Greg Barila

Journalist. Editor. Social Media specialist.

Filtering by Tag: South Australia

Is it time to rethink the Great Australian Dream and change home ownership expectations?

AUSTRALIA has spent decades trying to get taken seriously on the international stage
But with Aussies off waging holy war in the Middle East, alleged terror plots being hatched on home soil and the PM squaring off with aggressive superpowers, maybe we should be careful what we wish for.
Some commentators declared the Sydney siege as the day Australia “changed forever”.
They’re wrong about that.
But Australia is growing up. And that means we’re maturing in ways that we may neither like nor want but which we cannot stop.
One of them hits close to home.
The Great Australian Dream is dying.
I realised it as I drove back to Adelaide during the holidays, listening to a property guru wrap up the year in real estate on Melbourne radio.
When the discussion turned to prices my ears pricked.
More than $600,000 for a house out in the burbs?
The median price closer to the CBD was more like $1 million, the guru said, putting Melbourne up there with Sydney and London on the league table of Cities Where You Should Pretty Much Forget About Ever Trying to Afford Your Own Home.
I took my stunned surprise to Twitter where Melbourne-based former Adelaide journalist Melissa bemoaned the extortionate state of the local housing market.
“Don’t remind me,” she tweeted, ending her thoughts with the hashtag #WhyDidIMove.
I don’t know Melissa’s reasons but maybe she upped sticks for the same reasons so many young South Aussies have waved goodbye at the border – for better job opportunities and the fast energy of a big and interesting city.
And therein lies the rub.
While housing affordability is a national problem, the barriers to entering the market remain considerably lower in Adelaide where the median house price is a full $200,000 less than in Melbourne and about $300,000 less than in Sydney.
Of the capital cities, only in Hobart is it cheaper to get into your own home, which sounds like a great story for SA to tell ... until you think about it.
Tasmania and South Australia remain among the worst performing economies in the country with SA’s jobless rate above the national average and industries closing left, right and centre.
A Deloitte report from October 2014 declared, “South Australia’s economy is in the slow lane” and that “more pain is on the horizon as it stares the closure of car manufacturing in the face”.
This must be why so many young people have decided the price of greater job prospects and the cultural sophistication of a big city is a million dollar mortgage.
And that the price is worth paying (or attempting to pay).
But if it is, is it time to rethink the Great Australian Dream?
Time to change our expectations about home ownership?
In the big cities of Europe, the UK and US, many young people spend precious little time worrying about affording their own home, so unrealistic and out of their reach is the goal.
Circumstances here already seem to be forcing young people to accept a similar fate, with recent news reports revealing some couples have already given up on their dream of ever owning a house.
Is this what we want?
To be a nation of renters?
What would our priorities be then? More travel? More dining out at fancy restaurants? More time to volunteer in our communities? Would it bring its own kind of freedom? Or a new kind of bondage?
If the Great Australian Dream continues on its nightmarish trajectory, it’s a conversation we’d better start having sooner rather than later.
Greg Barila is The Advertiser’s social media editor.

Please, no more empty promises at Port Adelaide

Tourism Minister Leon Bignell says Port Adelaide Enfield Council is “lazy” on local tourism. Photo: Tom Huntley
FOR the better part of a decade, a sign at the gateway to the historic township of Port Adelaide cautioned visitors to hang on to their hats because…. “It’s happening”.
It’s important not to get too cynical in these matters.
Because if you’re talking about an ad hoc programme of ugly residential development and court action ending in the shelving of the first major crack at rejuvenating the area, it’s hard to argue it hasn’t all been happening down at Port Adelaide in recent years.
Something else has been happening down on the waterfront.
A council, according to Mr Bignell, that hasn’t once bothered to pick up the phone and inundate the government with a bag full of winning ideas to flood the Port with cashed up tourists.
Port Adelaide Enfield Mayor Gary Johanson says Mr Bignell is welcome to pop down to the Port for a meeting to talk about the issue.
“It’s a lazy council,” he told The Advertiser.
The local council may well be bereft of good ideas to rejuvenate Port Adelaide.
But for a senior member of the Government, the Tourism Minister no less, to try to shift the blame for the missteps and chronic inaction that have held the Port back for more than a decade on the local council, isn’t just passing strange, it’s breathtaking in its hypocrisy.
Because a vibrant Port Adelaide doesn’t just depend on a few sexy weekend attractions, but a sustainable community that people actually want to live in.
There the government has a major responsibility and there, so far, it has failed.
They built it and they came. Hart’s Mill, one of the green shoots of optimism in Port Adelaide.
In October 2012, the government pulled the pin on the controversial Newport Quays development, a decade after it was approved by the then-Planning Minister Jay Weatherill.
Weatherill admitted the project (first announced by the Liberals) was ultimately “flawed” and seemed to suggest Labor only pushed it through so as not to send the wrong message to investors.
“Imagine if the first thing we did within weeks of coming into office was to cancel a tender process,” Mr Weatherill told the ABC at the time.
“Imagine the message that would have sent to the investing community”.
That same year, the government scrapped plans for another project, crucial to any hopes of a Port revival, an extension of the tram network to Port Adelaide and Semaphore.
The measure saved the Budget $35 million.
But even had the project gone ahead, it would have been 2019, a full five years from now, before the first trams would be ready for the run to Port Adelaide.
In other words, it’s likely another decade will pass before a tram ride to the Port becomes more than wishful thinking.
And yet amid all the reasons for pessimism, there are green tendrils of optimism to be found.
As Mr Bignell rightly points out, the markets at Hart’s Mill “are going well”, thanks to a $2.5 million Government investment.
And the Minister’s comments supporting a major, Sydney-style fish market are encouraging and exactly the kind of project the Government (and the local council) should be working to see
happen at the Port.
The Government’s latest rejuvenation plan, released in January, with its plans for a marine precinct at Fletcher’s Slip, public marina, high-density living and the promise of an influx of thousands of new people are similarly hopeful.
But we’ve heard it all before.
“We’ve been saying for 25 tears we need more residents”, Railway Hotel owner Fred Hiscock said in response to the latest vision.
Port Adelaide needs a lot of things.
One thing it doesn’t need is yet more empty promises.
What do you think should happen at The Port? Share your ideas below

Watching a dying business try to pretend the carnival isn’t over is one of the saddest scenes

