Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (17:33): Madam Speaker, thank you for my first opportunity to speak here on behalf of the people of Stuart. Especially during International Volunteers Week, volunteering, a remarkable feature of Australian society, is no more evident than in the country areas of our state. Madam Speaker, I would like to start by congratulating you on your election as Speaker of the House of Assembly. We first met each other at Pimba, 170 kilometres north of Port Augusta, in mid-1999 and I am sure that, while you have your work cut out for you, you will find your feet very quickly. I also congratulate all the new members who like me are starting their first term in parliament. It is freshest in our minds how hard it is to get here. I will do my best to work with all members regardless of political persuasion to achieve the best results I can for the people of Stuart.
It is hardly possible to mention the electorate of Stuart without thinking of my predecessor and friend the Hon. Graham Gunn. That Graham McDonald Gunn was the member for Stuart, named after John McDouall Stuart, for so long seems hardly a coincidence. I can confirm that it was not a coincidence; however, it had nothing to do with their shared Scottish heritage. Graham Gunn and his wife, Jan, worked incredibly hard. Graham was and still is very politically astute. He could sniff and interpret the political winds well, and he also went about his work with some very basic strong personal rules which helped him to win 12 elections in a row—a remarkable feat for any politician. My wife, Rebecca, and I are extremely grateful to Graham and Jan for all the help and everything they have taught us over the past two years, and I look forward to a long friendship between us.
The electorate of Stuart is magnificent. It covers 374,000 square kilometres. It runs from Kapunda, 75 kilometres north of Adelaide, all the way up to the Northern Territory border about 1,500 kilometres away as the crow flies. It includes a section of the Riverland and heads east to the New South Wales border. It includes the Mid North agricultural region, all of the internationally renowned Flinders Ranges and the vast north-east pastoral region surrounded by the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales. It includes the iconic Birdsville and Strzelecki Tracks, and Cooper Creek. It includes Nepabunna and other indigenous communities, and it has the wonderful regional city of Port Augusta as its heart and main population centre.
Stuart includes many national parks and the world heritage listed Coongie Lakes. We have major mining, oil and gas exploration and production, and a power station supplying the necessary electricity to our region and to Adelaide. We enjoy the environmentally delicate coastline of the Upper Spencer Gulf, a section of the River Murray, amazing arid lands, some of the best farming land in the state, commercial fishing and forestry, fruit orchards, vineyards, tourism and much more.
In Stuart, there are 30 townships, supported by 42 schools. There are 11 hospitals, 21 police stations and two prisons. There are seven different local government councils, plus the outback lands and four Natural Resource Management Boards. There are countless football, netball, cricket and other sporting clubs. There are churches, youth groups and a myriad of other community-based support networks. Every community in Stuart is important and I will fight to retain these services, industries, community groups, townships and the environment.
I come to this role with a strong sporting, community and business background, both corporate and small business. I have lived and worked in Adelaide and overseas and, importantly, in the outback of South Australia for seven years. Rebecca and I moved to Wilmington nearly five years ago—a town of about 250 people in the Southern Flinders Ranges, just outside Port Augusta.
Working hard and effectively on behalf of the people of Stuart will always be my primary work responsibility and focus. Supporting and promoting regional development more broadly throughout the state will receive whatever time and energy I have left over thereafter. To this end, I will happily work with a wide range of people both within and outside politics.
I challenge the government to show far more support for our state’s regional and remote communities than it has over the past eight years. If and when that happens, I will be the first person to give credit where it is due. I would be pleased to give the government credit for expanding country health services rather than removing them. I would be pleased to give the government credit for increasing the maintenance of outback roads rather than reducing it. I would be pleased to give the government credit if it were to increase the money available in the state’s Regional Infrastructure Development Fund rather than reducing it.
I would be pleased to work with the government to provide the much needed increases in support for aged care, special needs education, disability services and mental health—in many cases they just do not exist in regional areas. I will be pleased to work with the government cooperatively on all regional service and development issues—but, unfortunately, I am not optimistic. Madam Speaker, you and I both know why I am not optimistic. I cannot count the number of times that I have heard you, on our local radio programs, speaking as the member for Giles, saying that you have advocated hard on behalf of your communities, and I know that you have, but that your colleagues have not supported you.
