Friday, February 22, 2008

In defence of Adelaide...again

Poor Rads. Sometimes I think it's its own worst enemy.

I was following the 'backwater' debate with a certain bemusement. I found it interesting coming from a Victorian premier, since it was only as recently as less than 20 years ago that Melbourne could reasonably be labelled the country's backwater. Like South Australia, it was struggling under an incompetent state government and the subject of ridicule nationwide, particularly from its bigger brother, the Emerald City.

How things change. Unpatriotic as it may be for me to say, Melbourne, like Brisbane, is leaving Sydney in its dust right now. Here we have to deal every day with this abomination of a government and at the current growth rates, Melbourne could actually have a greater population within a lifetime. The Brisbane/Gold Coast/Noosa megopolis won't be far off either.

But it's not enough for South Australians to bear the brunt of criticism from other states; now its own treasurer is sticking the boot in. Sadly, what Kevin Foley says has a ring of truth to it - Adelaide does invariably have a greater resistance to development than most other capitals, perhaps because on average it has an older population.

But Foley's words also reveal precisely what's so wrong with the Rann government, and perhaps modern governments generally. As well as essentially ditching the Dunstan legacy - the man who dragged the state kicking and screaming into the 20th century - Foley dismisses opposition leader Martin Hamilton-Smith's recent outlining of - gasp - a long-term vision. In Foley world, 'we have a vision quite simply. We want to manage our economy and finances well'.

Uhh - that's it? A good economy? How awe-inspiring. How captivating.

Whatever might be flawed with Hamilton-Smith's vision, at least he's managed to articulate one - any kind of vision. And what's the point of a government if it has no serious long-term plan for its state and residents? Are they just there, as Foley seems to imply, to ensure next year's budget is in the black?

I understand why Foley is so ruthless about the economy - SA was pretty much shut down for business right throughout the 90s and only recovered through some much-needed penny-pinching. Labor had to regain its economic cred if it ever hoped to get re-elected - which, in the people's minds at least, it must have done given its trouncing of the opposition at the last state election.

But somebody really should tell Foley that hey, relax, it's ok now to look beyond stocking up the piggy bank. The money's there. The resources boom should ensure it'll stay topped up for at least a few more years to come. The government can actually plan for something longer than the length of its nose.

At a minimum, Adelaide should follow Perth's and Brisbane's lead and upgrade its antiquated public transport system. It is the perfect city - flat, small but spread out with wide roads - for a clean and green light rail system. Extending the Glenelg tram line by a few kms is a start but there's much, much more to be done.

Going back to Adelaide for Easter/XMas/birthdays etc I see that change is happening - slowly, as is its wont, but surely. And as somebody who no longer lives there, it's infuriating to see how few South Australians appear to realise how good they have it if they bothered to notice. Low cost of living, including (relatively) rents and property prices. A coastline within a 10-minute driving distance that's not quite as impressive as Sydney's, but shits on Melbourne's. Wineries producing some of the world's best drops north, south and east. A constant array of world-class festivals. Magnificent produce. Cheap and accessible parking. Cab drivers who know where they're going (though apparently that's gradually disappearing). And hey - nearly a whole decade now without any bizarre ritualistic serial killings, yay! All stuff you take for granted, as I did, when you live in it every day, but when you move away and it's no longer there you realise how special it is.

South Australians need not be so masochistic about their state - it's actually not that bad. The potential is great. Melbourne pulled itself out of a hole, so can Adelaide. But the place definitely needs a new vision, and contrary to what Foley might say, a visionary in the Dunstan mould. If that makes me a 'whinger' to say so, whatevs.

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