Vale the Brickworks Markets. Bulldozers demolish buildings to make way for a $38 million Woolworths supermarket and speciality shops.
RIGHT to the end, the ribs, grilled beautifully over an open pit, were worth the trip alone.
But on those last few visits to the old Brickworks Markets, we sat there licking greasy fingers and watching a few stragglers wander aimlessly around a ghost town – past faded signs and broken railings, quiet beer halls and shuttered market stalls.
Watching a dying business try to pretend the carnival isn’t over is one of the saddest scenes there is.
Just take a drive out to the Junction Markets at Kilburn if you don’t believe me. Actually, on second thoughts, don’t.
The Brickworks operated as a market for 30 years and were such a fixture of my growing up, that it’s hard not to feel emotional now they’ve finally given way to a huge Woolworths, grog shop and speciality stores.
And I know I’m not Robinson Crusoe there.
“Ahh the Brickworks. What a great day out it was with mum & dad,” Alan of Henley Beach wrote in a comment on
“All that great food ... especially that outdoor BBQ with the char-grilled ribs.
“It was the main rival to Magic Mountain and our preferred place to spend a Sunday afternoon.
“From the age of 6 to 16 I’d say we spent 100 Sundays at the Brickworks”.
Yeah, I know, progress and all of that.
But it’s hard not to ask how and why a place that once thrived for three decades as a weekend family attraction could have wound up dying such a miserable death.
It’s also not the hardest question to answer.
It was there in those last depressing days, in the smutty T-shirts, tacky merchandise, dusty bric-a-brac and faded infrastructure.
The Brickworks was great in the ’80s. And there it is.
Adelaide moved on and the market did not; didn’t invest in the future, adapt to offer products people wanted to buy, offer experiences they couldn’t get at their local Westfield.
And it’s a great pity because the Brickworks, with their beautiful tunnels and heritage-listed kiln and chimney, are unique and should be one of the city’s major selling points.
The Government has done much to promote the regions to the rest of the country and world.
But when it comes to transforming historic gems in the heart of Adelaide, like the Brickworks, the old Islington railyards, the tunnels under the city, our tourism officials have apparently been M.I.A.
Don’t even get me started on the missed opportunity that is Port Adelaide.
But anyway, the bulldozers have done their work and a mega-supermarket complex is happening apace.
Huge concrete walls are rising quickly where once, and for decades, they made bricks.
The best bits of the market – the fresh fruit and veggie sellers, the butcher, the Indian grocer, the fish shop – have all been displaced to a shed on the corner of South Rd and Manton St.
But with a major expansion of South Rd around the corner, who knows what will happen to them?
There’s talk of the traders coming back when the Woolworths is finished in the next few months.
And I’m not the only one with fingers crossed the markets can be revived somehow.
Adelaide needs a lot of things, but a vanilla-flavoured shopping centre isn’t one of them.
“Would LOOOVE to bring this experience back to life,” Alan of Henley Beach wrote.
And bring back the barbecue ribs.
Greg Barila is Social Media Editor at The Advertiser.

Move over Big Brother, it’s time for My Council Rules

Blake and Louise from the reality TV show, The Bachelor Australia. Still: Channel 10
IN Asia, and the Middle East, and all the places in the world where the people have to fight for it, it’s reasonable to look at the struggle for political freedom and ask — “What price democracy?”
In those places, who can say?
But if you live in a particular borough of Adelaide, the answer is about $900 a week.
That’s how much the good ratepayers of the City of Prospect have apparently been shelling out for the council’s weekly meetings to be video recorded and uploaded to YouTube for anyone who should want to keep an eye on the inner-workings of their council without actually having to attend.
The outrage was revealed in a staff report and those around the council table were suitably shocked and troubled.
According to the report, they’ve been doing it for a massive weekly prime time audience of about 30 people a week! (Or slightly better ratings than Songs of Praise on the ABC).
“My council doing similar with audio recording — not much interest, unfortunately,” Marion mayor Felicity-ann Lewis (and past president of the Local Government Association) lamented in a tweet.
Here’s the thing — councils like Prospect and Marion should be applauded for at least trying to take democracy to the people, even when the people can’t (or have never been so moved) to come to it.
But $44,000 a year? C’mon, it’s 2014.
There’s a long list of free, or relatively cheap, and easy-to-use platforms on the market (Google Hangouts, Ustream, Spreecast) that let you broadcast live via the internet, and capture your results for playback later.
But even if our councils can get their costs down, clearly they are suffering from an audience engagement problem.
Luckily, I’ve got an idea to get the masses tuning in. Let’s turn weekly council meetings into a reality TV experience, with all the most compelling bits from the genre — a weekly rose ceremony, election immunity for the most popular councillors (as voted by you!) and weekly cost-cutting challenges to balance the budget.
Councils are already accustomed to expelling rogue members from the chamber. Hello??? Live eviction.
But what to call it? “My Council Rules”? “The Shire”? (already taken) “The Block — Planning Approval Edition”?
I don’t know about you, but I’d watch the pants off that.

While it’s hanging on someone else’s trees, consider it forbidden fruit

Crop theft might make for quirky headlines but for farmers it's no joke. Photo - News Corp. Australia.
“Holy guacamole! Thieves strip avocado crop!”
“Cops in a pickle over cucumber heist”.
The headlines make for quirky reading but there’s really not a lot to joke about when veggies vanish and melons go missing.
Last week, thieves somehow managed to strip an avocado crop from a farm near Barmera in the Riverland, making off with about 1.5 tonnes of fruit, apparently without raising an eyebrow.
The police will sort out how they did it. But it doesn’t take a detective to figure out why.
Avocados can sell for anything up to $3 each — and that means last week’s haul could have fetched as much as $18,000 at retail, about $11,000 of which should have gone into the grower’s pocket.
And last week’s heist was just the latest in a series of big crop and stock thefts in South Australia.
Last month, The Advertiser revealed how authorities were investigating the theft of up to $1 million worth of livestock from several producers in the South-East over five years, allegedly using forged electronic ear tags to evade detection at sale.
In 2011, veggie bandits made away with $4k worth of tomatoes from Virginia and in 2009, about$10,000 worth of cucumbers were stolen from glasshouses all over the northern suburbs.
You wouldn't steal a car, so why would you steal someone's livelihood? Photo: @GregBarila
All theft hurts.
I can’t imagine having a new car nicked from the driveway would be much fun.
But imagine how heartbreaking that loss would be if you’d not only poured thousands of dollars into buying the car itself, but also bought every bolt and screw and made the whole thing from the tyres up.
That’s what crop theft feels like.
As Con Poulos from Citrus Australia SA Region told The Advertiser after the avocado job, “Farmers are already doing it tough. This guy’s put in 12 months’ sweat and tears … there’s high costs with water, fertiliser, electricity and you don’t know if it’s the bulk of his production.”
… And then some bastard comes along and steals the bread out of your mouth, just like that.
Crop theft is a low act. I know something about what it’s like.
I grew up on a citrus farm, with mandarin trees lining the boundary running parallel to a quiet dirt road — perfect conditions for orange grabbers.
In mandy season, we listened for idling engines and the illicit thud of fruit bouncing in buckets.
The only time we enjoyed it was when we had time to creep up stealthily, part the tree from the other side and shout, “Oi! Whadda ya think you’re doin?”.
Most thieves satisfied themselves only with as much fruit as their hands or a turned up jumper front could hold.
Once my father busted a bloke who’d almost finished filling every square inch of his car with mandarins and building a mandy pyramid in the boot. He had some splainin’ to do.
It should go without saying, but evidently it needs pointing out: taking someone else’s property without permission is a crime, whether that property is Omo or oranges.
There seems to be some warped idea that stealing is something that only happens in a shop and that plucking a few bags of apples here, a few boxes of apricots there is no big deal.
As the public service announcement on those old video rentals cautioned on film piracy, “You wouldn’t steal a car ...”.
And you wouldn’t steal somebody’s livelihood.
Most farmers are decent people. Ask and ye shall receive
But while it’s hanging on someone else’s trees, just consider it forbidden fruit.

