Chairman of MVGWTA, Dudley Brown's speech to City of Onkparinga

Dudley at TEDx.

BROWN: I would like to make the first of a few extraordinary claims tonight.

The first is that this beautiful new map on the wall is the finest geology map of any wine region in the world. Each of the different colors represents a different geological formation between 2 million and a nearly a billion years old in our region. Each of these imparts different flavors to grapes and creates diversity that most regions dream about.

My second claim is that this very unique geology is the foundation of what makes the McLaren Vale wine region so special on the world stage.

My third claim is that your decision regarding Seaford Heights is not a decision of local importance. It is of international importance.

Whether you know it or not, there are wine journalists and bloggers and consumers and wine tourists worldwide watching what happens tonight.

There’s an old saying in politics that where you stand depends on where you sit.

As Councillors from all parts of the city and as grape growers, winemakers and tourism operators in the McLaren vale wine region, we typically sit in different places.

However, in decision-making, we all try address the same three things: facts, context and process. I would like the council to respectfully consider all three from where our 500 members sit.

First the facts:

The McLaren Vale wine region’s borders are recognized by international treaty to be roughly contiguous with the borders of the City of Onkaparinga. Like you, we represent the entire city of Onkaparinga and not just the town of McLaren Vale.

Part of our charter is to maintain and preserve the rural amenity of our region for future generations to enjoy.

The grape industry of McLaren Vale contributes average annual revenues of approximately $80 million to the local economy. It employs sustainably managed and renewable water for over 95% of its irrigation needs while employing over 700 people on a full-time basis. Another 300-500 people are engaged as a second source of income and many more on a contract or part time basis.

The wine industry of McLaren Vale accounts for over 10% of the national wine output by value, employs over 2000 people full time and contributes $700 million per year in revenues.

The tourism industry of the McLaren Vale area just within the Willunga Basin contributes $160 million per year to the local economy comprising over 240 different tourism businesses in accommodation, food, wine, arts, transportation and other areas.

Any conservative multiplier would suggest that our industries support another 3000 jobs locally and another 3000 across the state.

McLaren Vale is consistently recognized by key media such as Australian Gourmet Traveler and Delicious as the number one wine and food region in Australia.

It has the #1 regional restaurant in Australia at Fino, it is the #1 region in Australia for local produce, the home of the best wine list in South Australia at the Victory, the host of Australia’s richest landscape art prize and the most valuable vineyard land in Australia.

Now some context and a few more facts:

When the planning decisions for the proposed Seaford Heights suburb were made between the 1960’s and early last decade, the McLaren Vale wine industry was:

a) Spread out with many vineyards in the northern half of the current City of Onkaparinga

b) Much less intensive in nature relative to other crops

b) Less than 10% of its current size economically

c) Insignificant in terms of tourism

Since that time, a large portion of the historic viticultural areas in the northern part of the city have been developed for suburban development with the oldest vineyard in Australia bulldozed with this Council’s acquiescence at Reynella last year.

At the same time, the southern part of the region has been much more intensively planted to vines. This part of the city is now, by far, the most intensively planted wine region (relative to other crops) in Australia.

The result has been an economic explosion of wine production and tourism in the region. McLaren Vale now accounts for: 25% of state grape and wine production by value, the highest per litre price for exports of any region in Australia, the highest total value exports of any wine region in Australia, the most successful job creator relative to water and grape inputs of any wine region in Australia and is the largest contributor to tourism of any SA region outside of Adelaide.

Moreover, as McLaren Vale is the highest cost region in SA for wine production, the economy is increasingly dependent on tourism and cellar door visitation as a path to profitability. Evidence of this is that cellar door numbers in the region have expanded from about thirty ten years ago to over eighty at present. This success story has evolved despite major wine companies withdrawing over 50% of their grape consumption and production from our high cost region over the past decade.

The result of this adaptive response to adversity is a wonderful and diverse set of tourism experiences that enable visitors to return many times and always have new experiences available to them. This is the exact type of organic economic development that state and local governments should be protecting and promoting rather than threatening with unsuitable development.

No other industry or area located in the City of Onkaparinga can list so many “best in Australia” gongs. None of this was true ten or twenty or thirty years ago when plans were originally made for Seaford Heights.

The Seaford Heights development is located at the entrance to the gateways to the tourism regions of McLaren Vale, the Fleurieu Peninsula and Kangaroo Island. The land adjoins the beginning of the vineyards of the town of McLaren Vale on the Victor Harbor Road and the open spaces of South Road. It is the point where suburbia fades away and the holiday experience begins for more people than any other region in South Australia.

Any development that occurs here should be designed from the context of the site’s importance as a place of transition from the suburbs to a major wine and food tourism region not as an extension of the suburbs.

Further, the site should also leverage the assets and possibilities presented by its proximity to an international airport for tourists, the city of Adelaide, major universities, one of the most economically important wine regions in Australia, a two-way freeway and a reliable supply of reclaimed water. Aside from the freeway, the current plan for this site ignores all of these assets.

