Grievance Debate: Mount Gambier Electorate

Tuesday December 03, 2019

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (15:21): The definition of the word 'representative' is 'a person chosen or appointed to act or speak for others'. I represent the seat of Mount Gambier, including the largest regional city in South Australia, and the surrounding communities. My electorate has over 35,000 people, and I can tell you I take that responsibility very seriously.

To stand here, you have to put aside your own interests, opinions and ego and work for the people you represent. By that, I mean all of them, not just those who tick your name on the ballot box. You have to be a champion, an advocate and a fighter for your electorate and, above all, accountable to the people. You have to be a good speaker but also a good listener, and not always to those whose voices are the loudest. As the Dalai Lama says:

When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.

Thousands of people contact my office each year, and at this time I want to thank those who have done so. They do this in person, via phone, Facebook or email, and they bring to my attention matters that I do not always know about. The path to legislative change, funding wins or opportunity have often begun with a simple conversation with a member of my community.

By working constructively with the state government, we can achieve big things. Representative democracy is often described as government 'of the people, by the people, for the people'. One of my greatest achievements in office so far has been the enactment into law of the 10-year moratorium on fracking. It is an achievement for me because that is what the people of the Limestone Coast told me they wanted.

Contentious issues bring with them immense pressure to heed all the different sides and opinions, the views of activists, interest groups and lobbyists, but you can never lose sight of the issue at hand: what your electorate truly needs. When a politician can be influenced, they lose the power to influence. When it comes to politics, particularly in recent years, memories are short.

Recent statistics show that trust in politicians and politics is at an all-time low. For me, this is a sad fact. Trust is based on a simple premise: do what you say you are going to do, be open and transparent, admit your mistakes and work for the greater good. Each year, legislation comes before parliament and has the potential to have considerable impact on the lives of South Australians. Issues include abortion, land tax, sex work decriminalisation and euthanasia.

As their representative, I welcome my community telling me their thoughts and opinions on every piece of legislation. My personal opinions might differ, but it is my job to ensure the views of my constituents are fairly represented. For my part, a bill that is poorly written or does not go far enough to address the concerns of my constituents will not get my vote. In my speeches, I have often mentioned Sir Thomas Playford, South Australia's longest running Premier. He is a politician I greatly admire. Sir Playford once had these words said about him by Steele Hall:

Playford is still the greatest champion South Australia ever had…South Australia was ever so much the better because of him.

Long after I am gone, I hope my time in office is remembered in a similar way for my electorate. It is an immensely powerful thing for someone to tick your name on the ballot box and place their trust in you as a representative. I thank the people of my electorate for continuing to place their trust in me.