Nick McBride - Address in Reply - Parliament 2022

19 May 2022

Mr Speaker today I rise to provide my address in reply to the Governor.  

This is my first week in Parliament of the 55th Parliament, like several of my colleagues I unfortunately missed the first sitting weeks due to COVID isolation.

I would like to extend my congratulations to all new and re-elected members in this house and in the other place. It is truly a humbling experience to be elected to represent our communities. I would also like to extend my congratulations to you, Mr Speaker, on your re-election to the position. I look forward to your continued fair and impartial treatment of all of us in this house.

I would like to express my profound thanks to the people of the MacKillop electorate for placing your trust in me to represent you in this place as the member for MacKillop. To be re-elected for the second time in the MacKillop electorate is something for which I am truly grateful and will honour with a firm commitment to continue to advocate for the betterment of MacKillop communities.

I look forward to representing the constituents in my electorate, who have placed faith in me to advocate on their behalf. I am wholeheartedly committed to continuing to advocate for the communities in this electorate. I remain passionate about advocating to ensure our regional communities can grow and thrive by ensuring living is affordable, quality health services are accessible, business is enabled and not obstructed, our community infrastructure is fit for purpose, quality education and training is available and accessible, and our communities are not disadvantaged by virtue of living regionally.

I never tire of speaking about the strengths of the electorate. It is an economic powerhouse for the state and is comprised of a diverse and dynamic community. The electorate is a truly magnificent and beautiful place to live, work and raise families. I have spoken before in this place about the beauty and vast natural assets of the region. From our south-eastern coastal shores, the Karst landscapes, peat swamps, wetlands, fertile soils, red gum country, the Mallee in the north and the Coorong, the MacKillop electorate is truly a magnificent and diverse location.

The redistribution of boundaries that came into effect on 19 March this year has made the MacKillop electorate all that much more diverse and dynamic and, I might add, geographically much larger. The MacKillop electorate extends across communities from Millicent, Tantanoola and Nangwarry in the south. These are relatively high rainfall areas dominated by intensive cropping, horticulture, livestock enterprises, forestry and forest product processing. The inclusion of significant coastline in the electorate also supports an important fishery sector.

The electorate now reaches from the former northern boundary, which lay just beyond Bordertown and Meningie, to now include the entire Coorong District Council and the entire area of the Southern Mallee District Council. The change brings the electorate's size to just more than 34,000 square kilometres. The expanded area includes the townships of Pinnaroo, Lameroo and Tailem Bend and smaller communities like Geranium, Peake and Sherlock, to name just a few, where the landscape is dominated by broadacre cropping and punctuated with more important horticulture and associated processing enterprises.

The electorate includes a diverse community, including farmers and farmhands, viticulturalists, vineyard workers and winemakers, commodity processing workers, allied businesses and workers who provide services and supplies and repairs, educators and health workers. The electorate is also called home by an important migrant population, including strong representation from individuals and families from Afghanistan and the Philippines who have been drawn to the electorate for work and as a safe place to raise a family.

The change to the electorate boundary has brought strong Mallee communities into the MacKillop electorate from the former Hammond electorate. I have been pleased to meet some really great community-minded, driven people from these communities, people who want to ensure they are well represented in this place. May I thank the member for Hammond for all the advocacy and work he has done in this part of what formerly was his electorate on the eastern side that is now part of MacKillop.

