Christopher Pyne: We have an opportunity to make something positive out of what has been such a trial this year
After COVID-19, South Australia will be the place to be. It’ll be the perfect opportunity to attract new migrants, welcome back expatriates and grow our population, writes Christopher Pyne.
South Australia’s economy has been sluggish for many decades, right back to the 1970s when Don Dunstan became premier and while he jazzed up the state’s sleepy town image, he had only a desultory plan for economic jobs and growth.
In 1967, the year of my birth (oh happy day), Adelaide was the third largest city in Australia by population, after Sydney and Melbourne.
Today, only 53 years later (for those who need help with their maths) Adelaide sits behind those two cities and has been overtaken by Brisbane and Perth.
In 1987, South Australians made up 8.5 per cent of the population of Australia. By 2017, that number was down to 7 per cent.
When I was first elected to the seat of Sturt in 1993, South Australia had 13 seats in the House of Representatives in Canberra. The same number as Western Australia.
Today, we have 10 and Western Australia has 16.
The Sandgropers have been growing in power and influence in national politics while the Croweaters have been declining.
The common ingredient in slow economic growth, low jobs growth and declining national influence, is people. We don’t have enough and we need more.
Premier Steven Marshall was elected in 2018 with an ambitious growth agenda of 3 per cent per annum and population growth in line with the national average, which to 2026 is expected to be 1.6 per cent.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has punched a hole in growth everywhere. South Australia is holding up well from an economic and health outcomes point of view.
The pandemic presents us with an opportunity to attract new migrants to our state, welcome back expatriates, from both overseas and interstate, and grow our population.
We have an opportunity to make something positive out of what has been such a trial this year, and use the advantage the State Government has created of South Australia being a safe place to be to aim for that minimum growth of 1.6 per cent.
At the Committee for Adelaide ideas exchange a few Saturdays ago at Pridham Hall in the University of South Australia, the one constant theme from almost all participants was the need for a major increase in South Australia’s sustainable population.
So why isn’t this reflected in the forecasts of the proposed Adelaide Metropolitan Growth Management Plan created by the Department of Planning’s “Population Projections for South Australia and Regions 2016-41”, and other studies that recommend population growth rates of between 0.6 and 1 per cent between now and 2036?
Adelaide’s population in June 2019 was 1,359,760. Based on a population growth rate of 0.6 per cent, that would reach 1,505,317 by 2036.
If the growth rate reaches 1 per cent, that number is 1,610,370. But if the Premier’s target is reached, the population of Adelaide by 2036 will be a healthy 1,780,965. A potential difference of about 275,000 people.
That is exactly what we need. Rather than planning for anaemia, the state as a whole – public service, business, politicians, the media and academia – needs to go for growth.
The general rule of economic forecasters in the past was that for every new skilled migrant, up to four new jobs were created. That may have changed now but it was the case in the late 1990s. That’s because new migrants often create their own business and employ people. They also live in our communities, send their children to local schools, use the local hairdresser and eat in the local cafe, hotel or restaurants, they buy their goods and chattels in local stores. All this generates economic growth and spending.
The opposite is also true. As people leave a community, the decline of the place becomes a self-fulfilling outcome. The local footy club can’t get players, the school closes, and the bank. Eventually the post office finally turns up its toes.
Without people, there is no community. It’s no use demanding government fix it with “make work” schemes.
The antidote is obvious – more people itself creates economic growth.
Last year, the South Australian Parliamentary Economic and Finance Committee published a report strongly supporting the role of skilled migrants in the South Australian economy, and less skilled migrants in parts of the economy where low-skilled workers are required but we just don’t have the Australians who want to do those jobs.
The committee found that in regional areas in particular, such as the Limestone Coast and Murraylands, it was often humanitarian migrants who filled the jobs in the factories and farms of regional South Australia and, in many ways, kept those local economies and communities afloat.
Before 2036, the bicentenary of South Australia, we will be the beating heart of Australia’s defence and space industries.
To achieve their full potential, those industries will need more designers, mathematicians, scientists, engineers, technicians and tradespeople. Sixty per cent of those who work in ship and submarine building are tradespeople.
Jobs require people. Post COVID-19, South Australia will be the place to be.
We need to grasp the challenge thrown out by the Premier in 2018 to populate the state by 2036.