South Australian Government hoping to make political inroads on Kangaroo Island

Published on ABC News 5 June 2017 – Click here to view the original article.

PHOTO: Premier Jay Weatherill discusses the future of abalone on Kangaroo Island with Yumbah’s David Connell and Anthony Hall. (ABC News: Nick Harmsen)

The Premier Jay Weatherill and his ministers arrived on Kangaroo Island over the weekend for their 12th Country Cabinet meeting.

But this trip is as much about making political mileage as it is about putting kilometres on the Cabinet clock.

An electoral boundary redistribution last year transferred the island from the safe Liberal seat of Finniss into the electorate of Mawson, held by the Tourism Minister Leon Bignell.

Thanks to the same redistribution, that once-marginal Labor-held seat is notionally Liberal — and the fate of Jay Weatherill’s Government is closely aligned to that of his factional ally.

Whether by design or coincidence, Mr Bignell’s portfolio does give him a decent excuse for some good old fashioned pork barrelling in the lead up to March. Kangaroo Island is the jewel in South Australia’s tourism crown.

The Minister used Cabinet’s presence to announce approval for South Australian beverage company Bickford’s to transform the old police station and cells at Kingscote into a craft distillery and microbrewery.

The proposal was the subject of an unsolicited bid by the company to the Government. The sale details are still being negotiated.

The Premier isn’t denying political survival is a key aspect to this trip. And he’s keen to remind the citizens of Kangaroo Island of his government’s contributions.

“The good thing about it is we were here paying attention to this island well before it became part of a marginal seat,” Mr Weatherill said.

“We were here investing in this island, creating the new Futures Authority, the commissioner, a big commitment to this island when it was very much tiger country for the Labor Party and I think people appreciate that we’ve shown a long-term commitment to the island.”

At a community meeting in Kingscote on Sunday evening, the Premier and his ministers were probed for answers on a range of local concerns — from roadkill, roads, footpaths and rubbish, to the future of the island’s monopoly ferry service.

While visiting the island, the Premier waded into a territorial dispute over a major timber wharf which has some islanders at loggerheads.

Mr Weatherill met with directors of Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers [KIPT], who want to build a multi-user deep-water wharf in the sheltered waters of Smith Bay on the island’s north.

The wharf would primarily be used to export the island’s plentiful blue gum and pine timber plantations — a legacy asset left by managed investment schemes.

KIPT said the proposal could help create up to 286 full time permanent jobs. But the Smith Bay site sits alongside one of the island’s most sensitive industries — an abalone farm.

“There’s the dredging, there’s all sorts of things that dredging brings up with it, there’s construction itself actually blocking tidal flows and affecting the flow dynamics of the bay, biosecurity risks, exotic pests, light dust, vibration,” said Yumbah’s general manager David Connell.

“We’ve been here for over 20 years. We assumed that being in a coastal conservation zone we’d have some form of protection.”

For its part, KIPT argues the site is perfect.

“What you really want when you’re building a wharf is flat land and deep water. And there’s no other place on the island that’s got land as flat as this next to water as deep as this,” managing director John Sergeant said.

He said any other location on the island would face opposition from multiple parties, and is confident his company can meet all the necessary hurdles required to win major project approval by the State Government.

“We won’t get consent to build the wharf unless we can show that we can protect the water quality. And nor should we,” he said.

KIPT is hoping to win final approval before the March 2018 state election. But on this visit, the Premier was giving little away.

“We can’t create a new industry then destroy another one. So that’s of paramount consideration and I’m sure the planning process will take that into account,” he said.