Election 2013 media panel

Motown on the Torrens

Does the horrendous fate of bankrupt Detroit give us a glimpse of Adelaide’s future? The Sunday Mail brought week one of the election campaign to a doom-laden end in South Australia with this ominous question.

Two things Adelaide certainly does well are existential angst and self-deprecation. The Advertiser has already pitched in with some good examples of the latter to provide light relief from the election coverage.

We had Thirty ways you know you’re a South Australian on Friday, followed by South Australia’s greatest farces the following day. Laughs a plenty at our own expense in each, although reading between the lines the latter makes a few serious points about the election. For example, we’ll soon have a piece of communication infrastructure that’s fit for purpose when the Southern Expressway runs in both directions simultaneously, but only after apparently spending 10 times more than we would have done if they’d built it going two ways in the first place! Anyone still in favour of Fibre to the Node?

Continuing the theme of self-analysis, The Sunday Mail yesterday published a two pager by State Political Editor, Daniel Wills, comparing Adelaide’s current economic problems to those of Detroit. There’s no explicit mention of the current Federal election in the piece, but it’s an analysis that does a good job of bringing issues at the heart of the campaign into focus. Foremost are the challenges SA and Australia as a whole face in transitioning to a post-manufacturing economy amidst the uncertainties of a global environment that’s still barely recovered from the GFC.

UniSA’s professor Richard Blandy, quoted at length in the piece, makes a point we should be pressing all parties’ on over the next month. He notes that when we spend a dollar on any policy initiative, it’s a dollar that’s unavailable elsewhere. If elections aren’t about the opportunity costs associated with adopting one party’s policies over the others’, what are they about?

In many ways the piece exemplifies journalism at its best by explaining the local relevance of big issues and major international stories. But comparing Adelaide’s potential future to the actual problems Detroit’s citizens are now enduring risks undermining its own intention to stir South Australia from apparent apathy about its economic fate just as voters are heading to the polls for a Federal election and a State election in seven months time. Does the comparison stand up to scrutiny or do we just laugh it off if it looks too much like scare mongering?

The car industry ensures Adelaide’s economic destiny is connected to Detroit’s. But Motown’s fate has been determined by a fraught history of race inflected politics, horrendous economic mismanagement and violent crime levels that are off the scale when compared to SA’s experience of similar problems. We can look on in horror, but should also get things into proportion if Adelaide’s going to learn from the tragedy of Detroit.

How we differ from Detroit will be just as important as what we share when Adelaide finally gets to grips with the decline of the state’s motor industry. Perhaps that’s the serious lesson to be drawn from all those articles taking the rise out of South Australia.