Two South Australian Labor MPs have accused Treasurer Rob Lucas of “political bastardry”, after he made the decision to assign them temporary electoral offices tens of kilometres from their electorates.
The temporary office arrangements have been forced by a massive redistribution of electoral boundaries, which saw some seats end up with two electoral offices within their borders, while others have none.
The newly-elected Labor MP for Wright, Blair Boyer, has been assigned a temporary office in Virginia, despite representing the north-eastern suburbs of Salisbury.
In the southern suburbs, the Labor MP for Hurtle Vale Nat Cook has been assigned an electorate office in Melrose Park, about 15 kilometres from her electorate centred around Old Reynella.
When your local MP isn’t local
Blair Boyer is busy unpacking boxes in his temporary new office, part of the Virginia Horticulture Centre on the fertile rural plains north of Adelaide.
The signage on the front of his office informs the public about recycling containers for agricultural and veterinary chemicals — a world away from the cares in the deeply suburban electorate he represents — Salisbury South, Brahma Lodge, Gulfview Heights, Wynn Vale, Modbury Heights, Redwood Park and parts of Salisbury East and Surrey Downs.
Mr Boyer said he would be about 20km away from the closest part of his electorate. (ABC News: Nick Harmsen)
“We’re about 20km away from the closest part of the electorate to Virginia and we’re about 25 kilometres away from the Golden Grove Village where the Wright electorate has been for 20 years,” Mr Boyer said.
After the election, the new MP set up shop in the office occupied by his predecessor Jennifer Rankine, a non-descript space above a bank at the Golden Grove shopping centre.
By virtue of the latest boundary redraw, the office is outside the boundary of Wright by about 370 metres and is now in the new electorate of King, won by Liberal Paula Luethen.
Mr Boyer said Ms Luethen had initially told him she didn’t want the office — and was instead intending to set up a new office more central to the seat.
But he said all that changed when he moved into the office.
“A couple of weeks after we were in there and we were all set up, I had the staff set up and the office running really well, I was called by Electorate Services at the behest of the now Treasurer Rob Lucas who said that because they couldn’t find another building for the member for King, I had 24 hours to get out,” he said.
Mr Boyer said he was given the option of moving his three electorate staff into his tiny office at Parliament House, or use the Virginia electorate office vacated by the former member for Taylor Leesa Vlahos.
He chose the latter.
“When I have told people the electorate office is in Virginia the most common reaction I’ve got is people laugh because they assume I am joking,” he said.
“To be perfectly honest, I’m very worried about what the reaction of the residents of Wright is going to be when I tell them that if they want to see their newly elected member of parliament, it’s a 20, 25 or in some cases 30 kilometre trip out to Virginia.
“I’ve been saying to them, if you want to meet, maybe we can meet at a public space somewhere in the seat, at a library or something like that, or I’ll come to their home. But I’m not going to ask residents to come 20 to 25 kilometres out to Virginia to meet with their MP.”
Mr Boyer said the decision to deny him the Golden Grove office was politically motivated.
“There’s absolutely no doubt about it. This is an act of political bastardry.
“The idea behind this move is to shunt us out of the seat to make sure that we can’t operate as a fully functioning electorate office and to make life difficult for Labor MPs wherever possible.”
Labor MP for Hurtle Vale, Nat Cook has been told she’ll have to move her office to Melrose Park. (ABC News: Nick Harmsen)
Blair Boyer’s arguments are echoed by Nat Cook, the Labor MP for the newly-named electorate of Hurtle Vale in the southern suburbs.
She’s been told she’ll have to move her office to Melrose Park in the seat of Elder, 15 kilometres north of her electorate.
“If Rob Lucas understood what it took to look after constituents as a local MP, he wouldn’t move us so far away from where the heart of our work is – and that’s in the middle of Morphett Vale, Woodcroft and Happy Valley,” Ms Cook said.
“The people who need us are nowhere near this office.”
Ms Cook’s former electorate office at Aberfoyle Park is now in the seat of Davenport, and will be occupied by newly minted Liberal MP Steve Murray.
The Labor MP said the Treasurer should instead have required Mr Murray to operate out of a temporary office until a new Hurtle Vale office can be established.
“The Labor Party in government never moved sitting Liberal MPs out of their offices,” she said.
“It’s certainly a political decision.”
Treasurer rejects playing politics
But Mr Lucas denied that politics played any part in his decision.
“If you’ve got an electorate and you’ve got a member and there’s an electorate office there, it’s pretty common sense I would have thought that that particular MP should be able to work out of that office,” Mr Lucas said.
The Treasurer said the vast scale of the boundary redraw meant there was “necessary and understandable dislocation” between MPs and electorate offices.
“By and large it’s being managed with good will and a reasonable amount of good humour,” he said.
“Where it’s required a decision from me I’ve made that particular decision.”