My social vision for South Australia

In times of major economic upheaval, it’s easy for our thoughts to be consumed by economic policy – in its narrow sense, the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services.

But this is a limited view of our state’s prosperity. The wealth of our state lies beyond mere commerce. But the pursuit of the good life does have its own financial dividends. As Richard Florida observed in his groundbreaking work, The Rise of The Creative Class, a society that encourages freedom of expression can attract the talent that will drive economic development. South Australia was conceived as an ideal society, established in response to the challenges of British industrialisation. From the Letters Patent establishing the colony that recognised Aboriginal land rights through to the 1856 Constitution amongst the most democratic in the world, South Australia strived to be a good society. Today, the State Government’s economic vision for South Australia – ‘South Australia – the place where people and business thrive’ – respects this historical tradition. I believe our great social and environmental challenge is to create a state where all South Australians advance together. Where women and children reach their full potential free of fear and violence. Where we all live in affordable neighbourhoods that encourage us to walk, cycle and meet in public places. Where our government and public officials act with integrity, are responsive, and perform to the highest standards. Where we pursue equality. In short, a state where our citizens have a sense of purpose and wellbeing – and feel engaged in the decisions that affect their lives. For each of these ambitions we can draw on deep historical reserves of intellectual and moral capital. Integrity and democracy have their genesis in South Australia’s free settlement and early emphasis on democracy. Our global leadership on climate change makes sense given our harsh climate where our First Australians lived in harmony with the land for more than 40,000 years. Helping families to raise children is something we have been pursuing since Catherine Helen Spence and others started Free Kindergartens. Reducing violence against women will remove barriers to full participation in society, just as surely as creating full adult franchise did in the 19th century. We have been striving to address inequality since our founders first conceived the idea of the province. Creating healthy neighbourhoods is achievable because of the urban form left to us by Colonel Light. South Australia was planned with conscious purpose. At the heart of wellbeing lies a sense of purpose. We need to build on these historical strengths and unique characteristics with a renewed social policy agenda. A healthy community is one where people have the skills and competencies to address challenges in their lives. In Australia, future loss of productivity as a result of mental illness during adolescence is valued at $25 billion per year, with $10.6 billion being spent annually on treating mental illness in young people between 12 and 25 years old. Between 14 and 18 percent of young South Australians suffer from mental illness. At least 54,400 South Australian children and young people have mental health issues. As leading psychologist Professor Martin Seligman has shown, if people can increase their positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment they build the capacity to handle life’s challenges and potentially reduce the severity of mental illness. To support South Australia to flourish we need to teach, build and embed wellbeing science, starting with young people. Government must work in partnership with families to ensure all children are given every chance of success. Almost a quarter of South Australian five-year-olds have been found to be developmentally vulnerable, with poor early childhood development costing our state on average about $3 billion in behaviour and crime and $4 billion in mental health and substance abuse each year. I want to position South Australia as an international leader in creating and supporting a society that values and actively promotes early childhood. We know that much of a person’s learning, health and wellbeing trajectory is established in the early years. In my view, this is both the great productivity and the great equity agenda for our state and nation. We need a vision of the child which is creative, happy and where all children are free to develop their unique talents. A good community is also one where no-one feels limited by fear. Recent high-profile domestic violence tragedies have finally brought attention to the unacceptable rate of violence against women in our community. Women are being killed at a rate of more than one a week in Australia at the hands of a current or former partner. We must all act. But reducing violence against women must start by addressing negative attitudes towards women. It is important to focus on the role of men in promoting gender equity. South Australia’s neighbourhoods are a great place to live, grow up, have children and spend a lifetime. However, we must ensure that communities are more active and engaged in their local surrounds, be it by cycling, walking, using parks and playgrounds or taking part in local sport and recreation activities. Planning and urban design should assist us in responding to the lifestyle disease epidemic and encourage active lifestyles that improve safety and wellbeing by increasing the number of people interacting in public spaces. No community should be left behind. There are some communities where disadvantage is disproportionately clustered. They need special attention. We cannot allow any community to feel overwhelmed by lack of opportunity and excluded from the mainstream. Communities in the state’s Mid North, remote Aboriginal lands and the northern and southern suburbs must feel connected and hopeful for the future. We should aim to make South Australia the most affordable state in the nation and build the state’s reputation as an affordable and attractive place for everyone to live, work, do business and raise a family. We need to keep home rental and ownership costs within reach of all South Australians, and households also need to be supported so they can manage other living expenses. We need to build on our existing efforts to help South Australians feel in control of their finances and continue to work with the not-for-profit sector to support the management and development of affordable housing. We need to realise the environmental, social and economic opportunities associated with tackling climate change and transitioning to a low-carbon economy. I want to mobilise the South Australian community to take action on climate change. We can use our ambition to become the world’s first carbon neutral city to create the exciting opportunities of the future. Finally, building business and community confidence in all government decisionmaking is crucial. It is an essential part of our relationship with government that it acts and is seen to act in the public interest and not for improper purposes. Much of what we wish to achieve will require strong leadership from the public sector. More work needs to be done to engender a sense of professionalism and drive within our public service. We need a modern and open public sector engaged with the community. It must be a profession that attracts our best and brightest. These great ambitions for our beautiful state will require us to draw on all of the talents and energies we can muster. For this to happen we need a deeper engagement with all South Australians. We must take the time to discuss the challenges – to work through the choices – so that we can together arrive at the wise public judgments necessary for us to achieve our goals. Jay Weatherill is the Premier of South Australia