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“My views are liberalising”: Haese’s road to Damascus


Lord Mayor Martin Haese has conceded he was wrong about the food trucks industry and Frome Street was his road to Damascus, declaring “my views are liberalising”.

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Lord Mayor Martin Haese has conceded he was wrong about the food trucks industry and Frome Street was his road to Damascus, declaring “my views are liberalising”.

In a candid interview with InDaily yesterday the former retail chain businessman admitted he had changed his mind on key issues since he took power.

“I’ve converted in a couple of areas. I have. I’m going to be unapologetic,” he told InDaily.

But Haese has apologised, he revealed, to food truck operators.

Having promised during last year’s election campaign to support fixed city businesses that felt food trucks had been prioritised by the Adelaide City Council, Haese held a meeting with 17 mobile food truck vendors last month.

He says he called the meeting because he didn’t believe the figures in a council administration report showing the nascent industry made about $600,000 in total each year – a tiny fraction of city lunchtime revenue – and thus had a negligible impact on the profits of bricks-and-mortar city businesses.

“I didn’t believe it,” he said.

“I wanted to validate it to myself.

“I wanted to know how many days a week they trade, how many hours they trade, what their average sale is, how many transactions they do per day, how many of them are there.”

Haese says he did the maths “while I was sitting there with them”.

“And it came out to about $650,000,” he said.

“I shook all of their hands. I thanked them.

“I said, ‘I apologise – I should have met with you six months ago’.

“I said, ‘please accept my apology’.”

The meeting was a turning point.

“I’ll swallow my sword,” said Haese.

“I’ve got to say, my level of respect completely changed.

“When we’d finished it together, I think we really had a good understanding of each other.

“It was an awkward conversation at the beginning, but it was a fantastic conversation to have.”

Haese said the food trucks policy agreed upon by the council at a committee meeting this week balanced the interests of all major stakeholders.

Responding to Premier Jay Weatherill’s “alarm” at the council’s foreshadowed clamp-down on food trucks in August, Haese said he would “champion” an exemption to exclusion zones which would have effectively banished food trucks from city squares.

The policy would increase fees for food truck vendors and cut the number of mobile vending licences from 40 to 30.

However, the policy also gives food truck operators permission to trade on city squares.

“That policy position is a compromise, and it’s a good compromise,” he said.

“That’s our job – to find the compromise.

“The mobile guys are happy.

“The bricks-and-mortar … are happier. But I’m sure some are terribly unhappy.”

The Burger Theory food truck was in the vanguard of Adelaide's pop up culture. Photo: Nat Rogers/InDaily

The Burger Theory food truck was in the vanguard of Adelaide’s pop up culture. Photo: Nat Rogers/InDaily

He told InDaily the reduction of licences was not as threatening to food truck operators as it may appear – because not all of the licences available were currently being used – but that that element of the policy helped to win over organisations lobbying on behalf of fixed city businesses.

Haese agreed the policy said something about a pragmatism underlying his politics, and it was not the only policy to do so.

As a candidate to succeed then Lord Mayor – and Frome Street bikeway advocate – Stephen Yarwood, Haese described the controversial bikeway as “overengineered” and said he did not want to see similar infrastructure rolled out across the city.

But this week he urged the State Government to help the council extend the bikeway all the way to the River Torrens, including a whole-of-streetscape upgrade estimated to cost $10 million.

He now hopes a memorandum of understanding can be reached to jointly fund the project by March next year, and that that memo will include the intention to construct a complementary east-west cycleway.

Haese told InDaily his conversion to the Frome Street cause came after he was presented with design options by council administration.

“Quality – there’s my road to Damascus,” said Haese. “Quality.”

“If I could wind back the clock a year, I would have said we should’ve gone for quality every time.

“I think we should always just have done it at the highest possible standard, at the most reasonable cost.

“I know it comes at a higher cost, but I am convinced that you go for quality every time.

“You do it at a level that you can say ‘that’s how it’s going to be’ … and it will last decades.”

Haese said that describing the bikeway as “overengineered” was “the wrong choice of words” and, again: “I’ll swallow my sword”.

The opening of the Frome Street's bikeway last year. Photo: Nat Rogers/InDaily

The opening of the Frome Street’s bikeway last year. Photo: Nat Rogers/InDaily

“We need to have an Adelaide Design Manual solution, ultimately, from Carrington Street to the river, and then going the other way – east-west.

“This involves new footpaths, new gutters, new drainage, new cycling lanes, undergrounding of power lines.

“There’ll be some discomfort … during construction, but when it’s done it will be a standout.

“Once we do the first stage of something of an ADM quality – you watch the conversation change.

“It will be ‘this street is functional, this street is aesthetic, this street has been beautified’ and ‘this street works’.”

On the bikeway question, Haese again revealed he is taking a pragmatic approach.

Responding to the suggestion that there was little evidence returning Frome Street to a four-driving-lane road would have any impact on car traffic, Haese told InDaily: “If it takes four lanes of traffic to keep majority of stakeholders, if not all, supportive of the outcome, and not fighting it every step of the way, to keep the cyclists safe, and to get what we want, we’ll do it.”

“It’s the pragmatist in me.

“It’s not an ideologue, it’s pragmatism.”

Haese said his confidence was “high” that the a deal could be reached with the State Government to jointly fund the upgrades.

Overall, Haese said that “progressive is a word that many people interpret in many ways … but I think my views are liberalising”.

On Wednesday evening, Haese said he met with a group of 18 potential candidates to fill the area councillor seat vacated by now-Greens Senator Robert Simms.

Asked if he believed council’s balance would tip in a conservative direction in Simms’ absence, Haese told InDaily: “I think it’s actually tipping the other way, quite possibly myself included”.

“I hope we get a progressive outcome, and I think we are certainly moving in that direction.

“I don’t think (conservative and progressive politics) are mutually exclusive.

“Sometimes, in order to determine your future you need to look back to your past.

“You don’t just discount everything that was done yesterday as rubbish – I think that’s short sighted.

“However, we need to be a council that puts one foot after the other and keeps going.”

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