Looking at the internet of the future: the Internet of Things

Whole cities, like Songdo in South Korea, are being built to be fully connected via the 'Internet of Things'

IF the first wave of the internet was about connecting people with information and each other, the next frontier is about connecting objects to create a whole new “Internet of Things”.
And Adelaide is playing an important role in Australia’s move towards it.
IN June 2000, Korean electronics maker LG cut the ribbon on a new product line it no doubt hoped would do for food storage what Sony’s Walkman did for music– the internet refrigerator .
The ‘Digital DIOS’ came complete with a net connection, video phone, webcam, email and online shopping capabilities, but the big promise was the ability for the fridge to keep a running stocktake of all the food inside, using barcode-scanning technology.
Better still, as Arnie Schwarzenegger demonstrated in the film The 6th Day , the Internet fridge was smart enough to ‘know’ when you were running low on milk and to give you a gentle reminder to call in at the shops on the way home.
Alas, consumers were cold on the smart fridge, not least because it came with a price tag around $20,000, tried to solve problems people didn’t know they had, and was largely derided as an expensive gimmick.
But if the LG smart fridge, and the many competitor versions that followed, missed the mark as a mainstream consumer appliance, it also hinted at a future that only now, 14 years later, is beginning to become a reality.
A future where the internet is no longer simply a network connecting people and computers, but a system connecting everyday objects with us and with each other - an “Internet of Things” (IOT).
“(With the IOT) physical items are no longer disconnected from the virtual world, but can be controlled remotely and can act as physical access points to internet services,” researchers Friedemann Mattern and Christian Floerkemeier from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technologywrote in a paper on the subject in 2010.
So, the LG fridge was ahead of its time.
The IOT vision, Mattern and Floerkemeier argued, is grounded in the belief that electronics, communications systems and information technology will continue to get smaller, cheaper and more efficient and as they do, will be “increasingly integrated into everyday objects”, making them all-of-a-sudden “smart”.
At the same time, mobile phones have continued to evolve, with many now featuring touch screens and barcode readers, making them a perfect interface between people, objects and the net and creating a perfect storm for an IoT.
If you’ve got a washing machine, gaming console, sewing machine or Fitbit , the revolution may already be in your laundry, lounge room or around your wrist.
And that’s just a small scratch on a very large surface.
Researchers like Mattern and Floerkemeier argue our emerging ability to make formerly dumb objects “smart” will give us new powers to observe, measure and interpret our world in ways, and at a level of detail, not possible before.
And that, many argue, could deliver benefits (time, money, improved safety and security) in every sector from retail and healthcare to waste management and local government.
Think cars that can communicate with each other on the road; signals to help locate lost property, escalators that only operate when they’re needed, and barcodes shoppers can activate with a smartphone to retrieve product information from the internet.
Even the Digital DIOS may have a place in a future when devices can talk to each other.
“…a smart fridge might reduce its temperature when the smart electricity meter indicates that cheap power is available thus avoiding the need to consume energy at a later stage, when electricity is more expensive,” Mattern and Floerkemeier wrote.
It gets bigger than that.
Right now, in South Korea, a company called Gale International is working to build the world’s first “smart city”, a $35 billion venture called New Songdo that will be home to about 300,000 people, all of them wired to a digital grid.
“It’s going to be a cool city, a smart city,” Gale chairman Stan Gale was quoted as saying by tech, adding the company planned 20 more cities just like it in China and India.
“China alone needs 500 cities the size of New Songdo,” Gale said.
To help the vision become reality, the world, clearly, will require a new generation of skilled professionals.
And there, Adelaide is playing a major role.
This month, Flinders University signed an Australia-first agreement with US tech giant Cisco it sayswill put the university “at the heart” of Cisco’s global ‘internet of Everything’ strategy.
The university plans to set up an academy at its Tonsley Park building, where Cisco staff will train students to work with the latest digital technologies and where, the university hopes, they will help develop the products that will define the Internet of Things in Australia, maybe globally, too.
Pro-Vice Chancellor, Information Services Professor Richard Constantine said the university’s work with Cisco would largely focus on Telehealth and assisted living for the sick and elderly.
But the partnership was also very much about creating new jobs for SA.
“In the old days, if you didn’t have internet connectivity, your ability to prosper in your economy was pretty limited – that’s the same with the Internet of Things,” Professor Constantine said.
“They can track the number of items connected to the Internet of Things in a country – the greater the number, the greater your increase of GDP (Gross Domestic Product),” he said.
“We’re looking at creating jobs for South Australians and having people train in state-of-the-art technology in this area”.
He said the IOT was not just important - it was inevitable.
“Apple are looking at making announcements later this year in that area, probably under the guise of fitness applications and Google’s interested, so things are taking off as far as personalised wearable technologies that have got an IP address, that are connected to the internet, that are monitoring vital signs for fitness, for health. That sort of regime’s going to take off in the future definitely.
“You don’t need to be Nostradamus to know that’s going to happen.”
This story was first published in The Advertiser and on