I look forward to seeing much more and learning more about the people of these communities across the electorate in the coming years and working hard for them. While today I wish to look forward, I would like also to acknowledge some important investments and gains that have been made in the past four years for the MacKillop electorate. We saw:

the completion of the Penola bypass, creating a safer environment for the main street of Penola and its community;

the ban on fracking in the South-East, a decision which is a testament to the role of our parliament and listening to the people;

the completion of roadworks that have allowed the reinstatement of speed limits on some key regional roads, including the Clay Wells Road and the Ngarkat Highway;

the delivery of long overdue resurfacing and upgrades to regional roads including the Dukes and Princes highways;

the delivery of much-needed support packages and grants for businesses impacted by COVID restrictions, and the investment in tourism facilities and vouchers to encourage more people to travel to the regions;

the construction of much-needed mobile phone towers at Keilira, Tower Road, Legges Lane and Avenue Range;

the delivery of much-needed upgrades to our hospital, including $3.1 million for the Naracoorte hospital to upgrade their surgical theatre and sterilising area, and $2 million for Bordertown's new community health building;

the delivery of the works to support the transition of year 7 students to high school, which included $5 million worth of works at Naracoorte High School and $4 million worth of works to the Kingston Area School;

schools across the electorate benefiting from the stimulus funding to a value of $100,000 each and $30,000 each to kindergartens;

the Balharry kindergarten at Lucindale receive $500,000 for infrastructure upgrades;

the upgrade to school buildings at Lucindale;

the revitalisation of the Kingston main streets;

the provision of opportunities for sporting infrastructure upgrades, which has seen the recent investment of more than $1.4 million for upgrades to the Naracoorte sports centre to upgrade courts, the Tintinara Oval and recreational area, the Kybybolite sports club, the Mundulla Football Club, the Bordertown Football Club, the Mount Burr Football Club;

sporting clubs in my electorate also benefiting from smaller grants for program funding and equipment;

recognition of the importance of our local fishing industry, with a much-needed injection of $5 million allocated to the Beachport jetty; and

our investment in CFS, with new upgraded CFS trucks and new sheds.

Looking forward, despite this investment and achievement, there is much more work to be done in this electorate. We need to address the shortage of affordable housing in the electorate. This is a foundational issue for our economy and communities and must be addressed. In recent years, we have been working with local and federal government representatives, businesses and Regional Development Australia Limestone Coast to quantify the problem in the electorate and seek solutions. We know there is a significant shortfall in affordable housing and very limited social housing opportunities. This is having a significant personal, financial and economic impact across the electorate.

I am just going to elaborate a little bit further on this area. One of the things that I am hoping for from this new Labor government is that there has been some commentary about the way that I won this electorate, even from the new Premier, where he said that Limestone Coast does not need Adelaide but Adelaide needs the Limestone Coast—and may I hold him to those words. This is one area I think that really not just affects MacKillop but probably affects all of regional South Australia.

We have a town called Bordertown. It has had a shortage of housing for nearly 10 years. It has some of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, if not across Australia regionally, and we have done nothing to address the worker shortage in this town for that long. It has now extended to every town in MacKillop where we have a shortage of affordable housing now, and we are seriously needing some sort of assistance, injection or impetus to actually fix this problem.

I want to just highlight some of the inequities so that everyone knows some of the reasons why this is happening. If there is going to be building development and urban sprawl or even affordable housing builds in the state it should be well recognised by this parliament, both sides of politics, that the best bang for dollar is in Adelaide, and the urban sprawl around Adelaide.

It means that what I am saying is that if you go to the financial sector to borrow money to build 50 new houses in Mount Barker, the Southern Vales area or the northern areas of Adelaide, you need only 10 per cent equity to seek finance for that build, whatever that may look like. If you want to go and build out in our regions you will require 60 per cent equity.

Just in that sense, even the finance sector recognises the risk and the extra finances and cost involved in trying to build in the regions, yet we have so many opportunities out there right now that are going begging—not only the fact that we are missing the workforce, but even if we found the workforce we have nowhere to house them. We seriously have nowhere to house them and we are seeing businesses that are going out in the regions, like Parilla potatoes with a massive investment out there in the Lameroo-Pinnaroo area, and building their own houses. You could say, 'Maybe they have to,' and they are.

