SA Regional Change

by Des Menz posted in What’s Up With The Regions?

The following letter was sent to my local MP, Geoff Brock, by email on 17 September 2015. 

At the present time, 6 November 2015, no reply has been received.

Hello Geoff

I hope you’re well.

You might recall our conversations late last year about a concept for a boost to the regional economy of the state. Another year has gone, which now means that there is another delay of one of the most pressing problems confronting rural SA.

Recently I wrote to the Premier after reading about the loss of more than 2,000 jobs in the regions of South Australia. I was appalled, because there is a solution. 

You can read my letter and the replies at 30 Reasons To Seize This Opportunity.

I haven’t been able to get any attention (yet) on such a critical issue, so I thought I would try a different approach. I focused on jobs and listed "30 reasons to seize this opportunity”. I did not say what the opportunity was, in the hope that I would either be asked or that he or somebody might work it out.

I said … “Premier, there is no better time than now to seize this opportunity. Are you interested?"

Well, apparently not. My letter met a first hurdle, the Premier’s “correspondence unit”. Then it met another hurdle when it was forwarded to the Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills. It’s the wrong department. 

The reply that I received last week is confounding. Presumably written by a “staffer”, and merely signed by the Minister, it is very clear that there is no understanding whatsoever of the potential to reframe the regional economy.

So, I am now asking you Geoff, as Minister for Regional Development, what is your understanding of what I have written about? 

What will it take for the government to grasp this moment and put in place two defining policies for the future of the state? What are these policies?

  • Decentralisation
  • A tree economy

Think about these. The shrinking contribution, just 4.4%, of the agricultural sector to the state economy is one of the most alarming yet ignored situations in the state. Decentralisation is what is needed to arrest the bloat blight afflicting greater Adelaide. 

A few years ago I focused on this issue and concluded that two new rural cities were needed in South Australia. Each would contain 50,000 people or more in order to arrest the urban sprawl that was occurring around Adelaide. These cities were an expanded Murray Bridge and Port Wakefield. Both are on excellent transport corridors, and both already have a range of production systems in place. For Port Wakefield, the water issue can be overcome by a desalination plant (it’s a pity the Pt Stanvac facility was made too large). I will avoid detail here, but these sites present a huge opportunity to reconfigure the rural sector in many ways. 

It might appear to be a contradiction to what I have just written, but in the rural sector, climate change is going to crunch many smaller towns and communities in the coming decades. This is not just me saying this, it is CSIRO, and state and federal government departments in their many reports in the public domain. 

What can be done?

For the past few years I have been advocating for a new agri-economy based on bioenergy (trees), but nothing has happened. Connect “trees” with “30 reasons to seize this opportunity” and it becomes clear.

  • Fix degraded landscapes. 
  • Do the revegetation work that needs to be done to support threatened ecosystems. 
  • Create farm forestry systems to add to farm diversity, security, and income. 
  • Activate rural local councils and private landowners to generate firewood (bioenergy) for the Adelaide market (a $20-30m import replacement annually). 
  • Provide corridors of green across the agricultural landscapes to buffer against the worst of climate change.

There are many, many benefits to be derived. I can not think of any dis-benefit under a future grim scenario as painted in the Climate Change Adaptation Framework.

If none of this happens, then it has been reported that the arid lands will extend much deeper southward. Is this the legacy that we want to be known for by future generations? 

Knowing the risks of climate change and not doing everything possible to protect communities, biodiversity, and landscapes is akin to giving up. This is just not acceptable. 

I will conclude with a third significant policy idea.

The recent Middle East refugee situation and the consequent federal government decision to take an additional 12,000 migrants, provides a very significant opportunity for rural South Australia. Examine again the “30 reasons to seize this opportunity” and the 500 full-time jobs that could be created. These migrants must be given hope, they must have work, and they must be made to be part of active communities.

A bio-energy and tree economy can provide all this. It could absorb up to, if not more than, 1,000 of these migrants. 

But there’s more. Last year I gave you a copy of a report that I produced some years ago, Farmstay in the Mid North. What a fabulous opportunity for these migrant families to be sponsored on farms and in rural towns (small and larger) using vacant houses. There are hundreds of these buildings lying idle, an asset just crumbling. Some of these buildings could also be rehabilitated using migrant labour. Paid work, on-job training, a boost to the rural economy.

I will not go into detail here, except to say that social support systems, language learning, and community support would be integral to such a program. It will not be easy, but it sure would be exciting.

So, refugees and migrants could live in houses they rebuild, they could be involved in repairing degraded landscapes, and they could be a core part of a tree economy. Rural revival.

The regions would benefit, the state economy would benefit, and unemployment would diminish.

And I have more. It is about using existing but idle railway assets. I’ll leave that for another time. 

In South Australia at this time, there is scarcely any other project that would have the enduring impact that the concept outlined above would have. 

As always Geoff, I am available to discuss any aspect of this letter with you. I hope you can see some merit in the contents.


Des Menz

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6 November 2015

I have sought a meeting with Mr Brock as soon as possible to discuss this matter, and also another local matter of great importance. Theres a lot happening in this space!

© Des Menz 2014-18
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