Jay Weatherill, the bush doesn’t matter

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Matthew Abraham: In Jay Weatherill’s push to win the March election, the bush doesn’t matter

Elon Musk will not put a single person on Mars.

It is just not going to happen. Trust me, I subscribe to National Geographic and am full bottle on the whole Red Planet caper.

But now that the billionaire battery prince has become South Australia’s new faunal emblem – displacing the southern hairy-nosed wombat – he needs to get to know us a little better.

We are polite, easily excited and accustomed to being disappointed.

Mr Musk might be impressed that hundreds queued to see him speak at the recent space conference in Adelaide but it is normal behaviour in this town to form an orderly line to be the first to see something, anything, new.

Decades ago, we queued for hours to get a peek inside the first jumbo jet to land at Adelaide Airport, going up the steps, in the front hatch, down the aisle and back out again.

Mr Musk might also be blown away by Mid North tourists taking selfies in front of his world’s biggest lithium-ion battery under construction near Jamestown. The inconvenient truth is that the battery is part of the Weatherill government’s belated, really expensive scramble to stabilise our power grid before the summer blackout season – and the March election.

But tourists stop in Snowtown for selfies in front of the local bank vault, infamous for the bodies-in-the-barrels murders.

Landowners from Yorke Peninsula, on the steps of Parliament House in 2013, protesting against the proposed Rex Minerals copper mine.

Look, I am embarrassed to admit that last week I posed for a photo outside Coobowie’s tiny tennis club, where Cassie “Headphones” Sainsbury served an interesting and brief spell as treasurer before moving on to bigger things in Columbia.

Coobowie is a lovely, typically unpretentious Yorke Peninsula beachside town, where the tide runs out to infinity and beyond. The caravan park is fisho central, with stainless steel fish-cleaning tables, slippery with boaties filleting King George whiting. The local pub serves an epic, gluten-free surf ’n’ turf and the deli on the hill is spotless.

Farming and fishing make Yorke Peninsula tick. These are sustainable, big-dollar industries that are undervalued by a city-centric government.

Would any political leader ever admit that the city counts more than the bush? Premier Jay Weatherill did, just this year.

Rejecting calls by grain farmers to end a ban on genetically modified crops, he said: “The truth is there are not a lot of votes out there in country South Australia for us so, in some ways, we are free of the electoral imperatives about this.”

Which brings us to disappointment. If Musk wants to get a grip on that emotion, he should take a drive down Yorke Peninsula’s boulevard of broken roads.

Near Ardrossan, on the outskirts of Pine Point, he will see hundreds of steel drums, rusting in the open air. This is what Rex Minerals delightfully calls its “core farm” – copper and possibly uranium core samples from a mine that promised to transform the peninsula.

First teased back in 2008, the Hillside project was for a $900 million mine generating $30 million in annual royalties, 560 new jobs, 1000 constructions jobs and another 1437 spin-off jobs. None of this has happened.

The Advertiser reported that the mining lease plans for the huge open-pit and underground mine included a new power line, port infrastructure upgrade at Ardrossan, a new SA Water pipeline and a one-hour, daily ferry service from Adelaide. Has any of that happened yet? Nah.

Instead, it has become the incredible, shrinking mine as Rex Minerals has scaled back the project’s ambitions and pushed out timelines.

The protests of local farmers, who argue the mine will trash one of the world’s cleanest farming regions, have largely been ignored. Not an “electoral imperative”, maybe.

Just up the road at Sandilands, former Premier Mike Rann breathlessly told us in 2011 of plans to build a 180-turbine wind farm that would power 200,000 homes in Adelaide, with the power fed into the metropolitan grid via an undersea cable crossing upper Gulf St Vincent. Has it happened? Nope.

And let us not mention the plans for the Big Incinerator on Yorke’s.

Why start with fantasy and retreat to reality? We can handle the truth, you know.

So, have a good look around Yorke Peninsula, Mr Musk. It’s a beaut place, much better than Mars.

It will help you understand why some of us, at least, prefer to keep our feet on the ground while looking at the stars.

Sunday Mail 081017 pg70

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