Australia’s economic vitality depends upon investment attraction and selling goods to global markets. Martin established South Australia’s Investment Attraction Agency (IASA) from 2014 to 2018 which proved a remarkable success bringing in $2.1 Bn of investment generating $7bn of value dollars through 27 projects creating 7,400 jobs over a few short years. Companies like Boeing, Datacom, NEC, Tic Toc, Vero Guard, Big River Pork and many others were won to SA. We attracted Technicolour into the SA film industry. IASA succeeded because it was its own agency, led by a dynamic CEO, Chairman and Board, free to run fast, reporting directly to the Minister with authority to act as a single point of contact for major enterprises looking to invest in Australia, and it was supported by the Premier. IASA changed the culture of government and the Public Service into one which was strongly pro-investment.
We won several companies to SA simply because we made it easy, working on their behalf to cut through red and green tape, planning approvals and connecting them up with everyone they needed to succeed. In the process we heard many horror stories from these companies about their difficult dealings.
I have always taken the view that Australia needs to think big and look directly overseas for trade and investment. Lacking population and therefore a scalable local market, remote from the local eastern state markets and lacking the gift on massive mineral resources enjoyed by many other States, SA needs to look directly overseas. Importantly he realised that engagement, particularly in ASEAN and the emerging markets of China and India was not only about doing business but about mutual understanding and cultural exchange. Consequently arts, sports, and cultural exchanges with our major trading partners particularly through sister state relationships became a central tenet of the strategy.
The challenge is that some in business and the Public Service at large need help to energise an export culture. Large companies in the local minerals and food sector like BHP, SANTOS and our major meat and grain exporters generally had large export departments enabling them to look after themselves. State government support was vital for small to medium sized exporters, start-up tech, mining and food businesses, to businesses already exporting interstate and ready to attempt overseas exports and to the education industry. We had to change attitudes and the way business was being done. Engaging Ministers and their public service departments to think exports across their portfolios was an immediate challenge. Educating and assisting industry to travel and sell was next.
The Premier and I took to Cabinet a whole of state engagement strategy. Other states seemed to spend their time in the big city markets of Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. We decided to continue a focus on these markets but to simultaneously search out a competitive advantage by developing sub-national business opportunities more broadly. We wanted to go to markets where the competition with other Australian businesses and States was not as fierce, where SA could dominate. We reactivated and energised our sister state relationships in places like Shandong Province in China, West Java Province in Indonesia, and sister city relationships with Himeji in Japan and Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia.
On behalf of the government, I negotiated a new sister state relationship with Rajasthan in India. With the full cooperation of the Lord Mayor Martin Haese and Adelaide City Council new and existing sister city relationships were facilitated and nourished in Qingdao, Chengdu, Dalian in China and Christchurch New Zealand and Austin Texas in the USA. When we went to these destinations, we were often the only Australians in the room, and the markets there were huge.
Feedback from markets indicated that SA’s engagement needed to be regular and sustained if it were to grow. Up until 2014 trade missions led by Premiers or Trade Ministers were usually mounted at short notice, often when a gap in the parliamentary sitting programme presented itself. If we we went only occasionally with a flurry of activity, then there would be a long gap before we returned and a lack of continuity. Relationships built and commitments made would soon dissipate. That had to change.
Our whole of government effort into international engagement based around an annual calendar of visits to each of our major trading partners was promulgated a year in advance so that businesses and departments could budget and plan. In the first year we took 300 to China and 120 to India. Large groups of exporting businesses attended missions in ASEAN to Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and other places.