10 October 2010

Colonel Lightweight

No wonder Adelaide is "crumbling", with advocacy like this. The article reads like a post-prandial rant: it's not a dispassionate dissection of decline, nor a considered and thoughtful piece needed to rouse people to action.

Smith mentions "the most modern and well-equipped [hospital] in the southern hemisphere" and SA's excellent education system in passing, while lamenting a succession of bread-and-circuses projects in suspicious length. He decries political neglect, while lionising politicians (including his own business partners) who contributed to - or did all too little to reverse - that neglect.
ADELAIDE is stagnant. While the cliches are true - including its relaxed lifestyle, being a great place for kids, quality schools, beautiful and accessible surrounds including the hills, vineyards and beaches - the status quo is no longer good enough; certainly not if we want national relevance to be a goal.
If they're true, Ian, they're not clichés. Clichés are words/phrases that have lost their descriptive power, and those descriptors haven't. Adelaide is indeed a fine city to live in, that much is clear. What isn't clear is what Smith means by "national relevance".
Having once competed with Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, South Australia's capital is more of a match for Geelong or Townsville.
Adelaide competing with Melbourne? For what? Brisbane and Perth overtook Adelaide in size, economic and demographic importance - and yes, in political terms, but I'll get to that later - because they became internationally important export hubs attracting people who could use lifestyle as an excuse. Geelong and Townsville, ironically, have lifted their game by emulating Adelaide, with a combination of lifestyle and higher education and research. Smith, however, pooh-poohs economic activity:
There are a number of successful niche companies led by many people who love Adelaide, too. They are in areas as diverse as renewable energy, biotechnology, health, new media and food, but the chances are their businesses will remain boutique or be picked up by interstate or international players.
Why even bother? That's the attitude, Ian. Small business doesn't deign to hire outfits like Bespoke Approach, even though it too is a small business and getting smaller by the day. No, in the second par Smith begs the question he seeks to answer:
Without action at all levels of politics, the city of churches' torpidity will remain in stark contrast to interstate vibrancy.
Yes, the cry of rent-seekers everywhere: never mind free enterprise, give us regulation and a suck on the public teat!
The "university city" tag was true more than a decade ago but we are now a long way behind others; indeed the University of Adelaide was 73rd in the world in this year's Times Higher Education World University Rankings. It was behind the University of Melbourne (36th), the Australian National University (43rd) and the University of Sydney (71st).
Not bad: no university in Queensland or WA is ahead of it. Such esteemed institutions as the University of Texas and the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology didn't make it at all. Education is the nation's third biggest export, and Adelaide should be making out like a bandit in that market - but universities too are among the many institutions that are not opposed to Bespoke Approach necessarily, but indifferent to it.
A string of councils has been unable to embrace metropolitan development and successive state governments' reluctance to reform local government has seen Adelaide languish as other cities thrive. It is here we should start.

The coming city council elections offer little hope for change; what should be a group one event would be lucky to qualify for maiden status with five candidates of little apparent consequence.
I don't even know what that means, if anything. The SA state government always runs the risk of being basically an Adelaide municipal council, and a Greater Adelaide Council would be a rival for the state rather than a co-operative partner: particularly as the state's economy requires opening the interior to an extent far greater than that of the pastoral days, a vote for a Greater Adelaide would strangle the state's growth.

Olympic Dam doesn't need Bespoke Approach either.
Better candidates [for municipal elections] were not forthcoming because there is little appeal in the job. The paucity of experience offers the chance for the Rann government to take control. It would be in the state's interests.
Better candidates for municipal elections is a common complaint in Melbourne, Townsville, Geelong and elsewhere. Why the Rann government should add to a workload it clearly cannot handle, given swingeing budget cuts recently, is unclear.
Brisbane did this many years ago and administers a budget of more than $3 billion,
Yes, but how well does it administer those funds, Ian? Brisbane City Council was set up by a state government that disdained its capital, in a way that no South Australian can afford. Smith then overdoes it with a self-serving reference to the place where he wishes he still was, Melbourne:
Melbourne brought together local councils across the city to form effective local government conglomerates that work more efficiently with the state government.

My old boss, Victorian premier Jeff Kennett, dissolved 210 councils, dismissed 1600 elected councillors and created 78 new councils through amalgamations. That is reform.

From once being a drawcard to the state, leading nationally in areas such as the arts, Adelaide risks becoming a negative to SA.

The state economy [in South Australia] is booming.
That's the bottom line: the SA economy is booming because of, or despite, local government. No case is made for local government reform apart from a few pathetic anecdotes (more on those later), but the booming economy busts poor Ian's case somewhat. If the state is booming, you'd have to be a loser to miss out, wouldn't you Ian?

The reference to Kennett is only to remind readers who Smith is, or was. A closer look at Victorian local government reveals a dearth of Periclean figures overseeing rubbish collection and civic planning in Warracknabeal, Warrnambool and Werribee.

It's also fair to point out that, during the '90s, Kennett had Liberal counterparts in SA. Nick Minchin nobbled the quietly effective Dean Brown and replaced him with a muppet named John Olsen. Smith should have mentioned that Kennett stole from Adelaide an event bigger than the Clipsal 500, the Australian Grand Prix. That is reform.

If Adelaide was such a negative to SA, why are all those niche businesses doing so well? What sustains the excellent health and education systems? Not Bespoke Approach, that's for sure.
While other capitals boast many global companies, Adelaide is starved of international business relevance.