But in that sense not every business, not every small business, not every builder, not every electrician, not every trade, not every grain business or trucking business can actually afford to go and build houses for their entire workforce. This business was very lucky; the Parilla potato processing factory is a major business. There is a major meat processor in Bordertown in Naracoorte and I know—and I have already seen this over the last 10 or 20 years—that sector is very competitive.

Even though it is very lucrative in the sense of what meat and protein is worth on the world market today, it has not always been like this; it has its ups and downs. If you say that they have to go and build houses for their workers, you are actually almost setting them up for failure perhaps if there is another downturn and they had to invest millions of dollars into housing in these towns where there is none available at the moment.

I will just give you an example is what has happened in Bordertown. JPS meatworks is there which processes mainly lamb and mutton. They actually bought an old motel that had become defunct and turned it into housing for the workers, just to find rooms so that they can get enough workers into the plant to keep the plant running. You can imagine what that is like when you put COVID on top of that and your workforce is locked down or restricted, plus you cannot find the workers and you do not have the housing. You can see how these businesses have their hands tied behind their backs before they have met their commitments in making a return for their investors or the owners of those businesses.

Another issue I will touch on again is affordable housing. You would not think it would be a problem in a little town like Robe, a wealthy, beautiful town with a lot of beach shacks that have all doubled if not tripled in value because of the way that regional housing—and probably Adelaide housing—has gone in the last two, three, five years.

Now Robe, which is a busy tourist hub that goes from around 1,000 people during the winter—but may have 500 to 1,000 tourists there—to 15,000 to 20,000 through the peak period of Christmas and new year, cannot find employees to service those tourists because there is nowhere to put them in housing. The housing is too expensive so there was no-one to cook or clean or do the cafe jobs, coffees and the like, that tourists come to expect when they go to a tourist town like Robe. So there are two extremities.

One of the last towns I saw suffer the affordable housing issue was Millicent. As extrapolated across the regions, we always knew there was a problem in Bordertown, it certainly moved on very quickly down to Naracoorte, and one of the last chance was Millicent. Millicent now still has an affordable housing issue. There is a large social housing cohort, but some of the houses are condemned and not lived in because of the maintenance backlog over a number of years in terms of government, not just over the last previous government. But now there is a shortage of housing there as well. There is a major industry just south of Millicent, Kimberly-Clark, that needs workers and so forth. There are a number of other businesses in the region at Millicent, some are fishermen, some are forestry workers and others are in horticulture and so forth. It is hard to find workers if there is no housing available to them.

Businesses are crying out for workers. Worker shortages are hitting a range of sectors including agriculture, agricultural processing and tourism. Geographically, nowhere is immune to the issue across the electorate from Tantanoola to Tailem Bend. We know a solution lies in training and attracting skilled workers to our region but to attract and keep workers we need housing, good services, health care and education. We need good partnerships with local and commonwealth governments to deliver this.

Roads: despite the investment in recent years the roads in the MacKillop electorate continue to be require further investment. Our road infrastructure is aging and significant upgrades and resurfacing are needed and passing lanes and shoulder sealing is required. We were fortunate enough to have a major road seminar in November last year where we invited the hierarchy of the Department for Infrastructure and Transport, all local government, RDA and LGA from the Limestone Coast to Naracoorte. It was a very interesting meeting. The outcomes of the meeting made its way all the way to my Premier at the time, Steven Marshall.

There is one thing I want you to realise, and that is that we are not alone in this. It was recognised at that meeting that some of the roads in MacKillop are 17 years past their use-by date. What does this mean? It means that investment has been poured elsewhere in the state. It has not ended up in MacKillop—and probably other regions, not only MacKillop and the Limestone Coast.

Secondly, when these old roads are resurfaced, and they have fallen into such decay where they call it crocodile skin on the road where the asphalt cracks open and looks like crocodile skin, you can no longer resurface these roads because that crocodile skin seeps up through the new surface and the new surface only lasts four years. Instead of it being a resurfacing job, a major road upgrade is required for these roads. There is no doubt that this would not just be in the Limestone Coast, but it is probably replicated all the way from Port MacDonnell to Ceduna.

