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“This is a nice city to live in, but lousy to do business in” … opinions shared by top SA business people more than 20 years ago are being echoed by their peers today, Richard Blandy finds.

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What do top business people in South Australia really think about the South Australian economy?

The quotes below are selected from more than 200 which were gathered 20 years ago in the course of interviews of top business people by a national consultancy firm.

Given in confidence, these comments are similar to what top South Australian business people say today about the SA economy (out of earshot of the Government, of course).

“The bulk of our new investment has been and will be outside this state because of an anti-business climate, cost disadvantages, a weak infrastructure and distance from the market.”

“If you operate somewhere else, South Australia is depressing.”

“Our share price rose immediately after we closed down our South Australian operation.”

“Economic prospects here are poorer than elsewhere in Australia. South Australia has a long way to go before we become competitive.”

“South Australia’s problems began 20 years ago. They are similar to the problems of ailing regions in the United States. They will take a long time to rectify.”

“The damage to South Australia has been done over 20 years. It will take that long to pull the economy back to good health.”

“South Australia has nothing to offer that is better than elsewhere in Australia or overseas, except the lifestyle.”

“We have repeatedly considered moving to Sydney. But we have stayed because of the lifestyle and because we simply like Adelaide.”

“The quality of life here helps us to attract top professionals.”

“The local universities are top assets in technical development.”

“When branches merge, South Australian branches are often ahead on R&D.”

“This is a nice city to live in, but lousy to do business in.”

“The average South Australian loves his good lifestyle and is more egalitarian than other Australians, but now realises that some bitter medicine has to be taken, if this state is not to go on a long downhill slide.”

“The small size of the state facilitates consensus, but that may be a consensus for inaction.”

“We had planned major investments in South Australia, but instead moved overseas because of indecisiveness in the administration and bureaucratic delays and difficulties. Overseas we were made welcome and can enjoy a low-tax regime.”

“To overcome the disadvantages of distance, location, small size and lack of critical mass, we need more and very clever economic reforms.”

“Too often in recent decades, past South Australian governments have been tempted by ‘painless’, ‘quick fix’ approaches to the economic development of the state. These approaches have often provided only transitory economic stimulus at the cost of mortgaging the state’s future.”

“The difficulty of getting licences has worsened. Business faces high compliance costs here.”

“We have often been given the run-around by bureaucrats. There are too many politically-minded and politically-motivated bureaucrats who believe the world ought to be another way than it actually is. But they apply their view regardless.”

“Many here believe that the government is needed to ‘civilise’ business, that its actions are inherently evil and only the public service can control this.”

“The belief seems widespread in the administration that businessmen are crooks. There is a significant misunderstanding of the importance of wealth creation within the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy here has little understanding of business.”

“Many South Australians have been educated to believe that economic development is at odds with maintaining the quality of life. They expect the destruction of the environment and greedy businessmen to rip off excessive profits at the expense of the people, if the government does not intervene all the time. The public and the bureaucrats need to realise that economic development is essential for maintaining the quality of life.”

“Government regulations and red tape are a major problem in South Australia. Planning approvals and industrial relations are the biggest obstacles, but the problem is pervasive. We are expected to conform to a myriad of regulations whether they make sense or not, and the public administration is anti-business, uncooperative and inflexible when confronting business. These attitudes are not always deliberate, but reflect a lack of awareness of what it takes to be competitive nowadays.”

“Government regulations have to take the blame for many impediments to productivity and quality improvement.”

“There are many public servants who are anti-business, they build an obstacle course which has to be run to gain approval for a venture.”

“We agreed to buy a neighbouring industrial block. We thought this would be a simple shift of a boundary line. Two years and $2 million down the track we are still trying to get government approval.”

“We could not start our business here now. There are too many administrative and legal restrictions in South Australia. That’s why people go elsewhere.”

Richard Blandy is an Adjunct Professor in the Business School at the University of South Australia and a weekly contributor to InDaily.

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