Come on Premier, you’ve got nothing to lose by talking to people

Corporations are increasingly distancing themselves from the people who rely on their services, but politicians like Premier Peter Malinauskas should be very wary of following their lead, writes Matthew Abraham.

Sep 15, 2023, updated Sep 15, 2023
River Road protesters at a photo-op. The Premier wouldn't come to them, so one of their group gatecrashed his media opportunity.

River Road protesters at a photo-op. The Premier wouldn't come to them, so one of their group gatecrashed his media opportunity.

In a land that time forgot, nobody had mobile phones, not even Australian Prime Ministers.

The first commercially available mobile phone was launched in Australia in 1987. Because of its size and weight, it was dubbed The Brick, ran on the sparse 1G network and retailed for an eye-watering $4250.

In that same year, I found myself sitting in the back of “Air Force One” covering Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s trip to India, Pakistan, Thailand and South Korea.

Not for the first time in my career as a journalist, I felt completely out-classed and out of my depth, travelling with a who’s who of the Canberra Press Gallery with the likes of Niki Savva, Michelle Grattan, Peter Harvey and Wally Brown.

In India, to file copy back to Australia, we had to line up in a narrow corridor outside our hotel’s international telephone call room. When a man swung open the upper part of a petition over a wooden counter, it revealed a room full of sari-clad women operating black telephones. We’d hand our office telephone number to the man, who’d hand it to one of the women, who’d dial the number and put the call through to a handset on the countertop.

At the time, this arrangement seemed hilarious. How quaint. How ridiculously bureaucratic.

Thirty-six years later, after a week trying to make human contact with the elusive, people-shy NBN – the National Broadband Network – it doesn’t seem so silly at all.

At least we could see that real people were arranging our phone calls, not robots who communicate with one-way text messages.

Our NBN box went the fritz after a two-hour power blackout in the wee hours about a week ago.

Customers can’t call the NBN direct to rectify faults but, under one of the dopiest business models ever invented, must go through their internet provider, who may or may not contact the NBN, otherwise known as “the wholesaler”. They can’t even bring themselves to call the NBN the NBN.

Your call is important to us. Only kidding. We really, really want you to leave us alone.

Customers then receive a text from the NBN informing them to be home, in our case from the hours of 8am to noon, on a day that was convenient to the NBN but not necessarily for us.

“Your attendance is required,” the text instructs. What is this, Buckingham Palace?

On the allotted morning, around 10 am, we then received a text, from either our internet provider, or the NBN, it was hard to tell, informing us that our issue “appears to be resolved so the ticket is now closed”. This is NBN speak for suffer in your jocks, we’re not coming. Only it hadn’t been resolved.

When I called our internet provider – the same one that is junking its email service without first asking its customers if this is a good idea – they apologised, promised our “ticket” had been “escalated” and we had been assigned to a “case manager”.


To cut to the chase, after a couple of days, the flashing red light on the NBN box turned solid blue. It had fixed itself, probably out of boredom.

This is a modern disease. Businesses big and small will do anything to avoid face-to-face contact with their customers and have a morbid fear of even talking to them.

Your call is important to us. Only kidding. We really, really want you to leave us alone.

Last Sunday, a resident of Hahndorf’s River Road gatecrashed a media conference being given by Premier Peter Malinauskas to spruik an affordable housing plan.

The River Road residents are seriously cranky over his government’s sudden decision to divert roughly 130 heavy freight trucks a day from Hahndorf’s main street to rumble along River Road. Who can blame them?

A fiery Hahndorf resident has ambushed the premier at a media conference, furious over plans for a truck detour near her home, warning of fatalities. 7NEWS Adelaide at 6pm | @AKunowski #saparli #7NEWS

— 7NEWS Adelaide (@7NewsAdelaide) September 10, 2023

They weren’t consulted about a decision that will seriously impact their lives. The Premier has refused an invitation to meet them and go for a spin along the narrow, snaking country road he thinks will make a beaut heavy truck route instead of the smarter, safer but more expensive option of a proper bypass.

So, if the Premier wouldn’t come to River Road, River Road’s Emma Smith came to him, politely but firmly confronting his happy little media conference.

The Premier’s media minder, former ABC political journalist Nick Harmsen, tried to head Emma off, telling her: “This is a media conference, sorry. It’s for invited media.”

An emotional Emma bravely persisted, telling the Premier she fears for her children’s lives as their bedrooms are just metres from the road.

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“We have great concerns about our safety,” she said. “There will, there will, mark my words, be a fatality on that road.”

The Premier, listening politely, said: “Well, I hope not”.

“Well, you obviously haven’t seen it,” she replied.

If you live on River Road, hope doesn’t cut the mustard.

On the brink of tears, Emma said: “My biggest fear, a logging truck going through my kids’ bedroom wall”.

Harmsen recorded the exchange, for posterity, one guesses.

The River Road protestors had wanted the Premier to meet with them and hop on a truck for a ride along the route, but Transport Minister Tom Koutsantonis dismissed this as a “cheap stunt”.

A cheap stunt? Like the cheap stunt that saw Peter Malinauskas strip down to his boardies and plunge shirtless into a pool during a media conference at the Adelaide Aquatic Centre?

That single cheap stunt effectively swung the 2022 election momentum 180 degrees in the ALP’s direction and the Marshall Government never got it back.

Minister Koutsantonis has recently taken to calling Vincent Tarzia, his shadow Opposition counterpart, “my young friend”. Not only is it a patronising put down, it is a cheap shot.

An image posted to the River Road & Strathalbyn Road Traffic Group Facebook page.

During the 1997 state election campaign, another cheap stunt by Labor put a nasty dent in Liberal Premier John Olsen’s bumper bar.

A cunning Labor strategist, the late and much-missed Randall Ashbourne, arranged life-sized cardboard cut-outs of Olsen and the colleague he shafted to grasp the top job, Dean Brown, on every seat in the House of Assembly, emphasising the perils of a Liberal landslide.

Throughout that same election campaign, Olsen was dogged by parents protesting about his government’s decision to close the Croydon Primary School.

The Save Croydon Primary School protestors had advance notice of all the Premier’s media campaign engagements – tipped off by the ever-helpful media or Labor, or both.

The media lapped it up. It was a small issue, just one primary school, but the protestors loomed large on news bulletins, making it seem like the Olsen Government was running from voters, with its fingers jammed in its ears.

If it’s so safe, Premier Malinauskas has nothing to fear from going for a ride on a logging truck along River Road. He has nothing to fear from talking to the families frightened for their safety.

He could turn on the charm, they could pop the kettle on and crack the Monte Carlos.

What’s he got to lose? Together they might nut out a better solution. That’s what often happens when people talk, face-to-face.

Premier, your attendance is required.

It has to beat telling the Emmas of this state to press 1, followed by the hash key.

Matthew Abraham is InDaily’s political columnist. Matthew can be found on X (Twitter) as @kevcorduroy. It’s a long story.

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