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Notes on Adelaide

Picking winners or dogs' dinners? | Lib rebels make history | Rau’s succession row

Notes on Adelaide

In today’s Notes on Adelaide, Labor is likely to choose a woman to replace former Deputy Premier John Rau in his safe seat, while the Libs are busy picking winners of their own – at least when they can muster enough votes. Plus, who’s who in the shuffle of local media management jobs.

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Narrowing field for Enfield

The Labor Party is set to preselect a woman to replace John Rau in his north-eastern (relative) stronghold of Enfield.

There’s just one problem – no-one knows when, or even if, the former Deputy Premier is moving on.

Nonetheless, there’s been plenty of scuttlebutt within party circles about succession planning.

Names that have been bandied about include former Jay Weatherill chief of staff Daniel Romeo and shoppies’ union heavyweight Josh Peak – although it’s understood such a move isn’t on the radar for either of them.

In any case, if Rau does shuffle along, it’s likely to happen in tandem with a similar move from Weatherill himself, and as InDaily has previously reported, his safe seat of Cheltenham is set to go to the Left’s favoured candidate, SA Unions boss Joe Szakacs.

That creates a conundrum for the Right, which gets to choose a successor in Enfield.

At Labor’s last national conference, the party committed itself to a 50 per cent quota of women in parliament by 2025.

But unless it starts preselecting women in winnable seats now, that will appear little but lip-service.

Thus, the word around the Right faction is that Rau’s seat will go to a woman, with media and policy adviser Lucy Hood (who previously ruled herself out of contention for Leesa Vlahos‘s Upper House vacancy that went to factional colleague Emily Bourke) and serial candidate Jo Chapley mentioned in dispatches.

Neither of them responded to inquiries, even to rule out any interest.

Incidentally, if Hood is elected for the ALP she may yet go on to make some form of SA political history, given her brother Ben has been previously mooted as a contender for Liberal preselection in Mount Gambier, where incumbent Troy Bell has been forced by legal circumstance into becoming a sympathetic independent.

Ben Hood, one of InDaily’s inaugural 40 Under 40, has just been overwhelmingly elected to the Mount Gambier council, wiping the floor with all comers in the ballot, and will surely figure in future preselection conjecture.

We’re confident if both Hood siblings wind up on opposite sides of parliament in years to come, it would be unprecedented.

They wouldn’t be the first siblings to wind up on different sides of the political fence – Liberal frontbencher David Pisoni’s brother Simon is a prominent organiser for the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union – but they’d surely be the first to become parliamentary contemporaries.

Rau himself isn’t buying into any of the feverish speculation, telling InDaily: “I don’t pay any attention to all that stuff – I’m sure there’s more interesting things they can talk about.”

He batted away questions about the timing of his eventual exit, saying “I’ve no plan to retire before Christmas” and “can’t see any reason” why he wouldn’t serve out his full four-year term.

“At this stage my future plan is to keep doing what I’m doing,” he said.

“I think I’ve said all I want to say about it.”

John Rau: his lips are sealed. Photo: Nat Rogers / InDaily

Picking winners

Despite triumphal talk of a new broom, in many ways there’s a distinct ‘George Orwell’s Animal Farm’ vibe about the transition from 16 years of Labor to the Marshall Liberal Government, whereby one can look from one to the other and back again, but find it “impossible to say which was which”.

If there was one element of Labor’s economic approach that rankled with the former Liberal Opposition it was the oft-decried propensity to “pick winners”.

The “no more picking winners” mantra, then, has been a hallmark of the Marshall Government’s first eight months, albeit of late with the crucial caveat, as enunciated here by Treasurer Rob Lucas: “There will be occasions we’ll provide assistance to individual companies, but the emphasis is going to be to move away from that.”

But with the weekend’s bid to loan money for a private hotel development on the footprint of the hallowed Adelaide Oval – much to the chagrin of neighbouring (and competing) developers – it’s hard not to ponder whether the exceptions are becoming the rule.

After all, it was only this month that the Government confirmed – via a drop to its favourite local news agency (no, not InDaily) – that it would be handing Mitsubishi a $2 million grant to ensure it remained headquartered in Adelaide, after it apparently threatened to shift elsewhere.