Let's open the floodgates on public data

Former Adelaide Thinker-in-Residence John McTiernan released made several recommendations to make public data more open and more accessible in a report to the SA Government. Photo: News Corp. Australia.
HAS crime in your suburb gone up or down in the past 12 months?
How many dangerous dogs did your council register in the past financial year?
What’s the water quality like where you live?
How many passengers ride our public transport system every day?
The truth is out there ... but not in any kind of ethereal X-Files way.
The answers to all these questions, and thousands more, are tucked away in so many filing cabinets, desk drawers and manila folders in Vic Square and Salisbury, Mt Gambier and Wallaroo.
They are locked away in PDFs, spreadsheets and photo archives — anywhere the tentacles of government reach or every nook and cranny of our lives.
Our politicians, department chiefs and bureaucrats hold the filing cabinet keys and computer passwords for these vast troves of information, but the data isn’t theirs. It’s mine, and yours.
And assuming you get about your business as a decent, law-abiding South Australian, access to this information isn’t really much in question. If you want it, it’s your right.
For decades, newspapers like this one have been instrumental in giving you access to information you need, through direct relationships with public agencies and, when they found the information harder to dislodge with the help of that legislative crowbar, through the Freedom of Information process.
FOI remains an important lever that journalists, or any member of the public for that matter, can pull to convince government departments to release information in the public interest.
But in recent years, governments in the UK, US and now here, have finally, thankfully, started to crack open their filing cabinets and storage rooms and begin publishing public information, in the public interest, as part of a broad movement known as “Open Data”.
David Cameron made it his first order of business as PM and one of his senior policy advisers at the time has been often quoted for declaring, “We will unleash a tsunami of data”.
The ripples of that tsunami are being felt here.
In 2012, former Adelaide Thinker in Residence, and later, chief spin doctor for Julia Gillard, John McTernan, released a report calling on the State Government to adopt a new “open data policy”. This involved setting up a central body tasked with making raw data available to the public.
The Government has gone some way to adopting the 20 recommendations in the report.
In 2012, it set up the open-data portal to publish data on everything from crime and education to health and council services, and while not an exhaustive store of data (some of the datasets are out of date or incomplete), it is, at least, a start.
In 2013, for the first time, the Government ran the open data competition, Unleashed Adelaide , which gives local web developers the chance to turn datasets into socially useful apps and products.
It is an interesting and innovative program that is generating smart ideas for public good and the Government deserves credit for getting behind it.
There may be sound economic reasons why South Australia should pursue this kind of innovation, and if any state needs good ideas right now, it’s ours.
Local companies like Shifty Jelly have put Adelaide on the map — they’re the guys who took info from Bureau of Meteorology and turned it into the hugely popular app, Pocket Weather Australia.
Other local developers have produced highly successful public transport apps — but only when the department yielded the data. Public data is your data.
And when the government finally opens the floodgates, there’ll be no telling what good we can do.
*News Corp. is involved in Unleashed Adelaide 2014 as a data supplier.

Enough ho-hum, now for the vision, excitement

Projects such as the Torrens footbridge and revamped Adelaide oval are changing the city culturally, as well as physically. Source: News Corp Australia
JUST in case you were worried a week might pass without anybody talking about an election, the political classes have kindly turned their attention to the next council poll due in November.
Thank goodness for that — I was just about to step out and buy a copy of Quarterly Essay and sign up for the A-Pac channel on Sky, just to cope with the nightmares and cold sweats.
All eyes will be on the contest in the city, and already Lord Mayor-wannabe Mark Hamilton has drawn the battle lines, outlining his plans for Taking Care of Business (with apologies to Elvis) if he gets elected.
I don’t know Cr Hamilton, and for all I do know, he may be the best candidate to wear the robe and chains for the next four years.
He certainly thinks so, declaring himself to be “the most qualified of lord mayoral candidates in decades” in an interview in the Sunday Mail.
But if the key planks in Cr Hamilton’s policy platform — building a car park in North Adelaide, sorting out the old Le Cornu site and planting more trees and flowers — are the kind of ideas we can expect from this campaign, colour me underwhelmed.
Again, I don’t claim to know Lord Mayor Stephen Yarwood more than superficially.
But it’s impossible to argue Adelaide hasn’t come alive since he got the job.
At least some of the credit belongs to the Rann Government, and policies and decisions it took years ago, which are only now beginning to come to fruition — the new RAH, the Convention Centre, the Oval redevelopment, the footbridge.
Yarwood has been as big a beneficiary of those projects as the rest of us, but his council has also pushed through or supported a range of interesting projects that have changed Adelaide not only physically, but culturally, too.
For better or worse, and mostly it’s been for the better, people are now thinking about and talking about Adelaide in a way I can never remember happening.
Like Cr Hamilton, Yarwood talks about greening the city.
But he also talks about turning Adelaide into a giant Wi-Fi hotspot, Australia’s “Silicon Valley” and using that infrastructure to make our city smarter.
Creating an Internet of Things, devices that can help us know and understand our city, and manage complex systems such as lightning, parking and irrigation with a level of detail and precisions not possible before.
Cr Hamilton may have similar ideas and if he does I look forward to hearing all about them, because Adelaide needs more than a new car park and a boring old debate about a block of vacant land.
Don’t you think?
This column was first published in The City magazine and on 

One election certainty, SA will maintain its long history of male only premiers

Kissing babies. Isobel Redmond during her time as Liberal leader
SATURDAY night will be a historic moment, regardless who wins power at the state election.

For Weatherill, leading a 12-year old government (with more baggage than a cruise liner) to victory will be a win against considerable odds.

For the Liberals, a win with a political novice at the helm, after years of in-fighting, will be a minor miracle.

But no matter who’s running the place on Sunday morning, here’s one reason this election won’t go down in history.

With all that testosterone sloshing around, it’s a good thing so many women are falling over themselves to run for election this time around, right? Ah…. well, about that.

 Of the 204 people standing for a seat in the lower house this election, less than half - just 63 - are women.

On a party basis, the Greens are running the most female candidates (17 out of 47), followed by the ALP (16 out of 47), Family First (12 out of 42), the Liberals (11 out of 47) and Dignity for Disability (four out of seven).

“ALL THE LADIES IN THE HOUSE SAY YEA …..” umm where are all the other ladies in the house?

Things look worse in the upper house where female candidates make up just 22, out of 63 candidates. 

Compare that to The Advertiser’s politics team where State Political Editor Dan Wills is outnumber by his female colleagues four to one!

There are virtually more women writing about politics in SA than participating in it.

The last time SA came anywhere close to electing a female Premier was 2010, when Labor suffered an 8.4 per cent, two-party preferred swing to Isobel Redmond’s Liberals.

We all know how Redmond’s turn at the Leadership ended. Not well.

But neither did her term as leader begin all that smoothly, having been forced to answer questions about her physical appearance and makeover her image.

“On the one hand I have to listen in case there is something about my appearance which is off-putting and stops the message getting through,” she said at the time.

“But on the other hand, I don’t want to lose myself in this process. I’m me and I’m determined to stay me”. 

The iniquities in the way male and female politicians are sometimes treated are well known, but they’re not peculiar to South Australia.

Nor are the heavy demands and crushing stress that make being a politician Number 1 on my list of “Jobs You Couldn’t Pay Me Enough To Do”.

So what’s keeping women out of SA politics? Would more women bring some fresh new dimension to the social debate?

Do the parties have a plan to promote young female talent to their highest ranks? Does it matter? Do we care?

In the first State in Australia to give women the vote, surely it’s at least a debate worth having.

Don’t forget to vote this Saturday.

