The Arrium steelworks against the Whyalla skyline. photo by Juan Estepa
Rowan Ramsey MP in Grey 2007-2016 (No-Gap)
Grey is South Australia' largest electorate, including all but the south east corner of the state. Liberal since 1993, incumbent Rowan Ramsey has held the seat since 2007 with a current margin of 14 per cent. Despite some pockets of prosperity, it is the poorest electorate in the state having been hit hard with the decline of the mining industry. Unemployment, Indigenous affairs, and nuclear waste and energy are key issues facing the electorate.
With its commodity reliant economy currently at a crossroads the burning election issue for South Australia’s largest electorate, Grey, is unemployment.
Liberal MP, Rowan Ramsey, who has held the seat of Grey since 2007 is aware that the electorate’s larger townships, Whyalla, Pt Pirie and Pt Augusta, are facing catastrophe as the unstable commodity industry continues to falter and large numbers of jobs are shed.
“One way or another, these cities rely on the resources industry; that’s what we do, and it’s difficult,” Ramsey said.
The Labor Party also recognise unemployment as the definitive issue Grey faces. Its candidate, Scott Martin is a member of the Australian Workers Union (AWU) Whyalla branch.
Similarly, Grey’s other declared candidates, Xenophon party’s Andrea Broadfoot and Family First’s Cheryl Kaminski have given priority to the issues of employment and economic growth.
Geographically, the rural electorate encompasses approximately 92 per cent of South Australia, comprising much of outback South Australia and its small remote communities. But despite their dispersal the 100,000 enrolled voters are united in concern over continued economic viability.
In particular, voters will watch with close interest how candidates address fears about the closure of Arrium’s Whyalla Steelworks.
Since Whyalla’s struggling steel manufacturer went into voluntary administration in April, there has been a joint, federal, state and electorate focus on minimising the damage that could result in the loss of more than 7,000 jobs.
The closure of Port Augusta’s power stations and doubt about the continued viability of Pt Pirie’s Nyrstar smelter have increased anxiety about the future amongst voters.
Ramsey says he has addressed these employment issues head on, by aiming to minimise job losses and campaigning for support of retrenched workers.
Ramsey, as the incumbent MP is well regarded among local communities, and he retained his seat with 55.65 per cent of the two-party preferred vote at the 2013 election.
However, Labor candidate Scott Martin is well positioned through his trade union background to appeal to workers who are concerned about the economic future.
Martin’s understanding and support of manufacturing workers is likely to appeal to voters seeking employment security, or at least, appropriate redundancy packages.
Another challenge to Ramsey’s grip on Grey will be in key areas such as Indigenous affairs.
Despite having created strong ties with the rural electorate’s Indigenous communities by supporting programs such as the Remote School Attendance Strategy Ramsey will need to consolidate the Indigenous vote.
However, after Ramsey’s recently welcomed the proposed nuclear waste site in Barndioota, a small, rural community in the Flinders Rangers, Indigenous support seems to be wavering.
Matthew Kirchner, a Whyalla local whose future hangs in the balance as an employee reliant on the mining sector, believes that Ramsey’s ties to the community remain strong.
“He just does the right thing,” he said. “It’s hard to even think about voting for anyone else, when Ramsey does things that are right by the community and has done for so long.”
As it is voters like Kirchner who are facing unemployment if the viability of Grey’s commodity based economy is not managed, they will be the definitive factor this election.
Grey’s election will be focused on employment, and if Ramsey’s opponents want to dislodge Liberal hold on the seat, promises to secure jobs for the commodity reliant economy must be convincing.
It will be jobs that decide who gets the job of leading Grey.