I rise today to speak to the prosperity and sustainability of rural and regional South Australia and the people who live in those communities. Many aspects of my speech have been raised by honourable members in this house previously, such as economic stimulus, disaster prevention and relief, mental health and suicide prevention, etc.; however, I have a particular interest in rural and regional South Australia, given my humble upbringing in regional South Australia, namely Whyalla.
Historically, over the years there has been a gradual migration from our regions to Adelaide and more populous areas that has had the impact of reducing populations in regional areas. It is very pleasing to note that net interstate migration is moving to a more balanced position rather than a net exodus, experienced for quite some time. However, particularly for the smaller rural and regional communities, populations have been substantially reduced over an extended time frame and smaller townships even lost as intrastate migration has been witness to a relocation to the Greater Adelaide region.
To provide some perspective, approximately 29 per cent of South Australians reside in rural and regional South Australia, which is typically less than other mainland states. It has been reported that there are 29 regional cities in Australia with populations greater than 30,000, eight of which exceed 100,000. None of these, however, are in South Australia.
Housing and business developments in near-city locations, such as Mount Barker, Gawler, Virginia, Blackwood and south of Adelaide, including the Fleurieu Peninsula, are ensuring prosperity in those regions. Yorke Peninsula is experiencing tremendous growth given its closeness and ease of accessibility, soon to be enhanced by the highway overpass at Port Wakefield and the benefits it will also provide to road safety.
My interest is in the more distant locations, including larger regional centres such as Port Pirie, Port Augusta, Whyalla, Port Lincoln and Mount Gambier, plus the regions of Eyre Peninsula and western South Australia, the Riverland, the Clare Valley and Mid North, the Far North, the Murray lands and the South-East.
Whilst my own regional city of Whyalla has seen a significant decline in population from its most populous time some decades ago, it also offers and has indeed provided great opportunities for the resilient citizens who have made a commitment to stay and have forged careers and established and built businesses there. Identities in Whyalla whom I know personally include Greg Flanagan, Lyle Hancock, John Hunt, Peter Marron and, until recently, Johnny Wishart, and similar conscientious citizens and great characters who take an active interest in supporting that community.
Whyalla is a city that demonstrates to the rest of rural and regional South Australia that communities can reinvent themselves; however, the regions do continue to require and deserve our support. Regional South Australia contributes nearly $30 billion to the state’s economy, underpinning South Australia’s exports. One-third of Australia’s renewable energy, which continues to expand, is produced in regional South Australia.
The coronavirus pandemic has provided a wonderful opportunity for the regions, particularly for the tourism industry. We should continue to build and maintain that momentum and encourage our population to visit the incredible scenery and the stays that our state offers. Ironically, as recently reported by the Local Government Association, this surge in regional tourism has created a situation of increased casual and short-term employment; however, filling these vacancies has been problematic.
It is pleasing to see the improving accessibility and safety afforded to travellers to rural and regional areas represented by either improvement to or sealing of roads recently announced by both the Marshall Liberal state government and the Morrison Liberal federal government, a great example of state and federal outcomes working collaboratively.
It is important that we encourage and incentivise investment that reduces the risk associated with the dependence on a large single industry or organisation in our regions. To this end, it is pleasing to see investment especially in tourism and education, the latter particularly in larger communities. Engagement with regional development boards and the chamber of commerce of communities throughout South Australia is paramount. The upgrade to the Mount Gambier Airport and the commencement of the doubling of the Whyalla Airport are initiatives that will hopefully see increased traffic to those cities and surrounding areas.
Investment in the regions of South Australia, outlined in the Marshall Liberal government’s 2020-21 state budget, across various initiatives and totalling $1 billion is exactly the impetus required. This demonstrates the importance of regional South Australia, and it is not lost on this government. I look forward to witnessing a revitalised rural and regional South Australia.