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Thursday, 17 September 2015
Page: 7219


Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (18:09): I rise to make a contribution on my duty seat of Grey. During the winter break I took the opportunity to travel around the electorate of Grey, speaking with residents, business people, mayors, and the Regional Development Australia group. A bit like in parts of Tasmania, Labor senators sometimes need a bit of a leave pass, and I did appreciate the comment of one mayor who said, 'I rang Rowan and he said you're okay, not a bad bloke, so I could talk to you.' I appreciate that candour, and it did happen to be in an area of vital interest to this parliament: Ceduna. The trial that is underway there is an eminently good trial, and the forthright nature of that mayor needs to be commended. It is indicative of the reception you get in regional Australia.

I want to put on the record my thanks to all those who met with us, who briefed us and who sometimes shared a meal. In one particular spot the meal in the pub ran to a few hours and I think I met everybody in the community. A trip like that is inspiring because you get to connect with people—real people, doing real work—in regional Australia. You get to understand their problems and you meet the whole breadth of your exposure in the parliament. Discussing the problems of autism in a regional community with a young farmer and his wife brought home the work that has been done in the national disability area. I am a proud member of that committee, and it is not an area that I had any particular expertise in, but it just brings it all home when you meet someone in regional Australia who speaks highly of the work that has been done in that area. These are people that are running farms and bringing up children and they have great challenges in front of them. But it was really invigorating, so to speak, to spend some time in the winter break doing that.

We know that Port Pirie's confidence is up a bit. Port Pirie is completing a major enhancement of their activities, underpinned by the state Labor government's commitment and also a contribution from the federal government under the EFIC scheme. They have had a major redevelopment with lots of employment, including a lot of local employment, and that has been very good. It is very good to see Port Pirie's future looking bright and transitioning to a much cleaner situation with the new redevelopment.

In the town of Port Augusta we know things are not quite as good. It is an awful tragedy when our push for renewables, which is eminently reasonable, eminently sensible and eminently defensible, actually causes the loss of a significant amount of jobs, with Alinta closing the power station. We know that the state government has put in place a task force to look into that.

Whyalla has been hit hard. The ore in Whyalla is probably not of the high grade that some of the Western Australian operations have. We also know that it is barged out, so there are add-on costs that really dictate a higher price than is currently being achieved, and there have been lay-offs there. Whyalla has not disappeared off the map. The carbon tax has not driven it off the map. In fact, you could barely get a motel room there when the carbon tax was in place. But I will not get too political about this. The simple fact is that Whyalla is doing it pretty tough. On the back of quite good iron ore prices, they had some expansions in a number of subdivisions and a number of new houses were built. The number of houses for sale in Whyalla is in the area of about 600, I think, which is not a good thing for anybody trying to move out of the area. Port Lincoln is just that bit far away from Adelaide to be able to maintain its homogeneity. It has its tourism and fishing and a considerable financial asset base with entrepreneurial skill. Because of the diversity of its local economy it appears to be impervious, in some respects, to some of the ups and downs of Whyalla, Port Augusta and Port Pirie.

I did get a distinct sense that the level of support from the federal government in regional Australia has dropped. That is very clear. There is a sense that the previous high standard set by the former minister for regional development, the Hon. Simon Crean, has been lost. My goodness, doesn't he have a reputation in the bush! In every local community he is seen as a man of vision who brought to reality things which had lain unfunded for a long time. They still dearly love and remember Simon Crean and his work in regional Australia.

In the short time that I have left—I think I should have gone for a 20-minute adjournment speech, as I may have to come back and continue my remarks another day—I would like to put on record one particular issue. When we were in Port Augusta we spoke to the RDA for the far north. They raised a particular issue. This is a project for the installation of 10 water dispensers, which are small-scale water treatment plants, in communities over a five-year period to provide security of supply of good quality water. The 10 communities are Oodnadatta, Innamincka, Yunta, Penong, Glendambo, Marla, Marree, Parachilna, Blinman and William Creek. They have bore water. If you have ever had a cup of tea made with bore water or had a shower in bore water, you would know that it can be a bit alkaline.

It would seem to me that, given that we have a coalition member in the seat of Grey and a National in charge of regional Australia—the Hon. Jamie Briggs is in there somewhere—we should not have to remind people that South Australia is the driest state in the driest continent. These communities have natural water resources around them that are not of a high standard. Some of these communities have 150 people. I would have thought that their submissions would have made the grade in the government's National Stronger Regions Fund. That first round had 405 applications, and 51 projects were approved. Apparently that equated to applications worth $1.2 billion but only $212 million was allocated.

I am not advocating that every project be funded, but I find it a little hard to understand how we in Australia allow communities to have less than the standard of clear, clean potable water to make a cup of tea with, to wash in, to use for their gardens or to enhance their surroundings. These are places that attract a bit of tourism: the Oodnadatta Track, Innamincka, Yunta, Penong, Glendambo, Marla, Marree, Parachilna, Blinman and William Creek. Lots of people visit the outback. Grey nomads take their caravans and four-wheel drives and visit these places. The communities can put together a beauty enhancement project or perhaps even have some market gardens in certain areas to provide a modest level of employment for people. More particularly, they should be able to enjoy what every Australian citizen has a right to: clean, clear potable water. Clean, clear potable water should be the right of every Australian.

People may say, 'Why do they live there?' They live there because that is their place of birth or that is the place where they have chosen to work. I have written to the minister and he has replied basically saying that they did not make the grade and suggesting that they reapply. I hope that Mr Ramsey, a very effective and hard-working member, puts this as a priority and joins with me in trying to get this matter resolved. (Time expired)