Is the grass greener in Victoria?OPINION

Chest-thumping Victorian friends used to tell me the Garden State’s natural border should have followed the Murray from Mildura all the way down to the ocean, thus engulfing SA’s Riverland, Mallee and South East regions. I used to think they were idiots…
Nanjing Night Net

I’m a proud South Australian and think my ancestors made a smart decision when they settled here in the late 1830s. Like countless other young professionals from SA, I was lured to Melbourne for greater work opportunities in my mid-20s and have since lived either sideof the SA/Victoria border.

My wife and I ultimately chose to swim against the tide of mounting migratory trend and returned to SA, albeit we landed just 20km west of Victoria at Naracoorte.

That our children now reside within a stone’s throw of the border continues a connection to the South East/West Wimmera region which goes back at least six generations in my wife’s family. When it comes to living near the state boundary, the general wisdom it that the closer the proximity and the greater the longevity, the more invisible the line on the map is.

But increasingly the border is very visible and serving as a depressing reminder about how we on the SA side are getting a raw deal out of our State Government.

For instance, a farmer at Apsley enjoys far greateraccess to drought supportcompared to his neighbours just over the border at Hynam. A Goroke farmer is free to grow a genetically modified crop, while his mate over the road at Frances is stillprohibited from doing so.

If a border district farmer is concerned about how fracking might impact his land and productivity, he’d better hope he’s at Langkoop rather than Wrattonbully because the Victorian Government has ‘locked the gate’ indefinitely on unconventional gas extraction. Conversely, SA Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis has told the mining community that the drilling equipment would bewelcomed with open armsin SA, even in the South East where previous exploratory work has met with fierce community resistance.

Serviceton residents pay less for vehicle registrations too, compared to their Wolseley cousins – which is why farm, transport and rural services businesses which straddle the border tend to have blue number plates on fleet vehicles. It’s also why anyone picking up a hire car at the Mount Gambier airport would have no clue they have touched down in SA, based on the dearth of SA number plates affixed to the Avis and Hertz vehicles in the car park. (SA registration costswon’t be abatinganytime soon either, it seems.)

If a Casterton farmer opens the Stock Journal at a Penola bakery over lunch and reads about sky-rocketingemergency servicesandnatural resource managementlevies, an outrageousSouth East drains taxand SA’scrippling electricity prices, he’d likely drive home startled yet relieved to have crossed back into the Western District.

And that’s without even considering the fragile nature of SA’s electricity supply which, especially indairy and irrigationcountry, is particularly hazardous.

It’s hard to imagine a ruder provocation of state-based envy than the plunging of 50,000 South East residents into complete darkness in September, while humble border villages like Apsley, just 10 minutes east of the SA/Vic line, buzzed and glowed the night away. Having lived at Apsley, I can confirm it sometimes feels like it is on the far western frontier of the Victorian empire. Yet increasingly, we on the SA side of the fence are becoming jealous of our West Wimmera neighbours.

And no wonder, given thescandalous fire-sale of our forestry assets,theloss of funding and functionality at local hospitalsand closinglocal TAFE campuses.

It makes one wonder: If the SA Government is actually trying to prompt a campaign for the South East to join Victoria, it is doing a bloody fantastic job.

Being at the bottom of the Victorian food chain is bad, but it is seemingly better than being on SA’s lowest rung.

As a comparison, Victoria’s population is growing the fastest of any state in the country and its jobless rate is in line with the national average. Meanwhile SA continues to wrestle with Tasmania for the shameful claim to the nation’s highest jobless rate. And the only thing the SA Government is doing anything to boost our regional population is to sendmore of Adelaide’s prisonersto non-metropolitan prisons, including Mount Gambier’s. Thanks.

The Blue Lake City’s airport, which connects our part of the world with Adelaide and Melbourne, reveals another frightening trend whenever I’m hopping on or off a Rex plane. I can’t help but notice that business passengers dominate the seats on the Melbourne service, while far more of the tickets punched for Adelaide are assigned to public servants and the like.

The tragedy of SA’s stagnation isn’t even that the biggest part of our economy is the government – a sure sign things are really sick – or that seemingly every big business (in Adelaide at least) is getting some kind of significant, ongoing inducement from the SA Government just to keep their doors open and resist the temptation to relocate interstate.

The saddest part of the whole catastrophe is that, the more of a raw deal South Australians get, the more complacent too many of my fellow Croweaters are about being taken for granted so egregiously. The passive submission seems worse in Adelaide, which unlike border regions like the South East, is sheltered from the day-to-day goings-on of our eastern neighbour.

Maybe the best way to offset the threat of more young professionals, small business families and labourers in our region moving east is to simply move our part of SA into Victoria.

As an added bonus, we’d also start to enjoy the supposed benefits (often and rather ironically spruiked by the State Government) of beingaligned with the eastern time-zone.

There would be natural alignments and benefits too: Whereas SA is increasingly a city-state in which there is a natural disconnection between Adelaide and the regions, Victoria has a significant population outside of Melbourne and boasts large, economically bustling rural cities. Mount Gambier (population 29,000) is SA’s second biggest city but in Victoria, ‘the Mount’ would only just scrape into the top 10.

And if we really want to drill down, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that Victoria’s Parliament has retained regional divisions in the Upper House. This means that the red leather on Spring St isn’t effectively monopolised by city-based members, as occurs in other bicameral jurisdictions which elect Upper House members on a state-wide basis.

Sad though it is to even concede, the ‘pros’ for regional communities like ours in the South East remaining in SA seem to disappearing. And as the see-saw effect dictates, the argument in favour of our part of the world being annexed by Victoria are increasingly compelling.

Now, whether or not the South East (or for that matter the Mallee or Riverland) would ever actually set the requisite wheels in motion to make a change is best left to the crystal-ball gazers for now. The fact that the ‘remain’ case is so weak and getting weaker by the day is extraordinarily sad and indicative of the way SA’s regional communities have been completely disenfranchised by the South Australian Government over many, many years.

Such a revelation should be a wake-up call for our State Government, but it probably won’t be. And that, alas, proves my point.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.