Madam Speaker, you already know that I fully support your elevation to your current position; however, I must say that in one regard I am disappointed with the government on your promotion. By choosing you as the Speaker of this house the government has deliberately removed its one and only member of parliament representing a regional electorate from participating in debate on the floor of this house. The government has chosen to have no-one on its side fighting for regional people in this place. I support you in your new role, but I am disappointed in the government.
Where I am optimistic, however, is in the strength and resilience of the people living in rural and remote South Australia. Our people have shown strength for over 150 years, and many of them for tens of thousands of years. While I fear that sometimes their resilience, flexibility, perseverance and ability to find a way to make things work is taken advantage of by decision-makers in the city, I am always optimistic that they will not give up, and neither will I.
Graham Gunn told me on many occasions that if you want to be a good member of parliament then the most important thing to remember is that you have to be prepared to stick up for the people you represent, and that it does not matter who is on the other side of the argument against you. I guarantee to do this. I am comfortable with this commitment for two reasons: first, it is in my nature anyway; and, secondly, because I know that I will be supported by our leader.
Isobel Redmond captured the hearts and minds of so many people during the last election campaign because she said what she thought was right and wrong immediately, and then thought about the politics of the issue. This is the type of honest, no-nonsense leadership which South Australians are looking for. This is the type of leadership which saw her unanimously re-elected as the Leader of the Opposition. She is the leader who will take us to the next election.
Madam Speaker, I am new to politics but not new to the real world. I have lived and worked interstate, internationally and, most importantly, all over the electorate of Stuart for the last 17 years. I am a down-to-earth person who takes this responsibility and this privilege extremely seriously. I plan to operate in a very professional but not overly formal way.
I have already shared my passion for my electorate and for regional South Australia, in general, and I am sure we all agree that we all live in the very best state in Australia. We have a wonderful culture in South Australia; we have tremendous industries and small and medium-sized businesses in place already; and we have wonderful new opportunities ahead to create wealth and significantly increase the prosperity for all South Australians through the mining projects which we hope, after the 40 per cent resource rent tax announcement, may still go ahead.
On the other hand, our state’s water security issue and the dreadful condition of the River Murray still loom as large as ever, despite the fortunate rains which are flowing our way at present. We must improve on Indigenous and rural health outcomes in general, and our state’s youth unemployment remains far too high. We should always encourage and support people to create and make the most of opportunities, and we should also provide the best support services possible for those people who genuinely need them.
I believe in business and industry because they, combined with a fair wage system, create positive employment. Businesses must be successful for employment to grow. Employment pays for families’ mortgages, grocery bills, school books, Christmas presents, and advances in standards of living and self-esteem. Employment in one generation improves the quality of life immediately and also for the generation that follows.
Our natural environment must be protected and improved. We will never be able—and should not try—to return the planet to the condition it was in thousands of years ago. We should use our natural resources to continue to improve our society. However, we must harness ever-improving technology and public will to reduce our environmental impact with every new project that goes ahead, and some projects or some components of projects should not go ahead if the environmental cost is too high compared to the return to the state.
As members of parliament, we have many opportunities, challenges and responsibilities to work through together for the good of the people we each represent and for the state as a whole. I look forward to working with all members for the good of South Australia, and I will never let this parliament forget to consider the people of Stuart and the rest of regional South Australia.
I must also point out that I note that the government’s plans for this new term, as outlined by the Governor last Thursday, include minimal reference to our state’s regions and no commitment regarding improved regional services. My colleagues and I will be working very hard over the coming four years to ensure that this omission is corrected in 2014.
Lastly, I would like to thank the many people who have helped to give me the honour of standing here today. Family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers have all contributed in so many ways. I have thanked almost everybody face to face, so I will not go through a long list again today, but at the top of the list is my incredible wife, Rebecca. Thank you to her and thank you to everybody who has supported me. Thank you to the people of Stuart for their faith in me. To the old, the young, the rich, the poor, the Indigenous, the non-Indigenous, the farmers and the factory workers, I will stick up for you. Thank you, Madam Speaker.