Wednesday, 21 March 2018
Statements by Senators
South Australian State Election
Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. I note that there is some level of bleating coming from the other side! I had a very enjoyable evening with Senator Farrell, but I must say that as the night went on his predictions looked less and less likely to come about.
But it wasn't just an election victory for the Liberals in my home state of South Australia; it was actually a victory for all South Australians. This wasn't just any old typical election. We had an interesting third force in it, and that was the Nick Xenophon team. So with all the challenges that were thrown at Steven Marshall and his team and that they had to overcome, it was a resounding victory. It was a great victory. And I think that still, no matter how much of a challenge was thrown at us by the third-party Nick Xenophon team, the main challenge still remained the Weatherill Labor government.
There have been 16 years under this government, which has profoundly neglected South Australia, and I believe that it has profoundly neglected where I live in South Australia—rural and regional areas. South Australia was the laughing-stock of the country, with the highest-priced and most unreliable power in the nation.
The fact is that we've seen a debt of massive proportions bequeathed to the people of South Australia because of the reckless spending that we saw under the previous government. I think that the Labor Weatherill government is a very strong reason that the people of South Australia saw off this very incompetent and tired government.
We don't have to go very far to have a look at some of the things that caused the problems and caused the people of South Australia to decide to move away from that government. There were horrific scandals like the Oakden aged-care facilities and Families SA. This was a government that made an art form out of avoiding accountability and responsibility, and, as Senator Farrell just raised, this was a government which held a gun to the head of the Murray-Darling plan in its desperation to get re-elected.
I could go on, but I just want to reinforce that the neglected regions and rural sector in South Australia are the main reasons that I believe this government was thrown out, and resoundingly. A great example was South Australia's moratorium on the commercial production of genetically modified crops. This was politically and ideologically motivated. This moratorium has been constantly justified by the previous Premier, Jay Weatherill, and his previous minister for agriculture, Leon Bignal, who is yet to win his seat, on the basis that it provides farmers some sort of commercial advantage in being able to access markets sensitive about GM. However, they are yet to provide any real unequivocal evidence that supports this claim. Growers in New South Wales and Victoria have been able to grow GM canola for 10 straight seasons now. So far, they have experienced no adverse commercial impacts in growing this stuff. I think that the jury remains totally out on any evidence whatsoever that has been provided by South Australia about the advantage of doing that. When Premier Weatherill was confronted with the evidence, following calls from South Australian farmers for the moratorium on GM to be lifted, this was his response to ABC's Landline in July last year:
The truth is there are not a lot of votes out there in country South Australia for us, so in some ways we are free of the electoral imperatives about this.
That is a pretty sad indictment but I suppose it is a very truthful reflection on what Jay Weatherill thought about rural and regional South Australia. Make no mistake, this cynical neglect was only one of the factors that has motivated the South Australian public—but it was the main motivating factor for me to put my hand up to come into parliament in the first place. If you want to talk about cynicism, let's talk about the extraordinary circus of Nick Xenophon's hastily assembled team of party-hopping opportunists.
I'm pleased to see Senator Farrell is at last starting to agree with some of my comments. It was extraordinary how the media pandered to Mr Xenophon's stunts and gimmicks for so many years and rarely held him to account or asked him to provide any funding substantiation for some of the things he threw out there. But as the election campaign rolled on, and Mr Xenophon went from being the populist 'keep the bastards honest' party to thinking he could be a real alternative to the two major parties, it was quite interesting how quickly the wheels fell off.
I pay credit to some of the people who worked extraordinarily hard on this election campaign. Nobody deserves more credit than Vince Tarzia—the lion of Hartley, as he is now called—who not only won his own marginal seat but also overcame the most extraordinary looming threat anybody could ever expect when Nick Xenophon decided he was going to move back to South Australia and take on Vince Tarzia in Hartley. The extraordinary hard work Vince has done over the past four years as member for Hartley saw the challenge very easily overcome in the end. The people of Hartley saw him as a genuine, hardworking grassroots local member, and he was rewarded on election night with quite an easy victory; he even saw a two-party preferred swing to him. I think Bollywood ads and campaign stunts were well and truly not what the voters of Hartley wanted; they wanted a solid local member.
The Liberal success didn't end there. Paula Luethen defeated the Labor candidate in a tight contest in King. Paula worked absolutely tirelessly for the entire election campaign and was rewarded by the people of King, who put their faith in her to be their representative for the next four years. Carolyn Habib overcame the incumbent, Annabel Digance, in Elder. She defeated her this time, after suffering the indignity of quite a nasty campaign in 2014 where a whole heap of racist tactics were used against Carolyn. Not to be dissuaded, she came back and ran a fantastic campaign for a very comfortable victory. Matt Cowdrey, Australia's most awarded Paralympian swimming star, fought a very tight contest in the seat of Colton and was also victorious. But that wasn't because he was a Paralympian; he succeeded because he doorknocked his entire electorate. There are a number of others. Josh Teague, in the Adelaide Hills seat of Heysen, fought off a very determined fight from the Nick Xenophon Team to win his seat, as did all our members and new candidates in the Adelaide Hills area. David Basham retained the seat of Finniss for us and, as I mentioned earlier, Andy Gilfillan is still fighting a very good fight against incumbent Leon Bignell in Mawson. A couple of other country members gave come in: Fraser Ellis, in Narungga, and Nick McBride in MacKillop.
It was a great result on Saturday night. It reflected that the people of South Australia obviously thought the hard work, determination and solid and stable government offered by Steven Marshall was what they wanted for the next four years. He has worked very hard and he had a plan. Gimmicks, stunts and playing around were never going to encourage the people of South Australia to support a party into government. They wanted stability, certainty into the future and somebody who wasn't going to play games.
The most important thing that will support and sustain Steven Marshall over the next four years is the fact that he has such depth in his team. He has a team of members of parliament, all of whom have worked extremely hard. He has a new team that's been elected, plus a team that's been there for a number of years—a solid team. It was great to see Vickie Chapman elected as the Deputy Premier, so we have a gender equity balance at the top of the ticket, with the Premier being a male and Vickie being a female. She is there because she is an absolutely competent and capable performer. She will be an absolute powerhouse to sit behind Steven and assist him as he delivers his first term as Premier of South Australia. Sitting behind them is a team of great members of parliament who will become great ministers. I look forward to working with my very dear friend and colleague Tim Whetstone as we implement policies for rural and regional South Australia. Given the neglect of rural and regional South Australia over the last 16 years, we have got a lot of work to do to catch up. But I am sure, with the combination of fantastic local members that we have out in rural and regional South Australia and the ministers who have been appointed to support rural and regional South Australia, we are now going to see all South Australians benefit from the actions of their government.