This column was first published in The City Messenger and on 

Our farmers' value is worth considering

Our farmers, such as Riverland grape grower Brett Proud, are highly productive, despite facing drought and economic challenges. Picture: Sam Wundke. Source: News Corp. Australia

AS far as predicting the outcome of elections goes, I probably make a pretty good journalist.
But you don't need to be a psephologist to know a few things for sure about the upcoming State Election.
Here's one thing you can bank on - when the campaign gets going, everyone will be talking about the auto industry and virtually no-one will be talking about that other engine room of SA's economy, farming.
How highly do you value our state's agricultural industry? Comment below.
Holden's decision to quit making cars in Australia, even though we saw it coming, was a huge and devastating blow to SA's identity and confidence.
Jay Weatherill knows that.
That's why he (rightly) rushed to Canberra for urgent talks with the PM to hammer out a plan to resuscitate Australia's ailing manufacturing sector.
But with the election nigh our Premier, I think, also has been trying to work the issue to his political advantage.
To convince South Australians that car making wasn't terminal under Federal Labor and that if Tony Abbott had only agreed to loosen his death-grip on the National Purse Strings, Australia's best-loved car brand might have been saved.
I don't know about that.
And I don't know why, if they're looking to present themselves as visionary leaders, with plans to get SA's economy back on track, neither Weatherill, nor Steven Marshall, are doing much to talk up agriculture.
According to one local study, when Holden goes, SA stands to lose $1.24 billion in economic activity, 13,000 jobs and $72 million in state taxes.
Bad news, no matter how you cut it. SA's economy has lost a limb. But it has not lost its backbone.
Agriculture and wine are worth a whopping $10 billion in production and value adding to SA's economy - a major contributor to our exports.
Like in manufacturing, employment in the sector over the past decade has been going backwards - more than 4000 jobs disappeared between 2002 and 2012.
But consider this.
At the same time as our agricultural workforce has been shrinking, productivity in the sector has more than doubled.
In other words, our farmers and producers have been doing more with less, even in the face of pressures like the GFC, cheap foreign labour and the strong Aussie dollar.
According to the National Farmers' Federation, every Aussie farmer produces enough food for 600 people. And they've been doing it on their own, without the massive handouts given to the car industry.
Our farmers, not just those in SA, are among the least subsidized in the OECD, receiving government support of just 3 per cent of farming income, behind the US (9 per cent), Israel (12 per cent) and Canada (16 per cent).
It's not to say the government has done nothing to exploit SA's reputation as a clean and green producer of food.
There's been investment in regional tourism advertising and in keeping SA fruit fly free.
In 2011, the government set a target to grow food revenue to $20 billion by 2020 and the 2013 Economic Statement assures us SA is "well positioned to seize the opportunities" of the rising demand by Asia's emerging middle classes for our top notch food and wine.
But how will we get there?
And, crucially, what role could our auto workers play in helping SA realize its potential?
How does the next government intend to better support our farmers and will the foreign buy up of our prime agricultural land be allowed to go on unchecked?
Weatherill and Marshall need to answer these questions.
The trouble is, the election won't be won and lost in the dairy pastures of the South East, the sweeping wheat fields of the Eyre Peninsula, or citrus orchards of the Riverland.
It will be won and lost on the crowded trains of the Southern suburbs, at the first bounce of the first AFL match at Adelaide Oval and on the factory floor of Holden.
It will be won and lost in the city, where all the people, and the votes, are.
When he took over from Mike Rann as Premier late in 2011, Weatherill told reporters "I am utterly convinced that our best days are in front of us in this state".
I think our best days will be in front of us only when we realize we can't leave our agriculture sector behind.
This column was first published in The City Messenger and on

Beyond the South Australian tourism spiel

A grab from the famous Barossa tourism ad

IF you've been anywhere near a TV or newspaper in the last year you'll know our tourism commission has poured millions into spruiking SA to the rest of the world.
Some states would have stopped at a spiffy new logo, with a wide inviting door over its entrance, but our tourism chiefs were just warming up.
In May, the commission unveiled its now-famous TV spot for the Barossa and last month announced a new push to showcase the sights and delights of the Yorke Peninsula.
Then, we found out Barossa Tourism had gone out of its way to make sure a certain UK boy band headed in its direction during its run of Adelaide shows to enjoy a spot of golf, meet half the city's population of teenage girls and, most importantly, to tweet about it all.
I haven't seen the numbers, but recent efforts to sell SA may well be working beautifully.
If nothing else, the Barossa ad, a slick, beautifully produced piece of work of sloshing milk, gooey cheese and Nick Cave for a soundtrack , has, on the whole, had a positive response and won high-praise as a piece of advertising from people who should know.
Much of the push has been on our regions, and on the natural advantages that truly make South Australia world-class; our sun and sea, our food and wine.
But recently, when I found myself in charge of showing some family friends from England a good time on a brief stopover, it became painfully clear that it's going to take a lot more than a new logo and couple of TV ads to make Adelaide a must on any tourist's itinerary.
Let's face it, when it comes to tourist attractions in the city proper, unless you're a serious foodie, are in the mood for shopping or keen to spend the best part of a $100 taking the family to the zoo, how much is there to do in Adelaide, really?
And what if your charges aren't interested in a drive to Hahndorf or the wine regions?
This was my dilemma some two weekends ago.
Thank God for China Town and the Central Markets, is all I can say; one of Australia's best and a trusty fall-back for any struggling tour guide.
None of this is to say that Adelaide has nothing going for it whatsoever.
A few months ago, I spent a very enjoyable (and educational) day at the South Australian Museum with my nephews, visiting from out of town.
The three of them had a ball in the animal hall and Egyptian room and I spent hours studying the artefacts and innovation of our Aboriginal cultures. I hadn't visited for years and the whole thing felt new and interesting.
But where am I going to take my nephews next time they're in town?
In my last column I wrote how Adelaide, blanketed in roadworks from end to end, was suffering the growing pains of a city finally growing up. And that the popping up of new, small bars was the sign of a city becoming denser and more culturally interesting. And I meant it.
But funky new bars and restaurants by themselves are not enough to give Adelaide the kind of variety that will convince visitors to turn a quick two-day trip into a leisurely week.
There's a maxim in media that holds that "Content is King" and I suspect it applies to tourism too.
It's the idea that a place is only as interesting as the stuff there is to do there, just like a newspaper is only as interesting as the stories in it.
It's why Adelaide's famous festivals and successful visiting exhibitions such as Turner from the Tate are so important, culturally and economically.
We need more of them, year round. And when we do that, the marketing will take care of itself.
If nothing else, the Barossa ad, a slick, beautifully produced piece of work of sloshing milk, gooey cheese and Nick Cave for a soundtrack , has, on the whole, had a positive response and won high-praise as a piece of advertising from people who should know.
Much of the push has been on our regions, and on the natural advantages that truly make South Australia world-class; our sun and sea, our food and wine.
But recently, when I found myself in charge of showing some family friends from England a good time on a brief stopover, it became painfully clear that it's going to take a lot more than a new logo and couple of TV ads to make Adelaide a must on any tourist's itinerary.
Let's face it, when it comes to tourist attractions in the city proper, unless you're a serious foodie, are in the mood for shopping or keen to spend the best part of a $100 taking the family to the zoo, how much is there to do in Adelaide, really?
And what if your charges aren't interested in a drive to Hahndorf or the wine regions?
This was my dilemma some two weekends ago.
Thank God for China Town and the Central Markets, is all I can say; one of Australia's best and a trusty fall-back for any struggling tour guide.
None of this is to say that Adelaide has nothing going for it whatsoever.
A few months ago, I spent a very enjoyable (and educational) day at the South Australian Museum with my nephews, visiting from out of town.
The three of them had a ball in the animal hall and Egyptian room and I spent hours studying the artefacts and innovation of our Aboriginal cultures. I hadn't visited for years and the whole thing felt new and interesting.
But where am I going to take my nephews next time they're in town?
In my last column I wrote how Adelaide, blanketed in roadworks from end to end, was suffering the growing pains of a city finally growing up. And that the popping up of new, small bars was the sign of a city becoming denser and more culturally interesting. And I meant it.
But funky new bars and restaurants by themselves are not enough to give Adelaide the kind of variety that will convince visitors to turn a quick two-day trip into a leisurely week.
There's a maxim in media that holds that "Content is King" and I suspect it applies to tourism too.
It's the idea that a place is only as interesting as the stuff there is to do there, just like a newspaper is only as interesting as the stories in it.
It's why Adelaide's famous festivals and successful visiting exhibitions such as Turner from the Tate are so important, culturally and economically.
We need more of them, year round. And when we do that, the marketing will take care of itself.
This column was first published in The City Messenger and on

