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Like a man trapped by a tiger, Premier in denial over SA woes


South Australia is fast becoming a failed state as unemployment soars, mining and construction companies circle the wagons and young people flock to Sydney and Melbourne, says Malcolm King.

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Between the policy and action lies the shadow of government incompetence and learnt helplessness.

SA will lose 15-20,000 jobs as Holden and its supply chain of 700 firms fold by 2017.

The state is carrying 69,700 unemployed people (according to the ABS’s dodgy methodology of defining working one hour a week as being employed) – 41,000 of these are men. Another 84,000 are under-employed. There are also around 20,000 people who aren’t on the dole and have simply given up looking for work.

The promise of the future was not meant to be like a John Steinbeck novel, as thousands of people in the state’s north and Adelaide’s northern and western suburbs are shunted out of work towards a dust bowl of recruiters, trainers and penury.

As a child raised in Adelaide, I remember it as an exciting cosmopolitan city. Now, 45 years later, it has turned its back on the outside world. The only light on the hill you can see from here is from those who can afford the electricity.

According to the Department of Employment, unemployment has skyrocketed by 14,500 people over the last year. Yet media reports over the same period put job losses at 20,000. The labour force methodology understates the true number of job losses in SA.

Local businesses and lobby groups – who until recently were hard line, tax slashing deregulationists – now want the state government to pump prime the economy through infrastructure spends. One minute, they’re a hairy chested Milton Friedman, the next, a wimpy Maynard Keynes. Alas, the time to act was 25 years ago.

Apart from the headline job losses in manufacturing, mining and construction, thousands of men and women in the SME sector have been laid off. As a professional writer, I interview them every day. Twenty workers gone here, another 10 gone there. They’re salesmen, tradesmen and office workers. They’ve got kids in school. The house is only half paid off. They’ve got bills to pay. Some go on the dole. Many don’t and therefore don’t show up in the unemployment numbers.

There are still those who think that the jobs crisis in SA is short-term and once spending picks up, all will be well. Wrong.

We are witnessing the dismantling of the old manufacturing and construction-based economy – two pillars that have supported the state since World War II. There are few jobs to absorb these massive loses.

Premier Jay Weatherill is like a man trapped by a tiger, armed with only with a media release, who is trying to remain upbeat.

“All of these job losses that we’ve seen announced,” he told InDaily recently.

“… We’ve created more jobs in the SA economy than the ones we’ve lost.”

Not true.  But as Kurt Vonnegut said, true terror is waking up to discover that your high school class is running the country. Political management in South Australia is not much above a Twitter feed. How did it get like this?

The government’s employment strategy has been like a ritual rain dance. It has no effect on the weather that followed, but those who engage in it think it does. Moreover, much of the advice related to government strategy is directed at improving the dancing, not the weather.

Now is the time to prepare for battle as nothing can be done in the short term to stop the jobs losses or create news jobs. Commonwealth, state government, charities and NGO agencies have less than 18 months to put in place emergency welfare provisions across the state. This should include the cessation of all skilled migrants for five years and emergency food and accommodation relief.

We need to establish large-scale food coops in Playford, Onkaparinga, Enfield and Port Adelaide. Workers getting termination payouts can get free advice from Financial Information Services Officers at Centrelink on paying off debt and making those hard earned dollars last.

The most important factor to weather mass unemployment is to build community reciprocal relations. Joining clubs and ensuring one’s neighbours are all right is like tightly racking pool table bals with an A-frame. You can hit them hard and only one or two will dislodge. But if they are loose, the individual balls cannon in all directions.

This is the first time since federation when young people will inherit a state that is significantly worse off than when their parents took the reins in the 1970s and ’80s.

South Australia will pull through but by then, a new generation will be in power and they won’t make the mistake of dancing in the rain when action was needed.

Malcolm King works in generational change and is an Adelaide writer.


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