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A letter to Adelaide's youth – stay or go?

By Malcolm King - posted Thursday, 10 November 2016

Sous les paves, la plage!

It took me more than 25 years after the great Sturt player Tony 'Doc' Clarkson pulled me bawling in the world, to realise that if I was going to be a writer and journalist, then I'd have to leave Adelaide. It's a familiar story in South Australia.

I headed to Melbourne and overseas and returned more than 20 years later to help my wife look after her ageing parents. I found Adelaide a fearful and parochial city, completely at odds with a modern city of the Commonwealth.


This story is for Adelaide's young people.

Your questions about the future were mine 30 years ago. I was a labourer and forklift driver in the early 1980s. Since leaving Adelaide, I have worked as a journalist, academic and employment adviser in Melbourne and Canberra.

Should you stay in Adelaide or go? Working or studying interstate or overseas isn't for everybody. You leave your friends and family but in doing so, you get new skills and capabilities that others can only dream of.

This makes you 'dangerous' because when you return – if you return and you should – you've acquired national or international standards, making you more qualified than those doing the hiring. Adelaide will need your experience in the years to come and here is why.

The following statistics are 'spin free'. The Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) under utilisation of labour rate adds the number of unemployed and the under employed people. In SA, that's about 17.9 per cent (trend) or 156,000 people of the 815,000 people in the state's labour force. This figure is rising. The number of hidden unemployed – those who have given up looking for work - is around 30,000 people, mostly males. This is an economic disaster unparalleled in the state's history.

For 30 years Liberal and Labor governments in SA did nothing to educate the public on why and how the economy needed to change. Every government lie, every contorted truth, is being visited upon a confused and increasingly angry citizenry, who have found a flimsy shelter in parochialism.


The front bench of the state's Liberal and Labor parties make Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Russ Hinze look like Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein. To make matters worse, the current government is creating a police state with the tools to spy on and apprehend people at will. That's reason enough to go.

According to the ABS, about 5000 people leave SA per year over those who arrive. The real annual interstate exodus rate is around 7000 people. This 'debiting' of local brains has been going on since the early 1980s and it has compromised the state's ability to solve complex problems.

Our three publicly funded universities are lowering course entry scores as domestic applications of merit dwindle. If you're a big game player, they've got you running around in the colts.

The following is an example of a closed system. Operating standards in many SA organisations are so regressive that executives especially hired from interstate, stay less than a year as they battle white anting, nepotism and group think, before hightailing it back to Sydney or Melbourne.

There can be no more punitive action on the state's brand (so popular in SA), than to hire opinion leaders in one state, get them to Adelaide, humiliate and degrade their professionalism and then effectively force their resignation.

Here is another example. As the Boomers and Gen X'ers have found to their chagrin, when they return to Adelaide to look after ageing parents and hunt for work, young recruiters knock them back in favour of fresh-faced candidates. They stay just long enough to put Mum or Dad in a rest home and then leave, taking their 20 or 30 years of work experience, savings and superannuation with them. Closed systems kill cities.

Some of South Australia's retrograde attitudinal problems can be traced directly to its daily newspaper. It supports a deeply orthodox political mindset. Through its trenchant commitment to parochialism, it has partitioned Adelaide from the social and economic realities of Australia and the world. To be fair, no alternative political ideologies or business philosophies were savaged. They simply were not reported.

In Adelaide, 'media facts' rule in the old print media. Inflated figures in a government media release on international student numbers, tourists or jobs, are published unchecked. Those figures are then quoted back in a Minister's speech as a fact and reprinted again and again, creating a 'media fact'. Spin has replaced economic 'true north'.

To make matters worse, reports from'happy clapper' think tanks, such as Deloitte Access Economics, Bank SA and the University of Adelaide, show 'green shoots' and 'considerable optimism' in the local economy when it's going to hell in a hand basket. When poverty meets hypocrisy, the former comes off worse.

Binary thinking is now so common it's difficult to remember when there were multiple and competing explanations for social and economic phenomena. People either blame the ALP or the Liberals; they blame the unions or the public service. It's either this or that. Only InDaily has broken away from this straight-jacket thinking and is publishing articles 'outside of the square'.

The current batch of politicians don't want objective economic criticism. They call it 'talking down the economy'. It's like rejecting a medical scan because one is frightened of the result. The ignorant want 'happy clapper' stories.

These interlocking and failing systems support a crumbling status quo. The future for a large portion of the state's workforce is insecure and casual work where blue and white-collar men and women struggle to survive.

Leave Adelaide and build a career working with people who value hard work, true workplace democracy and the truth. Then come home and vanquish the dead hand of mediocrity that has reigned over this city for 30 years.

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About the Author

Malcolm King is a journalist and professional writer. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide. He runs a writing business called Republic.

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