What the hell happened to Glenelg?

What happened to you, Glenelg.... you've changed? Photo: News Corp. Australia

CAR trips to Adelaide from Mildura in the 80s and 90s were a source of great excitement when I was a boy.
It felt like an exotic adventure, pointing dad's old blue Ford Falcon towards South Australia.
And when, after an epic four-hour journey, we finally rolled into the famous City of Churches we usually always stayed in that most exotic of places - Glenelg!
It was fun, staying in a palindrome.
Mum and dad often booked us into the Patawalonga Motor Inn, a stone's throw from the Buffalo and World Revolving Restaurant, and a couple of streets from Jetty Rd.
Glenelg, to put it mildly, was a different place back then.
One of the suburb's main attractions, for example, was a large, magic, fibreglass poo… er, mountain; the old Red Rattlers still made music down the main street and, where great Floridian-style apartments now stand, there was a simple carpark offering unencumbered ocean views.
I'm not sure how, when or why it happened, but someone buggered up the best bits of Glenelg in the years since I first visited as a kid.
I used to enjoy a trip down to the Bay in summer.
Now, I largely steer clear of the joint, visit only occasionally and feel sad when I do.
A friend calls the place "Hindley Street by the sea". A tad harsh, perhaps, but I take his meaning.
Moseley Square, with its palm trees, chain stores, Frappuccino's and golden arches, is the Times Square of Adelaide, the Gold Coast of South Australia. And then there's the pigeon poo.
Jetty Rd, even sans the lovely old cinema, is still a pretty strip. But the shopping precinct - a grab bag of take away food, clothing, chemists, jewellers and camping suppliers - lacks any kind of speciality focus to make a special trip a must, I think.
And then, when the weather's nice, the masses choke the streets with double prams and dogs on leashes which makes a recent push by the Member for Hindmarsh, Steve Georganas, to have huge cruise ships dock at Glenelg all the more horrifying an idea.
What's happening to Glenelg - through the proliferation of tacky shops, overcrowding and overdevelopment - is happening elsewhere on our world class coast and ocean towns, creeping like an insidious disease.
They built a high-rise apartment block at Henley Square and so diminished what used to be my favourite Adelaide beach. It is ugly, imposing and I hate it.
Recently, I visited Wallaroo for the first time in about 10 years and where I once found a country town, I found a sprawling city of man-made waterways and rows of double-decker holiday homes - not two of them matching in size, shape or colour.
It's not hard to see why people flock to our beachside towns and suburbs.
Anyone who's tried to lounge about on a stony 'beach' in Italy, or polluted bit of sand in Asia knows our beaches are the best in the world. And best of all free.
Let's not ruin it by turning our quaint and charming beachside towns into outdoor nightclubs and shopping centres by the sea. If I wanted that kind of experience, I'd go to Ibiza.
This column was first published in The City Messenger and on

Violent Argument

Should adults have the freedom to play violent video games? SA’s Attorney-General doesn’t think so. Greg Barila reports. 

(This report first appeared in Adelaide's Eastern Courier Messenger).

ANY day of the week in South Australia, if you’re an adult, you can pick up a carton of beer, a packet of cigarettes, a hardcore magazine (if that’s your thing), and a copy of Wolf Creek or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Laws broken? Nil.

Maybe explicit sex and violent cinema aren’t to your taste but many will argue the freedom to choose is the backbone of our free society.

Right now, video gamers throughout Australia claim they are being denied that right - and they’re pointing the finger at SA’s Attorney-General.

The Attorney-General remains unmoved arguing the need to protect children weighs heavier than the wishes of adults to play video games, which no one is arguing can be shockingly realistic and disturbingly violent.

So can the debate move to the next level, or is it game over for an adult’s right to choose the kinds of games they play behind their bedroom doors?

ON September 22, the Sydney lad magazine Zoo Weekly published its annual list of the Top 50 “people we hate”.

Topping the list was the renegade rugby player Sonny Bill Williams, who turned his back on his Australian club for greener fields, and a fatter pay packet, with a club in France.

Also on the list were controversial Federal MP Belinda Neal, ex-footballer Wayne Carey and dumped swimmer Nick D’Arcy.

With the dubious honour of position six was a name most Australians had probably never heard of before, but one many know well now - South Australia’s Attorney-General Michael Atkinson.

The member for Croydon was none too bothered by the poll result.

``I am more unpopular, for instance, than Radovan Karadzic, who is alleged to have killed 8000 people at Potocari and Srebrenica,’’ Mr Atkinson told State
Parliament in October.

``Zoo Weekly, of course, is an erotic magazine, and I am happy to be voted an unpopular or annoying person by readers of an erotic magazine.’’

The poll may have been less than credible, some might say unfair.

But the reasons the Attorney-General made the list in the first place - his stance on the classification of video games - points to a wholly serious and profound
level of discontentment among fans of video games. Why? 

To understand how the tensions were set up, it helps to understand something of Australia’s classification system.

Unlike for films, Australia has no R18+ rating for video games, making the MA15+ rating - covering content for mature audiences 15 years and older - the
highest available level of classification.

Practically, it means games with a high level of violence, sex or drug use cannot be classified - and games refused classification cannot legally be sold, hired,
demonstrated or advertised.

Four games - Shellshock 2: Blood trails, Dark Sector, Fallout 3 and Silent Hill: Homecoming - were banned in Australia in 2008 because of their content. 

Games banned in previous years include Bulletproof, Manhunt, 50 Cent and NARC.

Last March, the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General gave its ``in principle’’ support for a discussion paper - R18+ for computer games - to canvass public views on the matter and pave the way for the possible introduction of an R18+ rating.

About time, Victoria’s Attorney-General Rob Hulls declared.

``It seems inconsistent that in Australia, adults are allowed to view `adult only’ films which have been classified R18+ by the Classification Board, but not computer games with an equivalent high level content,’’ Mr Hulls said.

