The South Australian economy is undergoing a dramatic period of change, with job losses hitting record highs. The manufacturing and services sectors have hit skid row, meaning job losses are expected to continue well into the foreseeable future. But with the future of SA submarine servicing and construction in doubt, economists are warning of a dire outlook.

Data released during the week indicated that South Australia’s unemployment rate had hit a fifteen year high, with a whopping 8.2% of the state currently unemployed. But the outlook was particularly negative for the state’s full-time males.

Director of the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Economic Studies, Michael O’Neil, told the ABC that the trend was likely due to significant job losses in traditionally male dominated sectors such as mining and manufacturing.

“There’s been some 6,200 positions in male full-time employment that have disappeared and when we look at the unemployment, we see an increase in male unemployment of about 8,400 since January,” he explained.

“Female unemployment rates have been relatively steady so the real stand-out factor is the deterioration in male full-time employment. I don’t think we’ve felt the impact of Alinta at Port Augusta and Leigh Creek which again would be a lot of male full-time employment,” he added. “But generally I think what is lying behind this underlying trend is the structural change in the South Australian economy and it is that era of manufacturing, some sectors of manufacturing that are losing male full-time employment.”

Mr. O’Neil suggests that the solutions must be grand in their scope and reach. “Nobody’s answered the question, where are we going to get growth from? Where are we going to get private investment? And in South Australia we’re talking about projects often that are 10 or 15 years out. Tram lines along North Terrace, 15 years out. I think we need to start bringing some of these forward.”

“The world is awash with money but the demand is weak in the Australian economy and private sector investment is weak,” he said. “If the economy could put up large-scale projects they could invest in and get a reasonable return, then funds will flow to those so the Government does have a role in that. What are the potentially significant projects in South Australia that will lead to employment, improve our productivity and draw in private investment and that’s the critical question to answer.”

For his part, the economist believes that the contentious submarine maintenance contract should be renewed. “I think also what will be critical, very critical for South Australia is the Commonwealth decision about where the submarines will be built,” Mr. O’Neil suggested. “I think there’d be very significant political fall out if they’re not built in South Australia, but my view is they should be built in South Australia because we do have very strong manufacturing skills.”


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