The other thing with these roads, as we know, is that we have done a lot of shoulder work. We have brought in some new passing lanes, but there are a whole lot more other roads that do not have the shoulders, and I will just touch on this. When our government rolled out the upgrade to the Ngarkat Highway, it was meant to have shoulders and we were going to put new shoulders there as the government intended and raise the speed limit to 110. The previous government reduced it to 100. The road was in such a state of disrepair that it required a whole lot more than just the shoulders, and the cost of it was in the millions of dollars. It probably took six to 12 months longer than it should have. This will not be an unknown phenomenon. It will be like many roads.

All I can say is that I am hoping that this new government on the other side recognise they cannot turn a blind eye as they did when they were in government for 16 years, and I come back to the words of the Premier. He said that the Limestone Coast does not need Adelaide but Adelaide needs the Limestone Coast. He should probably say that it needs regional South Australia. We are hoping that you do not let us down, you actually recognise that the road infrastructure needs to continue on and you do work with the federal government to get as many funds as possible into our regional roads—and MacKillop is one of those.

Mobile phone blackspots: despite inroads made through investment in mobile phone towers in the last four years, there is still much to do. Too many people and businesses within the electorate are dealing with no or poor mobile phone coverage. We need investment to enable our businesses to grow, to ensure our community is connected in times of emergency, work and other reasons. I have a number of areas, such as Mayo, Sherwood, Meningie to Coonalpyn, with massive blackspots, including now the new Mallee area of Lameroo, Pinnaroo and other smaller areas up there.

It is well recognised, and we hear it all the time, that when tourists come into our region from Adelaide, they are used to a fast mobile network that works basically all the time. I will give you a little example: they rock on down to Beachport. Little Beachport is a town of around 500 during winter, which probably swells to 5,000 to 10,000 during the Christmas-new year period. The mobile telephone network cannot cope with that influx of tourism. You will be on the phone and dropping out. You will drop out all the time because of everyone else's phone, and their data is fighting to compete for the lack of infrastructure at Beachport.

The other point is that when they come into our region, they travel down the roads. Generally, our highways are well covered by the mobile network, but they only have to go back on some of the roads that are not well covered and they realise what it is like to be talking to their friends, their mates, texting or doing there Facebook/social media, and all of a sudden there is nothing. Adelaide people say, 'Well, jeez, how backward is this area? They don't even have mobile coverage out here.' It is something we have learned to live with, but we should not have to. We do hope that the new Labor government recognises they did not participate in the mobile network as they could have over the previous 16 years of their government. I hope they do not drop the ball, and I hope they realise and continue to advocate for more mobile phone coverage out into the regions.

The South-East drainage system: our drainage network remains underfunded. This drainage and associated bridge, culvert and regulating structures need ongoing maintenance and management. Work is needed to both service the needs of landholders for drainage and to retain water in the landscape. We need funding to ensure our transport network that crosses these drains is maintained and fit for purpose.

This network and drainage system has been living off a budget of around $2.75 million a year. It is looking after hundreds of kilometres of drains. The drainage network and the maintenance doubled on them through the early 2000s, when the northern drainage scheme was finished and completed and then was added to the South East Drainage Network that has to look after what was the southern part, and the funds have not been forthcoming to maintain.

There is one analogy I want the parliament to hear, and hopefully it will go beyond the walls of this parliament: what is the difference between a bridge going out of Burra, where the Department for Infrastructure and Transport will maintain that bridge and a bridge that sits on a road going out of Millicent? Why is it that a small organisation, such as the south-eastern drainage board, has to look after hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of infrastructure on such a budget? Why is the Department for Infrastructure and Transport not responsible for all these bridges and infrastructure as it is throughout the rest of the state?

