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What South Australia deserves and needs

Opinion

South Australia desperately needs better solutions to its economic problems. A good start, writes Ian Markos, would be for our elected representatives to start working together.

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You can’t deny it: last week’s unemployment figures hurt.

No other state recorded a rise in its unemployment rate, and no other state even came close to South Australia’s 7.3 per cent headline rate. But there’s more pain the closer you look.

Youth unemployment is the highest it has been for almost 20 years. Data from April shows 18.7 per cent of South Australia’s 15 to 24-year-olds are unemployed, or about 27,600 of our youth. You have to look back to the early months of 1998 to find a figure that’s higher.

At the risk of creating even more gloom, it’s worthwhile pointing out that the October closure of Holden’s is likely to push this further, leaving the possibility of creating a new generation of unemployed.

Every South Australian politician – federal, state and local – should read those facts every morning and ask themselves: what can I do today to help build South Australia’s existing businesses, create new industries and make the state a place in which people want to live and invest?

The first step should be embarrassingly simple: work together. Politicians may be elected to represent a ward, a suburb, or the state, but their very mandate demands that they work to help the people who elected them. And according to recent data, at least 7.3 per cent of them – or almost one-fifth if you’re aged 15 to 24 – need that help.

Young South Australians need career options to stay in South Australia. Apprentice numbers have halved in recent years as the cost of employing them has become more expensive than hiring a tradie. We need to find ways of making it easier for group training schemes to help businesses say “yes” to hard-working apprentices, giving them reasons to stay and build a career in our state.

Businesses, also, need reasons to invest, and infrastructure spending is a clear case in point.

There is a conflict over whether key South Australian infrastructure projects are ready to go. The solution: create a 90-day project involving the State Government, Infrastructure Australia and industry to ensure business cases are shovel-ready. Yes, these projects will create much-needed construction jobs – but more importantly, businesses will use faster roads to avoid traffic snarls and get to more jobs on time, they will invest in development opportunities along faster train and tram-lines, and the community will benefit from new social infrastructure that is recognised as being among the best in the nation.

Help us create jobs, help us build new industries, and make South Australia the place to be and grow.

On the home front, the present chief executive of the Department of State Development, Mark Duffy, has urged us all to embrace South Australia’s reputation for housing affordability. But there’s a problem: according to a recent Bendigo and Adelaide Bank report, it’s more expensive to live in South Australia than it is anywhere bar the East Coast – and we’re only marginally cheaper than Queensland. Raising the threshold of stamp duty to the median Adelaide house price for first home buyers will not only give them a well-deserved break, but will provide relief against paying 30 years of interest on a State Government tax.

We have a great state. Let’s give people a reason to invest in it as a home.

The State Government has an excellent opportunity to commit to a new start for the state in the coming budget. We are currently in the absurd position where we are focusing on a “Simplification Day” to cut business red tape while departments and other bodies create new auditing and reporting systems that compete, complicate and add to existing audit systems. We urgently need to review every line of Government spending; after all, every dollar of tax paid by a business is one dollar less spent on expanding that same business and the jobs that follow.

But the area that too often remains untouched is local government. Businesses and individuals pay rates. They pay development fees. They negotiate planning approvals and spend money on understanding the application of historical zones rather than investing in jobs and homes on the ground.

We need an urgent review of local government. We’re not talking here about the impact of golf club fees and trips to China. Instead, we’re talking about making a difference: how can local government best empower businesses to create jobs? If that means a local government coalition (shared services and regulatory systems, for example), good. If it means fewer councils creating new rules for businesses, good. But let’s get back to the basic point: if you’re elected, you owe a duty to South Australians, and now is the time to focus on that duty.

The federal budget raised concerns about whether South Australia had received its fair share of infrastructure funding. The state budget will no doubt raise similar concerns.

Industry has a clear message: we want to create jobs. Help us create jobs, help us build new industries, and make South Australia the place to be and grow.

We deserve that commitment from all elected officials. Indeed, looking a recent data, we desperately need that commitment.

Ian Markos is chief executive officer of Master Builders SA.

 

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