She is prim and proper, she's cultured and refined. She is also sliding inexorably in to debt and decay. Adelaide has had her scandals – sex crimes and the State Bank fiasco – but she can no longer survive on moral rectitude, as she becomes the bag lady of mainland Australia.
You can study urban geography, demography or sociology for years and never get the chance see first hand a modern city slide into moribund retirement and debt. Let us look closely and forensically at the City of Churches.
Adelaide scrounges around an undiversified economy pining for the state domestic product she had in the mid 1960s. Her recruitment industry is riven with age prejudice and world's worst practice. Her manufacturing sector – once it's pride and joy – is on the skids. Adelaide won't die but its economy will contract significantly. As the song goes "How low can you go?"
The first thing that tourists notice about Adelaide is that there are very few other tourists. Adelaide used to have tourists but from the 1980s, Queensland, NSW and Victoria started running international campaigns in Europe and America. South Australia watched. Adelaide, like Chauncey Gardiner in Being There, likes to watch.
While other states were building modern, diversified and robust economies, Adelaide debated, formed committees and engaged in endless rounds of self-reflection. Now it has a projected debt of $14 billion and is living off defence contracts and GST revenues from the other states.
Just what is it that makes Adelaide so different, so appealing?
It's the people. I have travelled across God's great earth and except for the Scots, Adelaide folk are the nicest, most friendly people I have met. They are laid back and always willing to have a chat. That's Heaps Good*. It's their willingness to have a chat and not serve the ten people waiting behind me at the shop that undoes them. But as they say here, 'what's the hurry?' Even though the economy is becoming the new Detroit of the south, the locals keep smiling. When you smile, the whole world smiles with you – except investors, the money markets and credit rating agencies.
South Australia's economy is a basket case.
· SA's GDP is growing at 1.3 percent yet Australia is growing at 2.8 per cent.
· Unemployment rose over the last 12 months from 5.6 per cent to 7.1 per cent - The ABS trend rate is 6.6 per cent. The real youth unemployment north of Adelaide is closer to 40 percent. If we ignore the silly ABS test of working one hour per week to be deemed employed, then SA's unemployment level is about 11 per cent and rising.
· In the last 12 months 309 businesses out of 5210 Business SA members have closed down or become insolvent.
· Over 20 years, SA's share of national employment fell from 8.3 per cent to 7.0 per cent and is heading south.
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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.