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ONE YEAR AFTER HIS ELECTION TO PARLIAMENT
Tim Whetstone Speaks to Greek Tribune
One year after his election to the State Parliament, Member for Chaffey Tim Whetstone gave an interview to the editor of the Greek Tribune, describing the challenges, the experiences, his successes and outlining his vision for the future of the Riverland.
"In the first year, everything has happened at the speed of light", Mr Whetstone said.
"I've been inducted into parliament which has been quite an honor and along the way it has been a huge learning process for me - learning how the parliament works, learning how to deal with different issues and who to deal with to achieve an outcome.
"I guess we had some good wins over the last twelve months, particularly in having Lake Bonney re-opened. I think that was a great win for the region. What we saw with Lake Bonney was just an example of how a community can be divided over a simple issue of a barrier between the lake and the river.
"Obviously the quarantine road block at Yamba has been a big issue for this region and I think it has an impact not only on every fruit producer but also on every South Australian. I think that's been very significant.
"We've had lots of smaller issues like with elderly people who may feel a little marginalised, dealing with issues to improve their day to day life. The personal approach that I have been able to give to our constituents on a one to one basis and get some outcomes, whether it was through State Government or local government, I think it has been quite rewarding.
"The issues with the winegrapes have been initiated by the big end of town, the big wineries, which have guided this region to the sense of belief that we need to plant more and more winegrapes. People saw an opportunity there with an industry that was looking very buoyant", Mr Whetstone said.
"We are now seeing people exiting the industry, properties which have pulled out the winegrapes because they can't continue but at the same token I think the adjustment we have gone through winegrapes, is that we are now taking more ownership of the work we do, we grow better fruit, we produce better wine, we are marketing our product much more effectively, so I think we are in a situation of restructuring particularly in the winegrape sector.
"That's a reflection across the region. Not only winegrapes, but we look at specialised varieties of fruit, special varieties of nuts etc.
"In the past, we used to see everyone had four or five varieties of fruit on their property. At the moment, the people who are struggling in particular have only one source of income and that's winegrapes. I think, we need that diversity back here.
"When I speak to groups, ‘where to from here’, I ask them: Do they consider diversifying their business again? Do they want to take more ownership and grow the produce, pack and even market the produce? Perhaps the Farmers' market is a good example. I visit many - many growers. And those growers who are willing to put the extra input into their work, they are getting a better outcome for their hard work.
"Something that this region is renowned for, is building up a fantastic reputation in the market place and then we sell it away. We sold the Berri Fruit Juices to a multinational, we sold the Berri Estates to a multinational", he said.
Asked whether Constellation Wines has the right to treat our local growers the way they are at the moment - rejecting winegrapes at the weigh bridge - Mr Whetstone said they haven't got the right to do that.
"But that is the real world of multinational ownership.
"Once up on a time we had ownership on what happened to that produce, where it went and we were in control of our destiny. Now days unfortunately we are a dot on the world map with that parent company. And if they can't source fruit from this region they will source it from somewhere in the world. We are getting treated just like that: if you can't supply it someone else will".
When asked whether there is anything we can do to respond to the multinationals' behavior, Tim Whetstone said that's how private businesses operate.
"We are bound by decisions of a free trade world market. And it is having a huge effect on the local economy", he said.
"I believe we have made a significant amount of work to adjust, to improve the way we grow, but we are still in that phase of adjustment.
"We see small niche wineries starting to grow and they are doing a much better job marketing their produce in the domestic market and particularly the export market. There are opportunities there becoming now more and more evident of what we can achieve. I guess it is an industry which is at the cross roads and we have to take more control of the industry to get a better outcome.
"I condemn the ways that some of the growers are being treated. I believe if a winery accepts fruit on the fruit property then it should be accepted at the weigh bridge", he said.
Me Whetstone added that he is aware of some wineries that are preying on vulnerable growers who haven’t got a home for their fruit.
"These wineries are preying on vulnerable growers and offer well below cost of production prices which bring instability and really bring everyone to their knees", he said.
"I think this region has a very prosperous future. In the short term and in the long term. I think there is a challenge with the 20 million Riverland Futures fund that needs to be carefully managed and ensure that the projects that are put on the table, are credible projects that will benefit the region".
"There are a number of proposals coming from the Futures task Force that are very positive", he said and stressed that the Futures Task Force Fund is there for the benefit of every constituent of the Chaffey electorate.
"There is a need for the projects to be spread fairly amongst all Riverland towns", he said.
Asked to comment about how he envisages the future of the Riverland, Tim Whetstone spoke with confidence and optimism.
"We have shown that we can rise to the occasion where we are put to task, we are a resilient breed of people in the Riverland and I think that’s being displayed with the acceptance of the multicultural community in the region. We have to be very careful in dealing with a sustainable future and ensure that it embraces everybody.
"I think growers have to take ownership in how to get through these tough times and that’s something they will have to address themselves. Diversity and ownership are two of the answers.
Mr Whetstone said that as the river is now in much better health, another industry which must not be overlooked is the tourist industry which is begging for us to take more ownership.
"To introduce new people to the region, we have to have good services, good education, good health for people to consider coming to live in this region. These services are not only important to the people who are already living here, but also those who are potentially new residents.
"I have a deep passion for the river, for keeping the river sustainable for the producers and keeping the communities vibrant and prosperous for future generations. It's not only about today, it's about the future".
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