By RYAN COLSEY
Frome is a mid-north regional electorate in the South Australian House of Assembly.
Its boundaries stretch from Hamley Bridge in the south to Port Pirie in the north and encompass other regional towns including Clare, Balaklava and Crystal Brook.
Redistributions from the Electoral Commission of South Australia saw Frome lose the Port Broughton, Snowtown and Gladstone regions while gaining Hamley Bridge and Owen.
Frome has been held by Independent and Minister of Regional Development and Local Government, Geoff Brock, since 2009.
If Mr Brock retains his seat on March 17, he could hold the balance of power in the elected government.
However, voting trends from 2014 State election suggest the boundary changes, as well as Frome’s history as a stronghold for conservatives, will marginally push the seat closer to the Liberals and away from Mr Brock.
No Labor candidate has held the seat since 1970, although in 2010 Labor led the two-party preferred vote against the Liberals.
In previous elections, preferencing played a key role in deciding who won the seat and this is expected to be the case this time around.
Frome is notable for being held by long-serving incumbents, including former Liberal Premier Rob Kerin from 1993 to 2008.
Mr Kerin’s retirement from politics in 2008 led to a by-election the following year, which Mr Brock won despite winning only 23.6 per cent of the primary vote, with Labor preferences pushing him over the line.
Since then he has survived two further elections in 2010 and 2014, each time increasing his voting numbers.
Before entering politics, Mr Brock served as the Mayor of the Port Pirie Regional Council from 2003 until 2009.
In 2017 the State Government conducted a series of visits, exploring issues affecting regional communities.
Input into the report was provided by residents, farmers, industry and businesses, and councils and community groups.
The Country Cabinet report outlined key issues in Frome which included energy costs and security, transport infrastructure and a reliable water supply for the region’s agriculture and viticulture industries.
Social issues, such as access to hospitals, mental health services and childcare and aged care facilities featured prominently in the report.
Also of concern was the growing use of methamphetamine in the region.
Employment and underemployment, especially among youths, was seen as a contributing factor to many of the region’s social issues.
Census data from 2016 revealed the median age of the population in Frome is six years higher than the state average.
The proportion of people aged between 20 and 29 is 9.7 per cent, compared with a statewide average of 12.8 per cent.
The $600 million Nyrstar smelter redevelopment opened in January and secured 700 jobs for the Port Pirie region, with the State Government underwriting the project for $291 million.
The industry is an important part of the local economy, with 4.8 per cent of all workers in the area working in smelting and refining industries, compared to the 0.1 per cent state average.
Mr Brock’s strong history with the area is due to his work at the smelter for over three decades.
Challenging Mr Brock are four candidates: Kendall Jackson of the Liberal Party, Annette Elliot of the Labor Party, Paul Birkwood of The Greens and Cat Connor of the Dignity Party.
Port Pirie councillor Mrs Jackson has the best chance of unseating the incumbent as she leads in the primary voting.
She previously contested the seat in 2014, winning 35.9 per cent of the primary vote and nearly 10 per cent less than Mr Brock.
A former rural journalist with the ABC, she owns a small business in the area and has been pitching to local business owners.
Ms Elliot of the Labor Party is a retired social worker who is campaigning on the issue of domestic violence.
She came to public attention when she founded the State’s first women’s refuge in 1974 and has written on the subject of domestic violence.
She previously contested the Legislative Council in 2014 as an independent, earning 0.22 per cent of the vote.
Originally from Canada, Mr Birkwood of The Greens is an agriculture enthusiast and supports self-sustained farming.
He faces an uphill battle to get votes, with The Greens only winning 2.5 per cent of the vote in the electorate in 2014.
Dignity Party’s Ms Connor is an aged-care worker who wants to see an increase in aged-care workers through more government funding.
She is the first Dignity candidate to contest Frome and has said she would like to see more access ramps and accessible toilets in the area.
The February YouGov Galaxy Polling showed a 44–36 lead to the Liberals over Mr Brock in the primary vote, but a 52–48 lead to Mr Brock after preferences.
If Mr Brock retains Frome as expected, he has indicated he would be open to working with any of the major parties in the event of a hung parliament.
Image Source: Geoff Brock