OPINION: Let’s be clear, we are not calling for population growth just for the sake of it

SA has an astounding future ahead of it, if it can just overcome one little old problem holding us back, writes Bruce Djite.

The reaction to the Committee for Adelaide’s population target of 2 million people by 2030 was nothing short of astounding.

I would expect all South Australians to recognise the fact that we have been unable to grow our state’s population at the national average for a sustained period and this leaves us at risk of becoming irrelevant.

We have the oldest median age population of any mainland state or territory and our best and brightest young talent have left the state en masse for decades.

We’ve all heard the phrase “bouncing back” however, to merely bounce back from Covid is neither ambitious or good enough.

We need to aim higher, to be bold and truly back ourselves to not just be better, but to be the best.

We all want to live in a vibrant state with a thriving economy that attracts and retains the world’s best talent and provides an enduring quality of life for all who live here and for generations to come.

The Committee for Adelaide’s priorities speaks to the importance of population growth, so that South Australia can flourish economically, socially, and culturally.

To achieve this, we must attract enough skilled talent, including homegrown, interstate, and overseas talent, to establish and expand local businesses with global reach, as well as improving the vibrancy and establishing the critical mass required to further improve our quality of life.

None of this is possible if we continue to regress relative to the rest of the nation.

In 1990 we were 8.4% of the nation’s population and currently we are 6.8%.

From 2015 to 2020 our annual average growth rate was 0.8%, the lowest of all states and territories, except the Northern Territory.

The eastern states experienced a growth rate greater than 1.5% and, during the same period, accounted for 86% (1,624,206 people) of Australia’s population growth, compared to 3.7% for South Australia.

In comparison to other states, our lacklustre multi-decade growth has left our entire state with less federal seats in parliament than western metropolitan Sydney.

Let’s be clear, we are not calling for population growth just for the sake of it, but we must at least keep pace with the rest of the nation and strive for a thriving, sustainable economy?

It’s important that federally and locally there is a cohesive and comprehensive population strategy that considers population distribution to cities and regions like South Australia that are crying out for talent and aligns with local workforce demands.

How many people will there be, where will they settle and live, what will they need and what attributes will they bring to support economic growth and meet industry needs?

Overseas migration is critical for the state’s economic prosperity and will increase in importance as the age of our population increases due to declining fertility rates.

While the latest Intergenerational Report shows the government is planning for 190,000 migrants in 2023-24, South Australia must strive to attract a disproportionate number of those migrants. During 2020-21 we only welcomed 6.1% or 9,829 of the nation’s total intake, this is less than our fair share.

Adelaide Connected is a key program of the Committee for Adelaide that is helping to break down the barriers for skilled migrants, expats, international students and even South Australians who have recently returned home.

Adelaide Connected connects people with like-minded individuals, businesses, and job opportunities. I have been fortunate to meet many skilled, educated, and talented people through the program.

Unfortunately, too many report being met with negative responses from employers and recruiters.

Feedback often relates to their lack of local job experience or a local network, yet these are the very people, we should be embracing and learning from, soaking up their global experience and expertise.

We should also not discount the overwhelming net benefit the state receives from opening its arms and wrapping them around refugees.

We are in full support of the Premier’s pledge that the South Australian government will punch above its weight when it comes to welcoming refugees. We also need to look internally at our own culture.

Attracting talent is challenging enough but we need to build a welcoming and inclusive culture that values global experience if we are to stand a chance of retaining the best and brightest talent.

Population growth is by no means a silver bullet, however, the inability to achieve this in a meaningful way will not just extinguish our hopes and dreams of a bigger and better South Australia, but also those of future generations.

There’s a real opportunity for growth in South Australia and far too often it is our mindset that holds us back. Of course, growth brings challenges, and some are against change, however, we must dispel the “can’t do” state of mind and the few, yet loud voices, who for too long have held this state back.

Click here to see the full article which featured in The Advertiser on 18 May 2022.

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