Ian Smith: Committee for Adelaide is based on a proven model with many possibilities for our state

IT seems to me that so many conversations start with "the problem with Adelaide. . .". I've been guilty of it, and I think most South Australians would have had more than their fair share of chats clothed in negativity.

But what if we started with the notion that the sky could be the limit for this state?

That doesn’t mean everything should be seen through rose-tinted spectacles; indeed, we must always be a community that has a healthy regard for debate and questioning.

However, it seems we must address the prevailing attitude of despondency with more than an occasional gripe, or even a newspaper column.

If we believe in pushing ideas, we need to be able to do it with the correct structures in place.

In a few weeks, one of those structures will appear – the Committee for Adelaide. It follows similar organisations in other states, notably the Committee for Melbourne, established in 1985.

The Adelaide version will bring together a diverse group who recognise the state’s strengths and will combine their thoughts to make it stronger while maintaining its reputation for comfort and liveability.

Having been a board member of the Committee for Melbourne in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I have witnessed the contribution of a civil group made up of people with a variety of skill sets.

Initially in Adelaide, membership will consist of around 30 to 50 people, representing many parts of the state economy.

Young and older people will be involved. All will be apolitical while representing the Committee and respectful of existing institutions.

All will be driven by bold ideas with a focus on evidence-based outcomes.

Many members will not be widely known, nor active in public roles, but they have vast experience – globally, professionally and through years of achievement in their relevant fields.

The Committee will not get involved in the issues of existing successful organisations such as Business SA or the Property Council; industrial relations, shop-trading hours or planning permits do not need new voices.

It will aim to work alongside the likes of the Economic Development Board and Advantage SA, whose work is so critical at a macro level to encourage investment and promote the state.

The Committee will stimulate deeper debate on issues of substance. From anecdotal evidence, people want serious discussions to help identify what this state’s place should be in a new century with myriad global challenges.

Over the past couple of years I have written about the state of the state, and I have met people who appear to be similarly keen to get involved and be part of a broader vision for South Australia.

People want to contribute.

Of course, contributions can vary. While there will always be the mundane and the mad, some of which should not be ignored, the Committee will pursue sustainable and exciting ideas.

I come from the very simple proposition that I want my children, should they choose, to have the option of work and a career of their choice in Adelaide.

In many sectors that is currently not the case, with our city failing to attract the businesses or organisations operating without a second thought in other mainland cities.

In terms of culture, nobody wants to see us lose institutions that are fundamental to a city of Adelaide’s size.

Yet those institutions cannot survive in a climate where they are underpinned purely by the state.

Of course this relates to the economic climate, and we must be clear about what we can achieve realistically.

It may well be that we are proud to be a second-tier city, but one that has a sustainable economy in its own right.

We cannot afford to be mendicant. Interestingly, while many of us have not taken the plunge into public service, we are quick to demean political processes and diminish politicians’ efforts without contributing our own.

That should change.

People complain about the way their lives are governed without voicing sustainable alternatives.

That should change.

Some people with clear sectoral interests close out productive options before those options have been seriously assessed with regard to the overall benefits to a wider group of people.

That should change, at least on the big issues.

By tapping into the minds of bright and enthusiastic people living here, interstate and overseas to develop ideas, we could position South Australia positively to grab national and international attention.

If people with talent, experience and contemporary thinking developed considered initiatives and presented them to both sides of politics on North Terrace, perhaps they could be implemented within realistic time-frames.

THE Committee for Adelaide is a proven model.

Business, unions, academia, science, culture and not-for-profit groups all featured as part of the Committee for Melbourne, which was instrumental in, among other things, the Docklands, CityLink and privatisation of the nation’s airports.

The Melbourne version supported the Victorian Government’s development of the sports and entertainment precincts from Southbank to the Tennis Centre, and was also involved in creating world-class research precincts.

Forgetting our recent negative debates on similar matters, wouldn’t it make more sense for those of us who have been quiet to date to contribute now to the opportunities presented by our new football stadium, the new hospital and the medical research centres?

The debates that can take the city and state forward should capture new ideas yet build on the state’s inherent values.

 

Ian Smith is a partner with corporate advisory firm Bespoke Approach