For this reason alone, the Council should reject the current DPA as a hasty and inappropriate outcome for the entire region.

My final really big claim is that this site is the viticultural equivalent of Olympic Dam.

The 650 million year old geology of the land in question is possibly the most important and valuable unplanted site for viticulture in the world.

How do we know this? Because 1) the PIRSA geologists who mapped this site are some of the best in the world 2) this map tells us how old the geology at this site is and 3) old rocks produce great wines.

The only place where there is an exposed geology of at least 650 million years old in the entire world of viticulture is in pockets of the Greenock area in the Barossa and the Polish Hill area in Clare Valley. Vines in these areas have produced more perfect wine scores ever received in Australia many times over that of any other area of Australia combined. Even McLaren Vale.

There is nowhere else with geology this old or of this size exposed in a suitable viticulture area anywhere in the world.

Despite this information being available from PIRSA, the DPA’s brief section on soil and geology section simply says that the site has gray brown loams suitable for foundations and gardens.

For this reason alone, the Council should reject the current DPA as a hasty and inappropriate outcome for the entire region.

Serendipitously, there is also an ample supply of reclaimed water for irrigation located directly across the Victor Harbor Road. If this parcel was developed as agricultural land, effluent to the sea could be reduced by as much as 800 million litres per year or 20% of the total remaining outflow of pollutants into the Gulf. This is not mentioned anywhere in the planning documents either. How can a Council that is a partner in the $120 million dollar waterproofing the south strategy that supplies this water not know this or mention it in a DPA?

The process employed by the City with regard to the planning and public consultation about the Seaford Heights Development has been badly flawed.

Released on 13 May 2010, the Council’s DPA, listed those with whom the Council undertook to consult with on a statutory basis. It also committed to consult with “relevant community and business groups active within the City of Onkaparinga.”

At no point did the MVGWTA receive any formal or informal communication from the City regarding the consultation process for Seaford Heights.

We were completely unaware of this process until the 7th of July. Only on the 9th of July were we able to make our members aware of this situation. Submissions closed that day. As our Council and city staff did not consider us “relevant”, our members did not have the same opportunity to respond as other stakeholders.

How can the largest employer in the city that is acknowledged to be the best in Australia in so many ways, that contributes a billion dollars of year in revenues in the mostly highly taxed industry in Australia that also physically adjoins the property in question not considered ‘relevant’ by either staff or Council? “ We believe that this is more than an oversight.

The lack of relevance of McLaren Vale and the food and wine tourism economy of the region isn’t just confined to the DPA’s invitation list however.

In the many hundreds of pages of planning and research documents that I read - including the DPA - from surveys of job location and creation to zoning and building densities – nowhere did I find the words “McLaren Vale,” “wine and grape industry” or “tourism” anywhere.

Nowhere in the employment assessment did the research mention the words McLaren Vale or wine industry or tourism – it only looked north and west of Seaford Heights and to other industries like retail. It turns out we supposedly don’t have enough grocery stores despite there being two large ones around the corner with an empty parking lot.

Nowhere did I find any risk assessment of the impact on the $160 million per year tourism industry.

Nowhere did I find an assessment of the risk posed to an $800 million dollar per year grape and wine industry that depends on tourism for profitability.

Nowhere did I find any reference to the authoritative research of Kym Anderson from the University of Adelaide on the economic impact of Australian wine regions undertaken last year.

Nowhere did I find any assessment of the risk or impact posed to the locally owned Main Street merchants across the Willunga Basin by the proposed retail development at Seaford Heights.

Nowhere did I find any reference to the community consultation undertaken by the City in 2006 with McLaren Vale to regarding the maintenance of the rural amenity and character of our region.

In short, there was absolutely no consideration of the impact of this proposed development on our region or industries or alternative uses at any point in the planning and consultation process. The “oversights” in this DPA are entirely too many and too serious to be simply brushed off. Remarkably, the city conducted an appropriate community consultation process about the location of a Leopard tank in a park but not about a new suburb with the population the size of McLaren Vale.

For this reason alone, the Council should reject the current DPA as a hasty and inappropriate outcome for the city.

Tonight, we are asking for three things from the Council:

  • 1) That you reject the recommendation to extend the DPA process until January 2011 as it can only result in tinkering with a fundamentally flawed plan that is inappropriate to the site in question and does not meet Council’s own objectives.
  • 2) That you take a non-binding vote as to who on the Council supports or does not support this current DPA as it stands. You owe the voting public the respect of standing to be counted on this issue prior to the election.
  • 3) That you vote to abandon the current DPA process altogether and that you inform the Minister that any new DPA for this site needs to be undertaken with the full involvement of the Council, the community and industries affected as part of a long term strategic plan for the Willunga Basin that includes the LMC sites at Aldinga, Bowering Hill and Sellick’s Beach.

While it is easy to blame the State or the developers or the staff for the squeeze you find yourself in tonight, you can put them all on notice that it is the elected officials of this City who take responsibility for well considered and appropriate outcomes for our beautiful region.

A lot more people than our members are watching your decision tonight. The world is watching.


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