``At the moment, Australia is out of step with the rest of the developed world on this issue.’‘

The draft paper went to censorship ministers and was to be available to the public on the internet.

But the process was derailed when Mr Atkinson, a long-standing opponent of an R18+ rating, used his veto powers to effectively shelve the discussion paper.

The paper, he said, was not a balanced representation of both sides of the argument.

Because any change to the relevant legislation requires the consensus of every state, territory and Federal Attorney-General, any moves towards an R18+
rating now seemed highly unlikely.

Mr Atkinson outlined his ``carefully considered’’ position -  one, he admits, is even unpopular with his own three game-playing boys - in Parliament in early March, before the meeting of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General.

``I am concerned about the harm of high-impact (particularly violent) computer games to children,’’ he said.

``Games may pose a far greater problem than other media - particularly films - because their interactive nature could exacerbate their impact.

``The risk of interactivity on players of computer games with highly violent content is increased aggressive behaviour.

``I do not want children to be able to get their hands on R18+ games easily.’‘

Australia remains one of the only developed countries in the world without an R18+ rating.

Mr Atkinson doesn’t care.

``I think the western, industrialised countries that allow R18+ computer games and the extreme violence that goes with them are just so many Gadarene swine going over the cliff,’’ Mr Atkinson told ABC TV’s Stateline programme this month. 

``I’m pleased that Australia has a principle, sensible stand against this extreme violence, I’m happy for Australia to stand alone and international gamers can  laugh at us all they like.’‘
Australia’s gaming industry doesn’t see the funny side.

Online, a furious campaign is raging, with hundreds of commentators and gamers lambasting Mr Atkinson’s stance, which they claim denies them the basic right to make free choices.

``I can’t believe that it comes down to this - one man with the absolute power to veto the clear demands of 90 per cent of the Australia population because of a minority personal belief and a whim. What a BS system we have,’’ one gamer wrote.

Another wrote; ``What is the point of representatives that don’t represent - this guy makes me angrier than any game ever could!’‘

Gaming fan Scott wrote: ``What a joke! I’m so sick of these moralists telling me what I can’t see or do. What absolute arrogance, to stymie a public debate just because he thinks he knows better than everyone else.’’

The gaming community argues Mr Atkinson’s position is misguided because it disadvantages typical gamers, which some research suggests are not the children the Attorney-General wants to protect.

They point to a new national survey prepared for the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia by Queensland’s Bond University.

The survey, which collected information from more than 1600 households and almost 5000 people, found the average age of gamers, was not 9 or 17 but 30, up from 28 in 2007. 

It also found 91 per cent of adults - both gamers and non-gamers - supported an R18+ rating for video games.

But Mr Atkinson said protecting children was more important, adding there were ``plenty’’ of games available to adults, without restricted content.

``I believe the protection of children outweighs the minority who want access to very violent and sexually explicit video games.

``Once games showing extreme violence, sexual abuse and criminal activity are in homes there is little way of keeping them from children in that home.’‘

So what are the potential impacts of violent games on children?

Elizabeth Handsley is a Professor of Law at Flinders University and a spokesperson for the parents information organisation Young Media Australia.

``We think there’s clear enough evidence that violent media and especially violent computer games have an adverse impact on people’s attitudes to violence,’’  Prof Handsley says.

``The picture that emerges is, well, three things about violent media; one is that it can lead people to be more likely to act aggressively themselves; secondly  that it can make them more accepting of aggression and violence in other people, so desensitizes them to violence and third that it can foster a sort of mean and scary view of the world and so affect people’s confidence in going out into the world.’‘

But if restrictions can protect children from unsavoury or damaging content in film, TV and magazines, why should video games be any different?

Because they are different, Prof Handsley argues.

``There’s no illogic in my mind about distinguishing between different media because different media provide a different experience and have a different impact
on the person that’s consuming them.

``You get arguments about Harry Potter and the idea that Harry Potter are children’s books, therefore all the movies should be rated PG.

``Now, there’s a difference between reading a scary story on a page and seeing it emblazoned in full colour with very loud sound in a darkened room on a huge screen.’‘

She denied bans were useless because children could access banned material online.

``I find it hard to imagine say a seven-year-old going on the internet to find an ultra violent game, an 11-year-old maybe, but we’re interested in the seven-year-
olds that may stick something on if it’s just sort of around the house or around a friend’s house.

``Once these things are legitimately available in hard copy in people’s living rooms and studies that makes it more easily available to much younger children.’‘

Adult gamers say they won’t let the ban stop them getting access to the games they want to play and warn it could encourage piracy and hurt the local economy, as consumers shift their spending offshore.

And it’s big business. Australians spend about $1.3 billion a year on games.

``My money will be going overseas where my right as an adult to play the games that I wish is not censored,’’ gaming fan Marc told a forum.

``Imports all the way. Released quicker and cheaper,’’ another gamer wrote.

Game retailers confirmed increased piracy and online sales were having an impact.

``Without a doubt,’’ GameTraders national marketing manager Chad Polley said.

``People are more likely to pirate something so they can get the overseas version.’‘

Game City owner John Carbone said it was hard to calculate the amount of revenue lost to online retailers like ebay ``but my gut feeling is it could be 20 per cent’‘.

``It’s hurting quite a lot of small businesses.’‘

Mr Carbone conceded some banned games were so violent they would ``curl your hair; you wouldn’t even know it’s a video game’‘.

``But I still believe they should bring in an R18+ rating and let the adult make their own decision.’‘

Soon, Australians will have the chance to say so. This month in Brisbane, the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General finally agreed to release its discussion paper on the issue, after Mr Atkinson received assurances the paper would be revised for balance.

It is due to be published online by the end of the year.

But how will it play?

For gamers, it may be the equivalent of winning through to the next level.

Their critics will remind them that in most games, somebody wins but someone always loses.

Guess: Which is SA's Most Dangerous Drug?

The drugs which kill most South Australians are not peddled down dark alleys. They’re sold by a smiling cashier at the supermarket, corner deli, and your favourite watering hole. Should drugs be categorised by the harm they do, based on evidence and science, or by their popular reputation? Greg Barila has been finding out.

It’s a fiercely contentious and morally-charged question which divides people as surely and precisely as creationism or stem-cell research. 

Are legal drugs more dangerous than drugs which are presently illicit? Is puffing on cigarettes and chugging wine more harmful to your health than an ecstasy pill at a nightclub or the occasional joint with friends at a dinner party?

Around the world, a growing chorus of concerned medical experts and researchers has been questioning the conventional wisdom on the classification of drugs, according to their harm. And their findings have been sobering.

I draw back the black curtain to find the assistant behind the counter in a beanie and cut-off gloves. This is not an ordinary Independent Weekly assignment.

“Do you sell Rush?” I inquire. “Yes, we do,” the assistant says stepping into a back room to fetch an order sheet pinned up on the wall. “It’s for cleaning leather”, he says nodding knowingly, making sure I get the drift. “Yeah, yeah,” I reply.

