Opinion: South Australia cannot lose its voice in Canberra because of poor population growth

Ensuring South Australia’s voice is heard in Canberra is difficult at the best of times. The loss of a federal seat makes it harder.

Mention population growth to most federal politicians and they think of millions of extra people pouring into overcrowded cities where infrastructure is failing.

Many don’t realise that places outside the eastern states face different issues. That states like South Australia need more people, not fewer, to fuel economic growth.

And it’s that lack of understanding that can lead to laws and regulations that work for some parts of the country, but not others. That’s why we have a ludicrous situation in South Australia where some businesses, particularly in regional areas, would love to grow but can’t find the people they need.

While the migration system could solve this, it has been designed with the eastern states in mind and fails to deliver.

So an issue such as population growth — already a difficult argument to win in Canberra — is made even more difficult by the loss of a federal seat, ironically caused by a lack of population growth.

Adelaide used to be Australia’s third largest city. We’re now the fifth largest and tipped to have half the populations of Brisbane and Perth by 2050.

The loss of a federal seat should be a wakeup call for us all.

No one is calling for uncontrolled population growth. None of us want to lose the things that makes Adelaide such a great place to live.

But when you have a city centre that used to have 50,000 people and now has less than half that number, there’s no question we have room to grow.

More people does not mean fewer jobs. In fact, the opposite is true. Each new person needs a roof over their heads, 1.5 square metres of retail space, a minimum 15 square metres of work space, food, clothing, furniture, cars, insurance and more.

All of this means new jobs. Construction jobs, retail jobs, hospitality jobs, teaching jobs and so on. It’s not fewer jobs for all, but more jobs for everyone. As a state, we need to accept that we can’t have it both ways.

We can’t argue for Adelaide to stay exactly as it is while demanding that something is done to create opportunities that stop people leaving.

We deserve a seat at the national table to create a city that attracts entrepreneurs, experienced business people and energetic migrants who can create new businesses and opportunities for all of us, without losing our way of life.

We deserve to have a system that works for our state; for our desires and our opportunities. And to help us do this we’ll need Canberra on side: a job made more difficult as we lose our voice.

This opinion piece was written by Committee for Adelaide CEO Jodie van Deventer and published in The Advertiser on 4 September 2017.

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