The grant will help the car importer grow its business by around 20 workers.

On the face of it, it’s not far removed from the $10 million handout the Libs so derided when Labor used it to lure OZMinerals to base itself in SA.

But Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister David Ridgway told parliament “we were happy to make that investment” because of a “whole range of opportunities that the government thought… would benefit South Australians in the very long term”.

More curious though, was the process – or lack thereof – by which all this came about.

Ahead of his September budget, Lucas declared – via a drop to the Government’s favourite local news agency (no, not InDaily) – that “the era of picking winners was over”, with the 30 existing funding programs to be collapsed into just three.

The biggest of these, with $100 million earmarked over four years, is the Economic and Business Growth Fund.

The guidelines for the fund are not yet published, but a written answer to a parliamentary question tells us funds will be assessed by a “governance group” comprised of Treasury chief David Reynolds, Premier’s Department boss Jim McDowell, trade department supremo Mike Hnyda, Industry and Skills CEO Mark Duffy and Primary Industries head Scott Ashby.

They’ll judge whether any given proposal meets “the Government’s industry financial assistance principles” (which are yet to be published) “and advise the Economic and Infrastructure Committee of Cabinet” which will in turn notify “either the Treasurer or full Cabinet for the final decision”.

All well and good?

Except that the Mitsubishi decision, according to evidence given to a recent parliamentary committee by Treasury’s deputy chief Stuart Hocking, “was made by cabinet prior to the new arrangements being put in place”.

“The government has been working through a set of principles that are in the process of being signed off by cabinet,” Hocking explained in response to question from Labor’s Trade and Investment shadow Zoe Bettison.

“In effect, I think the Mitsubishi decision was taken directly by cabinet in advance of those new arrangements being put in place… I think, generally, cabinet has made a decision about the Mitsubishi deal in line with its general philosophy that it is not extensively in the business of providing direct financial assistance but will take a view about individual assistance matters, having regard to the broader benefits that that assistance can provide to the SA economy.”

The good news for businesses looking for a handout is, according to Ridgway in Question Time, “the fund is open for more applications and the government is always considering opportunities that we can invest in to grow the South Australian economy”.

The bad news, according to Hocking, is quite the opposite: the fund, indeed, is not available at this time and “is not intended to be an application-based process”.

“It is a fund that is intended to fund industry assistance initiatives that are essentially brought to the government by industry development agencies through their contacts with individual businesses,” he told the Economic and Finance Committee.

“While the Government has announced that this fund exists… it’s not intended to call for applications.

“It’s really a process by which industry development agencies… through their day-to-day dealings with individual businesses or industry associations, will bring ideas to government, assess them against the criteria that we are still developing and then put them to government.”

Bettison tells InDaily she’s not concerned about the $2 million for Mitsubishi per se (although she notes $2 million for 20 jobs is “on the very high end of support”), but the lack of detail about how a company can apply for the Economic and Business Growth Fund.

Lucas says it will be “a question of making a strategic decision as to how best can we apply limited taxpayer funding and reduce regulation and red tape”.

The agency gatekeepers, he says, will “liaise with private business and then bring proposals though the government”.

“The reality is this is a cultural shift for businesses and departments that are used to the old culture where there’s a large pot of money and anyone can apply, and politicians and public servants decide who gets it,” he says, adding that “there’ll be greater clarity when the guidelines are issued”.

“Business and industry are used to a culture, which has existed for 20 years or so, where money is available for individual applications… some are supportive of continuation of that existing system, and are resistant to change – we know that, that’s nothing new,” he says.

“There’s been a culture of individual companies and businesses seeing this as the ongoing and dominant role for government – we’ve said all along that we don’t see it as the dominant role for government.”

He said the Mitsubishi decision was made during “a transition period”, but the money will come out of the $100 million fund “because we closed down all the other funds”.

In future, he adds, “there’ll be much less emphasis on funding for these sorts of applications”.

“We’re transitioning to a new system – there are always transitional issues as we move along… we’ll have to be judged on the body of work at the end of the four year period.”

