Close Election Contest Good For SA

“The Coalition was smart to adopt a ‘Jobs and Growth’ mantra for the 2016 election. Many Australians are worried about the security of their jobs and a lack of jobs. The Australian electorate is looking for answers, for greater certainty and security – South Australians more than most.”

Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. This federal election is all about jobs with South Australia counting down the collapse of its car–making industry and fears abound that steel manufacturing in Whyalla will follow, unleashing metropolitan and regional jobs crises. This is all on the back of the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Meanwhile, the boom is over for the mining states leaving few places for the jobless to escape to. The Coalition was smart to adopt a ‘Jobs and Growth’ mantra for the 2016 election. Many Australians are worried about the security of their jobs and a lack of jobs. The Australian electorate is looking for answers, for greater certainty and security – South Australians more than most. A campaign to fill a growing jobs and investment hole began long ago here. The State Government, industry and unions have been particularly effective in arguing the case for assistance. They have been joined by some influential local Coalition senators and MPs who have read the electoral tea leaves and do not like what they have seen. Add to this the persistent advocacy of Nick Xenophon and South Australia is impossible to ignore. Despite the change of leadership, the Coalition remains vulnerable to its policy legacies. The Abbott Government was charting a course to political annihilation through the 2014 Budget. The radical conservatism of that policy agenda was a serious political miscalculation inviting punishment from its own rusted-on followers at the polling booths. Nothing short of a major political reset could undo some of the damage – a change of leadership became inevitable. When it came, expectations of the new leader were high. Malcolm Turnbull didn’t come into the job of Prime Minister with the freedom to repair the damage that had been done. Much of the Abbott legacy remains to haunt the Coalition throughout an interminably long election campaign. Those with good memories will recall that the Abbott Government gave no comfort to General Motors Holden when the auto-maker made its case for government co-investment to save the Adelaide operations. There appeared to be no appetite to negotiate, to indicate that work was quietly taking place behind the scenes to secure the future of the industry. For many, it appeared that the government had made up its mind that the automotive industry was not worth rescuing. The lingering image is that of a government that appeared to goad the automotive industry into shutting up shop. The negotiating style was too combative. Fast forward to 2016 and the street fighting style of the past has been replaced by something alltogether different – the calm diplomacy expected of the new PM. The Arrium crisis put this to the test. Rather than accept as inevitable that the embattled steel manufacturer was destined to close, the Turnbull Government announced that it would bring forward the Adelaide to Tarcoola rail upgrade and direct the order for steel required for the project to Arrium. It accepted that the steel industry was facing unfair competition and directed the Anti-Dumping Commissioner to review the dumping of steel in Australia. Then came the big announcement – one that had to be made to begin to turn electoral fortunes around in South Australia. The commitment to build 12 new submarines in South Australia had been made then unmade. Recovery from that mistake required an unequivocal commitment to a local build. With that now behind them, the Coalition repaired some of the damage and charted a new course in less stormy political waters. A much closer political contest is now about to unfold between the Coalition and the ALP. While the Abbott legacy remains, the Turnbull Government has displayed some of the pragmatism it needs to be more electorally competitive. The Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten are locked in a monumental battle that serves a state like South Australia well. Both the major parties have made welcome commitments to new rail and tram projects in South Australia. Labor’s is the more substantial, placing pressure on the Coalition to match their $500m commitment to Adelaide’s tram network. This is likely to be a familiar dynamic throughout the election campaign, both parties competing ferociously for your vote. With the prospect of unemployment rising sharply in South Australia next year as a result of the closure of GMH, South Australia needs a substantial package of funding to ensure that sufficient new projects come on stream early enough to fill the jobs and investment hole that will be created. Bill Shorten’s commitment to the extension of our tram network is a potential game changer as it could trigger an early start of the $3 billion project which could generate a few thousand jobs at a time when we will desperately need them. Let’s hope that the Coalition matches this offer and that the competition for your vote intensifies, forcing more positive infrastructure project announcements to be made by both major parties over the remainder of the campaign. John Spoehr is Professor and Director of the Australian Industrial Transformation Institute at Flinders University in South Australia @JohnSpoehr

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