Yes, I know that this infrastructure was to drain the agricultural land, but it was actually to drain the land so we would get transport and network through to Melbourne and Adelaide first and foremost and then it was upgraded and approved for agricultural pursuits. I really hope this new Labor government recognises the budget and the work that is required. I hear that it is between $40 million and $50 million worth of works for new bridges and culverts that allow heavy transport to access striving, flourishing agricultural businesses. They are being inhibited because these bridges are 40 and 50 years old and they are too small or do not have the capacity to handle the 40 to 60-tonne truckloads these days.

Health care is an ongoing massive issue in MacKillop, which is probably no different from anywhere else in regional South Australia. The shortage of doctors, first and foremost, is known. We have been trying to work through the locum doctor model. In the last six months of government, we were going to roll out $184 million to engage local GPs in our hospitals. I am not sure what the new Labor government will do in this area, whether those funds are sitting there waiting to be used or it is already rolling.

I know there is hesitation around doctors fulfilling those roles in local hospitals, but can I say this: the local Millicent hospital, back in the early 2000s, used to have obstetrics, surgery, two anaesthetists and surgeons and used to outperform the Mount Gambier hospital. Now it is just a shadow of its former self. The local GP clinic used to be well-engaged in the local hospital and they used to work collaboratively together to be a massive and successful medical precinct.

Today, the doctors are in the clinic. It is hard to get doctors into Millicent and probably every other clinic in regional South Australia. We have a locum doctor system in the Millicent hospital. We were not able to finish it or complete it or get it changed in the four years. As I say, nothing happens quickly in this area and that is a fait accompli. It is unfortunate that we could not address it and get it solved before we were no longer in government. But we do need to solve it and we do need to get medical specialists, like doctors and GPs, into our regions because it is going to be another reason why we will not get the population and populace into our regions.

The infrastructure in our region is certainly tired. I know that, before I was in government, the roof at the local Kingston hospital used to leak. They used to have buckets down the corridor. I can tell you that the Naracoorte hospital still has buckets in the corridors from the roof leaking. Even though we spent some money there in our previous government, there is more money to be required. Based on the promises that have been advocated by the new Labor government, I am hoping that their funds are forthcoming to address some of these infrastructure problems.

We have an aged-care facility in Kingston where the aged-care centre off the hospital has a fire hydrant sprinkler system for fire but the aged care within the hospital does not have a fire hydrant water sprinkler system in the hospital. We were getting on top of it and it needed to happen, but it has not happened and there is more money to be spent.

All I can say is that we must make sure that our medical facilities are at least comparable to city expectations. We may not have all the specialists. We may not have heart surgeries and the like in our regions: I fully get that. But we need the basics in place so that people can recover and have minor surgery and there is a hospital and health system that gives people confidence to live in our region.

Another one that comes to mind is palliative care in our region. As we live longer, as ailments come to bear like cancer, we do need good support for palliative care when people are in the last weeks and months of dying, where people choose and want to live at home. We do need community health nurses, with the care needed to look after these palliative care patients, to get around the regions and be able to make sure they do not have to die in a hospital if that is their choice and that comes from managing pain to the end-of-life experience to basic hygiene and cleanliness. That can all be done today, but if you do not have the resources, it does not happen and it makes that whole experience a lot worse.

With a view to looking forward, I would also like to highlight the issue of hospital ramping. The capacity of our hospital system is a major problem that is yet to be resolved and was a key election promise. A Legislative Review Committee inquiry was initiated after the receipt of a 44-signature petition on this matter. The inquiry shone a strong spotlight on the impacts of this issue on our communities. The Labor government needs to find answers to this problem for our healthcare system.

With this review, it was most interesting that we only heard from industry sectors on hospital ramping. It was done in much haste, but I can tell you this: there was no black-and-white answer to this problem by any sector. Can I say that it was handled very late, and I wish that it had been conducted earlier so that there was some resolve and some guidance for this new Labor government to run by. You are going to have to develop a system and solve this problem. It was a problem you left behind in 2018, and it is even a problem you created probably, or you took ownership of it—you should—because it started in 2010.

