Lincoln, where I have a particular affinity and where so many hundreds of millions of dollars have been added to our state's economy by the fishermen there. They lament the fact that it seems that both the major parties in South Australia have turned their backs on them. They no longer really seem to care about their contributions. In Port Lincoln—it's one of the biggest centres in South Australia, if not the biggest—we have young mums who worry about being able to have children in a hospital which is struggling to provide services. We have people who are unable to access the PATS program to get to specialist services that they desperately need in Adelaide in a timely manner. These are very real problems that people feel they need someone to go into bat for them on, and it's been missing in South Australia.

In other communities they are worried about water. They are worried about roads. They are worried about mental health issues. They are worried about the drug problems that are endemic. They're wondering why the government isn't spending more money on frontline policing services, health services or community services to deal and address these problems to make country life, rural life and regional life even more attractive than it currently is.

One of the things that I pick up is that individuals across South Australia identify a champion of their own. And I regret to say it's not Premier Jay Weatherill. It's not the opposition leader, Steven Marshall. It is a person that the Sunday Mail, which is the major Sunday paper—and the only Sunday paper in South Australia—identified some years ago as the real opposition leader in South Australia. I'm very proud to say that man is Robert Brokenshire.

Robert Brokenshire is a member of the legislative council. He is a former police minister under a Liberal government. He is now a member of the Australian Conservatives. I'm so pleased and proud of his commitment to rural and regional South Australia, because his is the voice that the people in these communities hear sticking up for them. Whether it comes down to rural health care, whether it comes down to roads or whether it comes down to sticking up for farmers—the forgotten people who contribute so much to our economy—Robert Brokenshire is always the person who is there talking on regional radio, visiting the community regions and having community meetings and forums to identify and seek to solve the problems. He lives rural life. He continues to run a farm—it is his own business—as well as being a member of parliament. It gives him an empathy and an understanding, which those who live within the city confines can never really hope to replicate.

For the rest of us who are in awe of this sort of work, we spend our time in regional communities and we seek to learn as much as we possibly can. But unless you understand the lived existence—the perils that come with it, the worries that come from not being able to get adequate dental care or health care for your child or yourself in certain circumstances, the worries about transport services, the worries about wellbeing and the worries about the safety of roads when your child first gets a licence—you won't understand how all of those things are playing into the minds of the great people of South Australia who prop up our regional communities.

They need champions. I regret to say that it seems that, because there are not millions of voters out there, the major parties have forgotten them. I'm not going to nail all the individual members, because there are some exceptional regional representatives in South Australia, but it just seems that overall they have lost a champion—outside of Robert Brokenshire.

Robert Brokenshire, as I said, has been described as the true opposition leader in South Australia. It's because he picks up the issues that matter to the people. He's concerned about electricity. He's concerned about health. He's concerned about education. He's concerned about farmers and primary producers. He wants to see sustainable mining work in concert with farmers to produce the best possible outcome for the state. I hope, and I wish him every success in the next election.