But surely this is just the kind of “picking winners” grant he would have chided mercilessly in Opposition?

“Well, there might have been a lot of things in Opposition I might have criticised,” Lucas replies with commendable self-awareness.

“We’re in Government now.”

Rob Lucas: in Government, and loving it. Photo: David Mariuz / AAP

So, a good decision then?

“Any decision the government takes is a good decision,” he says.

“It’s one that I support.”

Oh dear…

Apparently, though, not every decision the Government takes is a good one.

Not, at least, according to four Liberal first-term MPs –Fraser Ellis, Nick McBride, Dan Cregan and Steve Murray – who late yesterday crossed the floor to vote with the Labor Opposition to delay debate on the Government’s mining bill until next year.

Ellis, who represents the Copper Coast electorate of Narungga has led the charge against minister Dan Van Holst Pellekaan’s bill – a virtual carbon copy of the one Labor was itself pushing in the last parliamentary term.

Ellis and co, who mostly represent safe regional Liberal electorates, want safeguards to allow farmers the right to veto mining companies’ access to their land.

Ellis yesterday registered his “firm opposition to this bill” adding “I will not be able to support it in its current form until significant amendments are agreed to”.

“This bill is too eerily similar to a bill those opposite tried to push through when last in government; in fact, I have even heard it referred to as such by the minister, and that alone should be reason enough for people on this side of the chamber to oppose the bill,” he told parliament.

Intriguingly, another key regional conservative – frontbencher Stephan Knoll – was also absent for the first vote on the motion, although he insists he was locked in negotiations with Upper House crossbenchers on another matter.

Nonetheless, it’s a rare thing for a minister to miss a crucial – and vexed – vote, particularly one in which several factional colleagues have threatened to side with the Opposition.

For, while Opposition members have crossed the floor in living memory – notably Norm Foster to help establish the Roxby Downs uranium mine and Terry Cameron and Trevor Crothers to facilitate the sale of ETSA – there’s evidently no obvious precedent for government members crossing the floor – certainly not after only eight months of a first-term government.

There was, of course, one notable country Lib who didn’t cross the floor – van Holst Pellekaan himself, who insisted today “it’s always been the case in the Liberal Party that we encourage people to speak their minds internally and externally, and I have no concern with members doing that”.

However, he remains convinced “we’ve held extensive community consultation on this bill – there is no doubt about that whatsoever”.

Not so, says MacKillop MP McBride, who today told ABC Radio Adelaide: “That hasn’t happened.”

McBride sounded an ominous note for party-room unity when he summed up the consultation process as such: “Oh dear… this is not how it’s supposed to work – this is not how this process is meant to work at all.

“I want our minister to bat for our party, I want him to make the best decisions possible… he hasn’t gone through the process of actually bringing our core constituents on board to make sure they’re part of this process,” he went on witheringly, magnanimously concluding that the rebel MPs had effectively “saved the government from complete turmoil amongst our own key constituents”.

Now they just have to navigate the turmoil in the party-room.

Adelaide media managers change seats

There’s been a raft of changes to local media management positions.

Electranet external relations manager and former Labor Government spin doctor Sylvia Rapo is taking the communications lead on BAE Systems’ giant Hunter Class frigate program.

She’ll be joining Alison McKeekin, who has recently taken up a media role with the project after leaving SA Health’s communications team. BAE has also hired an internal communications officer for the frigates job – former Viterra media adviser Fiona Stuckey.

Filling a reworked version of Rapo’s position at Electranet is Megan Lloyd – former Sunday Mail editor and, more recently, a senior communications manager at Holden. Lloyd’s title at Electranet is communications manager.

Meanwhile, Labor era media adviser Rhett Burnie is moving to the ABC’s Adelaide newsroom after a stint in the national broadcaster’s Mt Gambier office.

Burnie, a former Nine news reporter, joined the ABC in the wake of the March state election after more than two years as media adviser to then Health Minister Jack Snelling.

InDaily understands Burnie will fill a number of roles at Collinswood including reporting and news presenting.

-Additional reporting by David Washington

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