Table 29 wasn’t quite at the back of the Panorama Ballroom, but it wasn’t at the front, either.
It proved to be an unlikely location to uncover proof of the existence of parallel universes, right under our noses on North Terrace. Who would have guessed?
The observable universe has a diameter of 93 billion light years as the crow flies – or it could be infinite, which is my favourite theory – and contains between 200 billion and two trillion galaxies, give or take a billion.
Physicists now believe that because space is impossibly big it is likely it contains a universe, or several universes, running parallel to ours, either governed by the same laws of physics, or doing their own thing.
Do trams turn right from King William Street in one of these parallel universes? Surely they must.
My theory is that God created the universe, or universes, to prove he has a sense of humour.
But back to Table 29 in the Adelaide Convention Centre last Tuesday and the Australian Hotel Association’s annual President’s Christmas Lunch.
With the exception of the COVID lockdowns, the lunch is an unbroken Adelaide tradition since it began at The Feathers Hotel in 1960.
It celebrates the might of the pubs and hotels that employ 26,250 South Australians, almost all of them in decent, secure jobs.
It’s never a dull affair.
As the president, David Basheer, flagged to his guests, it is a time when the president is “afforded the luxury of offering governments some gratuitous advice”.
But first up was Premier Peter Malinauskas, dropping in on his way to catch a plane to Canberra for a meeting of the so-called national cabinet, where Premiers gang up and extort money from the federal government.
The ‘some people doing it tough’ line is evidence of a leader who either hasn’t got a clue how bad things are in his suburbs, or genuinely believes just ‘some people’ are doing it tough.
Listening to a Malinauskas speech, always silky smooth and off-the-cuff, reminds me of the former federal Labor Treasurer Paul Keating’s media conferences.
Keating wasn’t a glass-half-full kind of guy. He was just the full glass.
He argued inflation fuelled by a commodity boom was because “basically the glass is too full and the effervescence is spilling over the side”.
His national accounts were a “beautiful set of numbers” or his mini-budget would “bring home the bacon”.
Even his recession in the 1990s was “the recession we had to have”.
Leaving a Keating presser, you’d be convinced the sky was orange, not blue.
That’s a Malinauskas speech in a nutshell.
The Premier rattled off a string of economic indicators, from a record-low unemployment rate to an economy getting a tick from the big banks, once again trotting out the line that the rest of nation is finally paying attention to little old SA. No, they’re not, but carry on.
Not a mention of another record under his watch – ramping.
The latest stats released on Wednesday show his way of fixing ramping is to make it worse than it has ever been under any government.
And then, right toward the end, almost as an afterthought, he said this: “It would be naive if not reckless of me not to recognise there are some people in the community doing it tough.”
The “some people doing it tough” line is evidence of a leader who either hasn’t got a clue how bad things are in his suburbs, or genuinely believes just “some people” are doing it tough.
It’s a mantra repeated ad nauseam at state and federal levels.
A cheery Christmas leaflet from Steve Georganas, the federal Labor MP for Adelaide, dropped in our letterbox mid-week.
Georganos breezily writes that “for many families in Adelaide these are tough times”, he takes their struggles seriously and “I readily advocate on your behalf”.
Really? The main photo he chose for his glossy Chrissy pamphlet features him with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Senator Penny Wong, Premier Malinauskas and former MP Pat Farmer in his “Run for the Voice” T-shirt.
It’s a salute to the doomed Voice referendum that became a plebiscite on Labor being out of touch with the “tough times”, damaging a deeply worried nation.
So that is one universe, perhaps the safest universe for politicians in “tough times”.
For major employers like our pub and hospitality sector, the stars align very differently.
When David Basheer took to the podium, he unveiled the fraught universe that South Australia’s big and small are forced to navigate, zig-zagging through space junk of red tape and bureaucratic heavy-handedness.
It’s light years from the world as the Premier sees it.
Slamming rampant bureaucracy, Basheer pleaded for politicians to “intervene to curtail the unreasonable growth of regulation and compliance that is now an exhausting burden”.
“Our members are frustrated by the uncoordinated approach of local, state and federal agencies who seem incapable of even speaking to each other,” he said.
“Escalating obligations have left our family operators being asked to have a back office more resembling the size of BHP.”
He said while state and local governments ensured hotels had high food safety standards, federal agencies were now hopping in for a slice of the action.
In one bizarre example, he said the federal government now required highly qualified chefs – who may be famed leaders in their field – to do an eight-hour “food safety 101 course”.
As part of the course, they needed to upload a video of themselves washing their hands.
“Once uploaded, a public servant – probably working from the comfort of their own home – will assess if our chef’s hands are clean enough to return to the chargrill,” Basheer said.
“A further training course is required for any bar staff whose only food role may be to occasionally toast a pre-made cheese and tomato sandwich.”
In the Malinauskas universe, the rest of Australia is looking longingly at us.
In the Basheer universe, his industry is looking longingly at the “refreshing approach” of the Labor Government in NSW, cutting stifling red tape that Premier Chris Minns says has been “taking the fun out of Sydney”.
Basheer’s warning about the cost impact of banning gas cookers in pub kitchens – the “$40-dollar schnitty” – made the news.
But at its heart, this was a plea for governments at all levels to get their acts together, talk to each other and eliminate mind-boggling duplication and pettifogging bureaucratic overreach.
Chat to any business, from a tradie to a CEO, and they’ll all say the same: the bureaucrats have taken over, the tail is wagging the dog, the inmates are running the asylum.
“When state government legislation scrutinised by parliament does not suit the bureaucracy’s agenda, they turn to their new weapons – namely, ‘guidelines” and ‘codes of practice’,” the AHA stirrer-in-chief said.
This is a killer point.
The nation is still rolling its eyes at some of the mad, bureaucrat bastardry of the COVID pandemic. Health bureaucrats loved their COVID “guidelines” and applied them ferociously.
The final proof of the existence of a parallel universe came with the speech to the AHA lunch by Liberal leader David Speirs.
He began by stating that people didn’t know much about him so he’d tell us a bit about himself, which he proceeded not to do. He sledged one guest, Shoppies Union boss Josh Peak. Nobody laughed. He damned former Liberal Treasurer Rob Lucas with faint praise, implying his retirement had been a blessing for the party. He even said it takes a village to raise a child.
And then came the doozy.
Spruiking his party’s love of small business he declared: “I’m not interested in the big end of town.”
On what planet would a political leader say that at a lunch that is a celebration of the big end of town?
Is it any wonder that big business in this state deserted the Liberals and began knocking on the Malinauskas door well before his election victory?
Perhaps his speech was intended for a Christmas lunch on Planet Zork but found its way into our universe. They say the $40 schnitty on Zork is a cracker.
Matthew Abraham is InDaily’s political columnist. Matthew can be found on Twitter as @kevcorduroy. It’s a long story.