The Liberals’ first budget in 2018 identified $18.8 million in savings over four years “through a review of the [Service SA] branch network and service demand levels to identify opportunities to improve efficiency”, headlined by the closure of the three centres – which data subsequently revealed to be among the busiest and most profitable in the state.
But that sat uneasily alongside a $1.9 million commitment over four years for a new Hills Service SA centre to “improve access to important services such as vehicle registration to residents of Mount Barker and the broader Adelaide Hills community”.
Both measures have sat on the backburner since 2018, with the Government blaming a year of indecision about whether to sell off the Motor Vehicle Registry – which accounts for almost all of Service SA’s business.
Consideration for the potential sale was part of a “secret deal” agreed to by the former Labor government when it sold off the Lands Titles Office.
Its $1.6 billion pricetag included an $80 million contract giving buyer Land Services SA exclusive rights to negotiate for the further privatisation of “other state registry functions such as the Motor Vehicles Registry”.
Transport Minister Stephan Knoll, addressing media today at the opening of a newly-relocated city Service SA facility, said the Government’s recent decision not to proceed with the sale meant both the three closures and the Mt Barker construction were firmly back on the agenda.
Despite Treasurer Rob Lucas recently flagging his nonchalance about whether Modbury, Prospect and Mitcham remain open – as long as the Transport Department returns equivalent savings – Knoll today confirmed the centres would close, telling reporters: “That’s still the plan.”
Labor had criticised the shift of the old North Terrace Service SA hub to the corner of Currie and Peel Streets, with the 15 counters at the former venue downsized to just six.
But Knoll today was adamant “around 57 or 58 per cent of people are now undertaking their transactions online”, saying the city trial had also been “conducted at a number of other places and will now be rolled out across the broader network”.
He said the use of “assisted kiosks provides an alternative to the traditional-style model and are the kinds of thing we’re looking to roll out before those three other centres do shut”.
However, he confirmed the construction of a new centre at Mt Barker would go ahead, saying the Government had been “ready to deliver” on the election pledge, but “we’ve just had a few speed-humps that the Labor Party put in the way”.
“The plans we put in place had to be put on hold while we dealt with the Motor Vehicle Registry transaction, [which was] essentially an $80 million booby-trap left by the former government that forced us to look into whether or not we were going to flog off the Motor Vehicle Registry,” he said.
Having determined that sale “wasn’t the right thing for SA”, he said “we can now get back on track and get on with delivering the promises we made at the 2018 election”.
However, he was vague about the specifics, saying “we’re in the planning phase for it at the moment [and] we’ll have more to say about it in the coming months”.
The Hills Service SA pledge was a key theme hammered before the 2018 state election by now-Liberal MP for Kavel Dan Cregan – who did not respond to inquiries today.
Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said the closures and downsized city centre were “all part of Steven Marshall’s substantial cuts agenda”.
“The city centre, which has already got extremely long waiting times, is now halving the number of counters available to South Australians,” he said, arguing “the decision to open a new Service SA Centre in Mount Barker is in complete contradiction to the decision to close three busy centres”.
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