If South Australia was a company then its board of development is devising a new economic strategy. A SWOT analysis has already identified the issues and the next stage is implementing a plan that wins the hearts and minds of South Australians. John Arbouw reports.
A story in The Australian on August 9 labelled Robert Champion de Crespigny and Dr Roger Sexton as the "two Rambos" who have been given the task of turning the so-called rust belt state into the economic and lifestyle envy of the rest of Australia. The problem the two Rambos face is how to change an economic culture that was fashioned in the 50s but irrelevant today and invigorate a lifestyle that reached its peak in the 70s and has been steadily declining since. De Crespigny is the former head of Normandy Mining, the company he set up 16 years ago and which grew to become Australia's premier gold mining company, capitalised at more than $5 billion. Normandy was sold to Newcrest Mining in February and Newcrest is now the largest gold producer in the world. He is chairman of the Economic Development Board (EDB) while Sexton, a former investment banker with both private and public sector experience, is the chief executive of the Office of Economic Development, the agency that will implement the strategies coming out of the EDB.
They do not face an insurmountable task. And, South Australia is far from an economic basket case. As with the rest of Australia, the state has been winning its share of rewards from the economic boom. The real problem they face is the certainty that future economic growth cannot be sustained by the economy and industries on which the state currently depends. Nowhere is this more evident than in the demographics of Adelaide's population. The aging baby boomers may love the wine, arts, food and lifestyle of what is undoubtably a lovely city but its young people are moving interstate in increasing numbers to look for better career opportunities. "We have two jobs to do," de Crespigny says. "The first is to provide a status report in September/October this year and in March next year we will produce a plan on how to go forward. Even in the status report we will start talking about what we think are the key issues or pathfinders that are going to be needed to make changes. "There are a number of things we are doing at the moment so it is not one of those concepts of having a plan and saying that it will be all right in five or 10 years' time. It is important to have a roadmap in going forward."
A plan or a roadmap is important, but in order for the ordinary voter to want to take this journey with the government, it requires a commitment that has been lacking since the days of Playford and Dunstan. Is this part of the plan? "One of the issues that we are addressing is why there has been a disconnect between politicians and the voters believing the dream and having the confidence in it," de Crespigny says. The research I have seen says that people under 40 are absolutely focused on South Australia moving ahead. They want their businesses to go ahead and they want to live here. "Above 40, you have a different group of people that simply don't want the place changed. They think Adelaide is the world but the problem is that the rest of the world doesn't see it that way. If we grow at 1 percent we are in fact going backward. "From what I have seen there has been some excellent work done in terms of strategic plans in the past but they weren't digging deep enough. For example, there have been reports on education that said this area should be rationalised and everyone agreed but nothing happened.
"What we intend to do is not raise these issues unless the government and hopefully the Opposition signs on and says yes to the budget that is required. As well the bureaucracy that is required in those areas must be on a board and each of these areas must have a champion that ensures this all happens." The task of implementing this blueprint falls to Dr Sexton and his team. His view is that if countries such as Malaysia can successfully revive their economies using such plans then why not South Australia? As part of the Rambo team he believes it is vital, in the first instance, to change the image, held by business leaders and decision makers in the eastern States of South Australia, as a "rust bucket" state. As the implementation arm of the strategy, the Office of Economic Development, including the Office of Regional Affairs, will be responsible for both strategic investment and service delivery. It will ensure that South Australia's regional affairs can be incorporated into the overall economic development strategies.
"We must build a dynamic, knowledge based economy built around competitive, export oriented industries," Dr Sexton says. "For the art of the possible, we need to look no further than Singapore, which achieved a 40-fold increase in gross domestic product per capita from $US500 to more than $US20,000 over a 40-year period. Its growth is knowledge-based and export-based." He recognises that the art of the possible will need to be firmly based on the practical improvements of the State's infrastructure including transport, power and ports. The redevelopment of Port Adelaide has started and new gas projects and pipelines will hopefully solve the power problem. The wildcard solution may well come from the hot dry rock geothermal resource in South Australia to be developed by Geodynamics. The company has just completed a $12 million capital raising to start work on the geothermal resource. There are a number of areas where both luck and hard word will be required. The Adelaide-Darwin rail link will soon be joined and will provide the opportunity for further mining ventures.
The exploration and development possible as a result of the railway may not be as huge as the Olympic Dam project, but at least the possibility exists. And turning the possible into reality is the task that the EDB, as the champion of change, has set for itself. The Rambo description of de Crespigny and Sexton may prove accurate. After all the Rambo story is about a champion who overcomes difficult situations to triumph in the end . . .
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