Some of the questions I asked of the witnesses were: does South Australia have the best ambulance model in Australia? Do we have enough ambulances in Adelaide, that is regionally, for the population? Is it commensurate with the rest of Australia with the number of ambulances, paramedics and the like to meet the needs and expectations of South Australians? Furthermore, another question was: if there is not a good model in Australia for ambulances, are there models out there in the wider world we should be watching, looking at and picking up for what an ambulance model should look like and how it should operate and function?

It is going to be very interesting for the Labor government to work through this and I wish them all the best. I hope they do not push it under the carpet. I hope they shine a light on the fact that just because you have got into government it does not suddenly evaporate and that it will be ongoing. I think one of the things that was probably also highlighted in the petition and by the witnesses—who did not come up with any solutions—is that maybe community expectations of what ambulances are for and how they can be used have changed and maybe that needs to be managed better so they are used for only real emergencies rather than for other purposes.

Before I close, I would like to briefly reflect on those who have assisted me here today and for this coming term. I would like to extend my thanks to my family, who have been a great support to me during my first term. From my youngest daughter, Annabel, to older brother, Philip and my wife, Katherine, they have been a tower of support not only during the last four years but prior to that, in my first year of trying to be re-elected as the member for MacKillop. I do sincerely thank them for their patience and the fact that they have probably come second to my political career.

I would also like to thank my electorate office staff for their efforts over the last four years, when at times they have had to operate under very trying circumstances. We have all been working through a period like no other. COVID border closures brought an unprecedented volume of inquiries and requests for assistance to my office. Amidst this, parts of our community were working to recover from the January 2018 Sherwood fire.

Our communities were further affected by the Keilira fire in 2020 and in Lucindale 2021 respectively, which devastated farming businesses. Most recently, on New Year's Eve the Wrattonbully fire started in the electorate and spread devastatingly into Victoria, impacting on our cross-border community.

I appreciate the resilience, professionalism, empathy, courtesy and assistance my staff have provided over the past four years to constituents and, more broadly, to members of the cross-border community. To Jennifer, Rosemary, Michelle and Sue and trainees, Lilli Mae, Tayla, Macaela and now Yahnika, our current trainee, I extend my sincere thanks and real appreciation for all your efforts.

I would also like to extend my sincere thanks to my election campaign team, who offered advice and delivered an enormous amount of assistance with my re-election. I specifically would like to thank David Hood, my campaign committee chairman; MacKillop SEC president, Sonia Winter; Tayla Standley; Jillian Andrews; David Malpas; and Robert Bull, who all offered their time and energy to coordinate the campaign on my behalf.

I also extend my gratitude to the Liberal branch presidents and other Liberal members who assisted with coordinating the significant logistical exercise of the campaign. Your efforts are much appreciated. I think we had 30 to 35 polling booths just in my state electorate that all had to be manned and at least represented for the Liberal cause.

With those remarks, I finish by saying that the next four years are going to be very interesting. We were very unfortunate that we were in government for only four years. We deserved and should have been in for another four years to at least see some of the advantages we were trying to roll out in the first four years, bearing in mind the COVID pandemic and those natural disasters such as fire.

I hope that after whatever it is, one term, two terms or three terms, whatever this new government sees itself serving, it does not treat the regions with discontent or disrespect and recognises that the regions are an important part of the South Australian economy. I wish them all the best in their endeavours—with all the factional warring that will take place between their own seats, winning as many as they did, and looking after the numbers, egos and personalities that will bring; I wish them all the best with that—and that they can take this state further forward so that we are a shining light in the Australian landscape rather than a backwater, that we continue on in that light and that we all end up prosperous for this. I wish everyone well in the Fifty-Fifth Parliament.