Interstate Migration

28 Mar 2012 archivespeech

This speech is aiming to recognise he issue of young people leaving South Australia for study, career and lifestyle opportunities interstate.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (16:52): I move:

That this council condemns the state government for its 10 years of failure to stem the extraordinary flow of young people leaving South Australia for study, career and lifestyle opportunities interstate.

I think this issue is well worth highlighting to the parliament. This is a motion which has been initiated in the other place by the member for Morialta, Mr John Gardner. It is something he is very passionate about as our youth spokesperson and as one of the youngest people to be a representative of the parliament.

The statistics really speak for themselves. We have had an average net migration loss from South Australia to other states in the order of 3,000 per annum. In the last year of the last Liberal government the figure was less than half that at about 1,300 people. It is interesting to look at these statistics. The ABS does a study of population flows between the various states, and the states which have a net gain from interstate migration are Queensland (unsurprisingly) at an average figure over the last 10 years in the order of 25,000 to 26,000 people and Western Australia, which has not been as significant with 1,600. The states which have had a net loss are New South Wales and to quite a large degree at some 24,000 on average in the last 10 years; and South Australia, as I said, on average loses about 3,000 interstate every year. That should not be so and it does not need to be so. The vast majority of these people are people who are in the working age population, and I think that tells the story in itself. These are people are the 20 to 24 year olds; they are the people who are starting families or who have families and are educating their kids at school.

I think for lifestyle reasons most of them would prefer to stay in South Australia to stay near family and so forth, but because of the economic conditions many are forced to move interstate. If we look at the figures of the age groups, overall it is 20 to 44 year olds. The largest group are actually the 25 to 29 year olds, so a lot would be young professionals and would be embarking on their career. The second group are the 20 to 24 year olds, the third group 30 to 34, then 35 to 39 and 40 to 44. We have been losing on average in the largest collection of the 20 to 29 year olds something like 1,200 South Australians every year.

That is a whole lot of kids who have been educated in this state. They are kids who would be at probably the social zenith of their lives, with high disposable incomes, and that is therefore a great loss to the economy of South Australia. As I said, they are professionals or a number are seeking tertiary education. This impacts on South Australia's ageing population, which is something I think we are all conscious of. There is a feedback loop where the mass exodus of qualified young people, due to the lack of job opportunities, only perpetuates some industry's reluctance to base themselves in South Australia and therefore generate more jobs.

We appear to have only one national company in South Australia, that being Santos. You often hear that a lot of young people would like to climb the corporate ladder. They often reach a point where they are forced to move interstate or overseas. Of all the expats, by far the highest proportion are qualified medical professionals, followed by education workers, and those are two areas this state needs if it is to continue to grow.

There is a perception from high school leavers that interstate universities will provide better education opportunities in speciality areas and that if you are a high achiever there are limited options for a career in South Australia. The member for Morialta outlined a particular case of somebody who had done some work for him and was dux of the school, an incredibly high achiever, and sadly she has moved interstate.

So, what has Labor done? We had the farce in 2004 of the former Premier and his Treasurer who embarked on some taxpayer-funded excursion to draw back expats and entice interstate migrants. I knew people who had been invited to that and it was some sort of glossy brochure that said 'Come along and experience South Australian food and wine and come and talk to us.' That program, as far as I know, was never evaluated. I would love to know how much we spent on that, that being in the first term of this Labor government when the rivers of GST were flowing in and, as is Labor's wont, they spent money faster than it came in the door.

There was a strategy entitled 'Prosperity through people'—something I have spoken on before—which had an interesting target of achieving no net interstate migration by the year 2008, which we know has been an abject failure. In fact, in that period the net migration rate had blown out from 1,300 in the last year of the last Liberal Government to some 4,767—three times what the rate had been.

Another part of that strategy was to increase the state's share of the national skilled migration intake and, in 2008-09, when net migration was at its worst, the state's share of the national skilled migrant intake dropped by 0.9 per cent and has been falling ever since. This is in spite of a former Liberal minister in the Howard government granting the entire state of South Australia regional status in the points system, which gives us some advantage over the Eastern States. I think that is something we need to retain for South Australia, and I would hope that the government is actually making representations to the federal government over that issue, otherwise we will continue to be disadvantaged.

Recent commentary on this came from Mike Smithson, the well-known Channel 7 journalist, who wrote in the Sunday Mail on 25 March, 'Where are workers to feel the boom?' I am not going to read it into the record; people can read it themselves, but he reports on a recent conference at which the mining industry highlighted the fact that it is very concerned about the lack of workers.

We have a few industries in this state (and I will mention another one in just a moment) where the government loves to bang on about how many jobs there will be and about how South Australia is apparently about to have a new dawn. The fact of the matter is that we just do not have the skilled workers to be able to take advantage of that at this stage—and as far as I can tell, the government does not have a plan.

I would like to finish with a couple of examples of people I know who are facing this situation themselves. One of my friends—I will call him James—who is actually descended from the first settlers to South Australia, has been working in the defence industry for nine years. He is a mechanical design draftsman who was working for one of our defence industry companies. Unfortunately, because of federal government cutbacks to the program, the work was drying up for the particular division he was working with and they had to let him go. In fact, the company has not won any work in that area; 95 per cent of its contracts are from the commonwealth, which has been shedding all the small projects which South Australian companies depend on. So there is just no work in that area. He said:

For all the huge bragging about winning the air warfare destroyers, great chunks of the physical steelwork are still being built in exactly the same shipyard in Williamstown that Rann [that is, the former premier] told us wasn't good enough to build ships back in 2006.

He has described the whole process of applying for jobs as quite depressing, and he has had interviews. He directed me to the Seek website where, if you punch in the qualifications for engineering and general drafting for South Australia, you get only seven jobs. However, if you look at the east coast, and narrow the search criteria to a particular specialist software program, it comes up with a whole range of jobs. He is at the point where he has been unemployed for several months and feels as though he is about to be forced to take his skills to the eastern seaboard if he is to continue to have a job.

Another chap we are aware of—who I will call Andrew—works in the financial services sector. He has worked his way up with his current employer for six years to reach a low level executive position. That particular company announced in October that it was significantly reducing its presence in South Australia, and he was told that if he wanted to stay in Adelaide he would have to take a significant pay cut. He is being forced to move to either Brisbane or Sydney to stay on his current level, and he has decided that he will, indeed, go to Sydney. With those words, I endorse this motion to the house. I think that this government just taxes the life out of any company in South Australia so that when it comes to the point of making a decision about which place is the most competitive in which to conduct their business they often decide, unfortunately, that there is too much land tax, payroll tax, WorkCover charges and all the additional imposts that this government puts on them and that they will not use South Australia as a base. So, we just continue to have the life squeezed out of our economy because of the economic parameters this government has placed on the economy of South Australia.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.M. Gazzola.