Legislative Council: Wednesday, March 22, 2023


Rural and Regional South Australia

The Hon. S.L. GAME (15:27): Getting out of the city and this chamber to visit rural and regional South Australia is a great highlight of mine and something that I am committed to doing as regularly as I possibly can. I am fortunate to have visited much of South Australia in a short time, including the Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, Fleurieu Peninsula, Limestone Coast and the Murray River Lakes and Coorong region, and I have had multiple trips to the Yorke and Eyre peninsulas as well as the Riverland. Following this parliamentary break, I will be able to add Kangaroo Island and a third visit to Eyre Peninsula, too.

Rural and regional South Australia is home to many of our most important industries, including agriculture, fishing, mining, forestry and tourism. It was very pleasing to read the recent release of the Primary Industries Scorecard 2021-22 by PIRSA. This highlighted that despite a raft of significant challenges, including COVID, extreme weather, floods, bushfires, the Ukraine invasion and Chinese trade issues, our primary industries sector generated $17.3 billion in revenue, up 12 per cent on the previous year.

While the sector is a significant employer, with roughly 71,000 jobs, sadly this is a decline of 4 per cent on previous levels, with PIRSA citing difficulties attracting and retaining the workforce required for the future. Indeed, this is a key issue I heard in almost every regional town I visited and stems from structural issues that must be addressed.

A lack of access to child care, an issue I have previously spoken here about, is just one of the underlying causes of our regional skilled worker shortage. Whether it is on Yorke Peninsula, where I was told by council that not one childcare facility exists, or in the Mid North, Port Lincoln or Kingston South East, this was one of the top concerns of parents, councils and employers. Without adequate access to child care, our regions suffer as a result of not being able to attract skilled workers and by restricting new mothers to stay at home when they would instead prefer to contribute to their local area.

Closely aligned to this and resulting in the same poor outcomes for our regions is a lack of housing. In Kimba, for example, which is a beautiful and friendly country town that was recently crowned the 2021 AgTown of the Year, not only have they built their own $1 million medical facility to desperately attract a GP but they also face the struggle of housing them.

I heard of similar stories across many towns I visited, from people who are willing and able to invest in facilities to attract the right workers but are not successful due to a lack of incentives from government. Take Yorke Peninsula, for example, where I was told that as many as 50 per cent of homes there are currently empty.

Targeted incentives to encourage landlords to provide secure rentals would go a long way to making the area more attractive for skilled workers and young families. I have been told of a lack of targeted incentives from federal and state governments to attract GPs to regional areas. I heard of the government treating small towns like Kimba with the same incentive system as much larger towns like Port Lincoln. This is not sustainable and needs to be addressed.

With agricultural technologies evolving rapidly, opportunities for young people to move to and live in our regions are on the rise, along with the wages that go with these jobs. However, I have heard that there are too few opportunities to train up local people, and even if their TAFE or local training centre is able to cater to their needs, there are often more attractive jobs on offer elsewhere, such as in the mining industry. Infrastructure concerns are also front of mind for many country people.

The declining state of our rural and regional road network is a blight on our beautiful country towns. This is not only dangerous and a deterrent to tourists, but they hamper productivity for our multibillion-dollar primary industries and agriculture sector, which rely on these important thoroughfares to feed us and the world. I thank Grain Producers SA for highlighting these significant concerns, and I note in the government response that the government is responsible for eight out of 10 of the worst roads named.

The final topic I wish to touch on is a bittersweet one, regarding the lack of mental health support in our regions. The silver lining to this is the strong community spirit that shines through. I have thoroughly enjoyed speaking with country people at many men's sheds around the state, meeting the Fat Farmers group, the West Coast Youth and Community Support group and the Mentally Fit Eyre Peninsula team.

These groups are heavily reliant on volunteers, on which regional communities depend so strongly. I passionately believe these early intervention and often informal support groups need more funding from all levels of government. Despite these challenges, a more laid-back lifestyle, strong community spirit and splendid natural landscapes are significant drawcards for those like myself who were brought up in the city.