Little has been achieved to woo new players to establish themselves in the city, to provide real corporate activity and, most critically, to provide employment alternatives for the state's young graduates.

They continue to flock west and east. Retaining smart people in their 20s and 30s is perhaps Adelaide's most desperate challenge.
"Little has been achieved" and less has been suggested, Ian. Any thoughts? You might get some clients out of it.
Federally, we have lost the depth of powerful SA politicians who served in the cabinets of prime ministers Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard.
The politicians Smith refers to here did bugger-all for SA during its period of decline, with the possible exception of Hill as Defence Minister redeploying defence assets to and near Adelaide.
Senator Penny Wong alone has real clout, but she is in a catch-22 situation as the toe-cutting Finance Minister. She must be wary of conflict in looking too much after her own state from such an exalted position.
Nick Minchin held the same portfolio, and he did bugger-all for SA too.
... Don Farrell, Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water, is of obvious influence in the party, but ... a long way from muscling in on big decisions.
Farrell was one of the major movers in dumping a Prime Minister, Ian. That's a pretty big decision. Sustainability and Urban Water is no small issue, in Adelaide and beyond.
With Nick Minchin retiring, Christopher Pyne is our only voice at the federal opposition's top table.
Only in print can one say that with a straight face.
Contributing further to the slowly sinking feeling is the demise of local media. First, Adelaide is a one-newspaper town. A strong and bold press should be one fundamental ingredient of a city's development. The Advertiser carries the burden alone.
There was a newspaper other than the 'Tiser, but the company that publishes Ian Smith pieces and said paper itself shut it down. A bit rich using a News Ltd paper to cry for media diversity. Bet News Ltd don't need Bespoke Approach, either.
Time has been wasted in an extraordinary way on two urgently needed pieces of infrastructure.
What might they be? Oh ... some sporting facilities. Bread & circuses as infrastructure:
Despite the fact existing sports facilities consist of the god-forsaken, windswept AAMI Stadium and a quaintly out-of-date Adelaide Oval, the debate about a new stadium has been embarrassing.
Can't make the case for change, particularly when you only want to upgrade the corporate boxes and to hell with everything else, where the economic benefits are (ahem!) niche and the costs do not justify such outlays in straitened times. The Crows and Power could chip in to build a new Football Park as part of renewing their roots in the SANFL - but they don't use Bespoke Approach either.
A couple of years ago, the sandals and socks brigade prevented the upgrading of Victoria Park.
They would be the same people who put your wife into Parliament, Ian, thereby indirectly responsible for luring a high-flyer like you to said city, with its prosperous niche businesses.
However, in line with the demands of the protesters who took NIMBY politics to a new level, Clipsal buildings are temporary; put up and taken down each year during a nine-month period. Amazing, but a fact.
And great for the economy, too, Ian. You'd think the Clipsal 500, the Holden plants at Gawler and Elizabeth, and the universities would lead to a centre of innovation in stock car development - but no. If that were to happen, what need would they have of Bespoke Approach?

I've done what I can for the company with repeated mentions here, and here's a link to their website, but let's look to the principals. Downer is back in some public sector, global-elite role in some place plentiful in wine and olives. Bolkus is clearly exploring other opportunities. Mrs Smith is raising children on a public pension. This leaves Mr Ian Smith becalmed, stagnant, starving to death in a boomtown, keening for unnecessary 'reforms' and, like cousin Tony, facing the prospect of going from youthful promise to middle-aged decline without any intervening achievement.


  1. An interesting cry for govt money to provide "infrastructure". I wonder what his view is of the NBN. Or is that a different kind of govt support?

  2. Don't hold the Brisbane City Council up as a positive. There is a history of bickering between the state and the council even when they are the same tribe politically - at the moment they aren't.

    So you get things like the Council who is the largest bus operator in SE Queensland (and taking a considerable subsidy from the state) refusing to paint their buses in the SE Qld Translink livery. You get the Council building road tunnels that are being used by under a third of the expected patronage, they open a toll bridge 100 metres from an existing bridge. You get a Mayor and Deputy Mayor who, when faced with someone from the same political tribe who gets up in council and reports that the majority of her residents aren't happy with a decision, gets the Councillor expelled from the political tribe.

    In theory, Councils the size of Brisbane are a good idea - the public servants are still close enough to the public they serve and there is a reasonable chance of getting some good economies of scale. However the current Council is anything but.

  3. I always take Ian Smith with a pound of salt, but to me this was a textbook conservative rant about how councils are stifling urban development. This kind of talk always has big dollars behind it.

    It might be convenient for the government to sack all councils and replace them with patsies, but unlike Victoria, SA wouldn't stand for it. Councils are the only level of government wherein you can pick up the phone and talk directly to your local member, where you can write a letter or an e-mail to them and not get a bland response from a bored public servant. People love their councils, and it's for that reason that Adelaide doesn't have those incredibly ugly ghetto towers that incongruously dot the Melbourne landscape.

    Sounds to me like Smiffy might be trying to drum up some business from Big Construction. Good luck to him but surely we deserve better than this tripe in our national newspaper.

  4. Anon, NBN don't need Bespoke Approach either.

    2353, I reckon a Greater Adelaide Council would be worse - Brisbane is much less dominant in Qld than Adelaide is in SA.

    Thanks for the insight Zane, but I think you have an inflated view of the Oz.