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Mental handcuffs and South Australia's economic future

By Malcolm King - posted Wednesday, 26 October 2016


Much of South Australia's media operates like the propaganda wings of the British press in World War One. Massive losses on the battlefield were portrayed as 'strategic withdrawals'. The British and Dominion casualty figures were rarely reported. Enemy casualty figures were inflated.

South Australia is facing its own bloody battles, akin in economic scale to the disaster at Passchendaele in 1917. Apart from InDaily and the ABC, Adelaide's media have failed to disclose the true number of unemployed, under employed (which is why household incomes are tanking) and workforce 'dropouts' - mainly men 45 years and over, hit by recruiter age prejudice.

Why? Because news management and their clients are desperate to booster business confidence and give what's left of their predominantly propertied and ageing audience and readers, the 'perception' that all is well. As the mainstream media amuses its self to death, thousands of men are losing their jobs in Whyalla, Port Augusta and Adelaide's northern, southern and western suburbs.

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While the media shapes perceptions, many South Australians in their 60s and 70s believe the future will be like the past. From the mid 1950s until the late 1980s, the SA economy did well, riding on manufacturing and agriculture. This 'relaxed and comfortable' attitude, when coupled with a 'truth deficit' in local reporting, has forged a false sense of security or worse, apathy.

Once Holden closes in 2017, between 10,000-15,000 men and women will lose their jobs as 70 per cent of the automotive supply chain and supporting tiers crumbles. The good news is that some engineering businesses are converting their plants to make new products. In the next five years, another 40,000 jobs in traditional blue and white collar jobs will go as the state economy shrinks. The future of employment in SA will be short term, casual contracts.

In a world where the word 'crisis' is used to describe a fall in TV viewer ratings, in a state where bogus burst water main stories make the front page, there is no more pressing issue than jobs.

No Place like Home

Perception rests on attitudes, like a dog sitting on his tucker box. One of the most endearing defences of this appalling state of affairs is a cliché. The term 'there's no place like home' (NPLH) has considerable resonance in Adelaide and it's a truism – unless of course you don't have a job and can't pay the rent or mortgage.

Home is where fresh fish simmer in a pan and Coopers ale is sunk on an ebb tide of Lutheran suspicion of artifice and ceremony. There's an appreciation that either God or geography has provided the state with clean white beaches, great wines and fresh fruit.

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This has strong emotional appeal and has been used by governments from time immemorial, to get men to fight wars or to pacify doubts on the home front. The technique is used by The Advertiser and Tourism SA to show how fortunate Adelaideans really are. NPLH stories are often run with nostalgia stories. Nostalgia, parochialism and the anti-competitive and protectionist, Buy SA campaign are the sand in the gearbox of progress.

That's someone else's problem

While working class people in Adelaide's blue collar suburbs are fighting for jobs and to keep their families together, citizens in Adelaide's affluent eastern suburbs are suffering from 'cul-de-sac' thinking. The main symptom, usually displayed over a glass of chardonnay, is that pending economic disasters are always someone else's problem. This dead end thinking is unfortunate because failing economies create two interconnected maladies.

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About the Author

Malcolm King works in generational workforce change. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University. He also runs a professional writing business called Republic.

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