Chewing through Adelaide’s heritage

What happens if you let a goat and a hospital loose in the parklands? We’re about to find out, as Matthew Abraham explains.

Sep 30, 2022, updated Sep 30, 2022
Image: Tom Aldahn/InDaily

Image: Tom Aldahn/InDaily

The cunning plan by Rachel Sanderson, running for mayor of Prospect, to let goats roam free in the Adelaide parklands to control weeds certainly brightened our week.

“Why wouldn’t we look at things outside the box, like a goat?” she said. “Sheep eat the grass but goats will eat the weeds that sheep won’t. I think kids would love it. We could loan one to start.”

I give a lone goat a week, tops, chowing down in the parklands before it ends up on someone’s dinner table.

Sanderson was the Liberal MP for Adelaide and also served as Minister for Child Protection in the one-term Marshall Government. Both jobs came to an abrupt end at the March state election when she lost to Labor’s Lucy Hood.

Her plan to let herds of Billy Goat Gruffs loose in Adelaide’s ever-shrinking wide-open spaces is more novel, and more entertaining, than anything she came up with in her 12 years as an MP.

Now, if she plays her cards right, Sanderson may get the opportunity to resume her political career.

The Malinauskas Government has decided to pick the mother of all fights with Adelaide’s heritage and park lands community by unveiling plans to bulldoze the beaut, historic Thebarton police barracks and plonk a new $3 billion-plus high-rise Women’s and Children’s Hospital on the land. Depending on how the debate unfolds, this may play out badly for Labor’s hold on Adelaide.

Even Jane Lomax-Smith, who is running for Adelaide Lord Mayor, thinks it’s a dud plan. Lomax-Smith, an intelligent and savvy Minister in the Rann Government, lost Adelaide to Sanderson in 2010.

But she held what was seen as a traditional Liberal seat for eight years in no small part by going into bat for protecting the park lands and respecting this city’s heritage.

When Rann’s Treasurer Kevin Foley tried to force through his dream of building a permanent grandstand on Victoria Park for the Clipsal 500, Lomax-Smith was allowed to step out of the Cabinet room discussions, to quarantine herself from any voter fall-out.

The need to hold the seat is believed to have been a key factor in Foley’s reluctant decision to abandon his grandstand.

A schmicko new hospital for sick kids and mums isn’t a grandstand. Premier Peter Malinauskas is counting on this to bulldoze not just the historic police barracks, but anyone that dares to oppose his plan.

The government’s spin machine was at its manipulative, and cynical, best when it rolled out the announcement on Wednesday, hand in glove with a slick double-page advertisement in The Advertiser.

Here’s what we know so far from InDaily’s reporting about the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Caution: Conditions and prices are subject to change without notice and, on past experience with major projects, they’ll definitely change.

The government will demolish the 10 buildings at the state heritage-listed Thebarton police barracks adjacent to Bonython Park to build a nine-to-10-storey hospital.

The Premier argues the former Marshall Government’s plan to locate the hospital on the railyards site between the new RAH and the SAHMRI cheese-grater would leave both the new WCH and the RAH squeezed for future expansion.

It tells us the cost has blown out from the previous estimate of $1.95 billion to $3-$3.2 billion. The government says estimates for building on the Liberals’ preferred railyards site had already blown out by $850 million to $2.8 billion.

These are all rubbery figures. If the government thinks it can build a new hospital for around $3-and-a-bit billion, let’s round it off to an even $3.5-4 billion by the mooted 2030-31 completion date.

And keep in mind that since the new RAH’s opening in 2017, taxpayers have been paying $1 million a day in operating costs to the consortium that built the hospital – and will continue doing so, every day, for the next 24 years.

Strangely, both major parties have ruled out continuing to upgrade the existing WCH at North Adelaide, even though it continues its fine track record of providing excellent clinical care on its existing site.

Why not simply annex Kermode Street on its northern side and expand over it?

London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, or GOSH for short, has been treating sick children since it opened in 1852 with 10 beds.

It has been extensively redeveloped on its existing site and now sees around 600 children a day from London and across the UK. It has a world-class reputation and ranks as one of the world’s largest heart transplant centres for children. All this from a hospital squeezed into a city of 9.5 million people. What do they know that we don’t?

By planning to demolish the Thebarton police barracks, the Malinauskas Government is trashing a clear election promise it made to the heritage lobby.

A month before the election, the now Deputy Premier Susan Close told a National Trust “protection of heritage places” forum that Labor would introduce special legislation to protect, not demolish, important heritage places.

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“Labor has absolutely no intention of knocking over any state heritage place,” Close told the forum.

Technically, she wasn’t fibbing. They’re not knocking over any heritage place, they’re knocking over 10.

Can you imagine this government trying that caper on with any of its commitments to the precious Shoppies Union?

Premier Malinauskas argues the police site’s heritage status “is more a function of the fact that it is an early police barracks … rather than being a building of extraordinary architectural significance”.

“The Thebarton police barracks is not Bonython Hall,” he says. “It’s not an iconic stunning building on North Terrace.”

If he really believes this, it displays a distorted, some might call it ignorant, understanding of the delight and complexity of our built heritage.

If push came to shove between the 1917 barracks, including the police greys grazing under the adjacent olive trees, and boring Bonython Hall, I’d take the barracks any day.

The Premier, displaying all the subtlety of Whelan the Wrecker, now wants parliament to rubber stamp legislation to speed the process.

Describing it as a “binary choice”, he says it will be a “clear choice here for everybody in the parliament to make”.

“Do you choose political expediency? Or do you choose the long-term interests of the health system, particularly women and children?” he said.

Nothing in politics is ever a “binary choice” because good policy isn’t a computer game: it should navigate between the zeroes and ones, the yeses and noes.

When it comes to navigating the politics of a new hospital, it’s hard work separating the sheep from the goats.

Matthew Abraham’s political column is published on Fridays.

Matthew can be found on Twitter as @kevcorduroy. It’s a long story.

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