A hazard warning on the brochure points out that cleaning leather is “a dangerous game” that can change the colour of the leather. What it fails to point out is that Rush is not a leather cleaner, nor is it a nail polish remover or video head cleaner.

Not when you buy it from one of the several sex shops around Adelaide where I find it available for sale, anyway.

Known by several names, including Bolt and Poppers, Rush is part of the amyl nitrite family of drugs and is used primarily among the gay community to enhance sex.

Users sniff the liquid contents of the small bottle to get a rush that relaxes the muscles and can last a couple of minutes.

Also known as isobutyl nitrite, the drug is listed under Schedule 4 of the Therapeutic Goods Act. It is sometimes used to treat cyanide poisoning and angina but is only available legally by prescription.

The price on the bottle ranges between $25 and $40 but the real cost can be two years in prison or a maximum fine of $10,000.

But while the drug can be fatal if swallowed or mixed with other medications such as Viagra, The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre says the risk of serious injury is “fairly remote” and that “there are no recorded sudden deaths from inhaling nitrites”.

Compare its record with that of widely used legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco.

About 20 per cent or 300,000 people smoke in SA, while in 2004, 85 per cent of people 14 years and over said they had had a drink in the past 12 months.

According to Drug and Alcohol Services SA, 1280 South Australians will be dead this year alone because of tobacco-related illness.

That’s 25 of your work colleagues every week, three of your friends per day. That’s after they’ve taken up 6240 hospital bed days.

A Burden of Disease report by the SA Health Department, found that between 2001 and 2003, an average 322 people (222 of them male) per year died as a result of harmful 
alcohol consumption.

Car accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and cancer were major causes.
As the law stands, South Australians have the freedom to quite literally drink and smoke themselves to death. In 2005 heroin killed 37 people, about 10 times fewer than alcohol but every bit as effective in breaking a parent’s heart.

Statistics like these have prompted scientists around the world to review the way drugs are classified, based on clear and available evidence of their harm. 

In a 2006 report to the House of Commons by a select committee on Science and Technology, researchers slammed the UK’s A, B, C classification system saying it was divorced from rocksolid science and ordered the Government to act, post-haste.

“We have found glaring anomalies in the classification system as it stands and a wide consensus that the current system is not fit for purpose,” the report found.

A study published in The Lancet this year by Professors David Nutt and Colin Blakemore came up with a list of drugs, ranked according to their proven harm, their addictiveness, and the effect of their use on families and communities.

Top of the list was heroin, then cocaine, barbiturates and street methadone. Alcohol came fifth, and tobacco was ninth, more harmful than cannabis, LSD or ecstasy.

Its findings underpin the very debate in SA between outright prohibition and harm minimisation.

“There is no doubt that the simple, tough on drugs, war on drugs approach doesn’t work, produces irrational results, criminalises people when they shouldn’t be criminalised,” Democrats MP Sandra Kanck says.

Last year, Kanck was flayed by elements of the media after she suggested one of the best things that could be done for victims of the Eyre Peninsula bushfires was to make legal MDMA (ecstasy) available to help them through their trauma. 

Despite the populist uproar, she insists there is evidence to support the idea. 

“We’ve got to have an honest, rational, scientific debate and not one based on morals.

“There are so many substances that are used in one way, industrially, domestically, medically that can be used as a mind-altering drug, we’ve just got such double standards about it” she told the Independent Weekly

“We glorify alcohol. We have wine pages, we have wine magazines, we have booze buses in the sense of young people hopping on a bus on a Saturday night doing pub crawls, and 
we say that’s ok.”

Dr David Caldicott is a researcher at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and an advocate of pill testing at rave parties and harm minimisation.

“This is every bit as serious a public health problem as the AIDS epidemic of the ’80s and we’re not treating it in a scientific way,” Dr Caldicott says.

He explains that properly applied real science does not argue, ‘Don’t have sex’. Instead it says, ‘Use a condom’.

“What we aren’t having is what we had in 1985 – a rational debate on drugs policy. We’ve got these strange rhetorical statements like, ‘Pill testing sends the wrong message’. “That’s not science.

“Politicians in Europe serve science and serve public health, whereas here, unfortunately, public health, as far as illicit policy is concerned, is being used as a political football to be kicked around by politicians, the most verbal of which are clearly uninformed.” 

Family First’s Dennis Hood does not doubt the potential harm of all drugs, whether you buy them under or over the counter. He is worried by the scourge of alcohol and cigarettes.
“In the case of alcohol, our policy has been to restrict alcohol advertising until after 9pm at 
night and also to raise the drinking age (from 18) to 20.”

Hood says he supports the evidence-based classification of drugs but is wary of the dangers of suggesting currently illicit drugs are any safer than alcohol and tobacco.

“When I hear a claim made that these drugs are more dangerous because the statistics show that more people are harmed by them than by illicit drugs, it just ignores one of the main reasons which is that they’re more widely used. So then to lead to the conclusion that alcohol is more dangerous than heroin is just ridiculous.

“That debate has been done, it is clear that the illicit drugs are illicit in Australia because there’s good reason, because the science on those drugs is clear.” 

Ian Horne is general manager of the SA Australian Hotels Association, a sector, it’s fair to say, that would have plenty to lose from a downturn in alcohol sales. As Slim Dusty sang, pubs are lonely, morbid and dreary places without grog.

But Horne says the industry is already acutely aware of the huge responsibility that comes with selling legal drugs.

“By all means have a study. But we already know that alcohol when abused, and quite separately tobacco, has a negative effect on the community.

“That’s why alcohol, compared to most legal products is so heavily regulated.

“They don’t regulate breakfast cereals or soft drinks to the same extent they do alcohol.

“Having said that, it’s hard to defend tobacco consumption in any circumstances, other than to say it’s an individual’s right to do what they like.”

For its part, the government says it’s concerned about the problem and is doing much to curb harms, using instruments both sharp and blunt, such as legislation and providing counselling services and substitution treatment for opioid addiction.

Substance Abuse Minister Gail Gago points to bans on fruit flavoured cigarettes, and smoking bans in cars with children and in pubs, clubs, and the casino from November.

And regarding illicit drugs, Gago says the government’s three-pronged plan of attack involves cracking down on supply, helping users abstain from further use, and reducing harm.

These are worthy measures, but the question burns like a lit cigarette.

As long as science takes second place to morality and emotion, will the existing approach do less good than harm?

It’s a question that SA is struggling to answer, and it may be that no one single answer will satisfy every anti-drug campaigner, legislator, or – dare it be said – the crowd watching the footy at the pub on a Saturday afternoon.

● For more information on drug addiction contact ADIS (Alcohol and Drug Information Services, located at Payneham) on 1300 13 13 40 (24hours a day) or on the web
This story was first published in Adelaide's The Independent Weekly, July 21, 2007