Jay Weatherill: holding our nerve while times are a-changin'


September 29, 2017

Adapted from the Open State 2017 launch speech. Open State runs from September 28 to October 8. Livestreaming is available for free.

In February 1936, the esteemed economist John Maynard Keynes published probably his most influential work.

That book was the General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.

In a world still recovering from the effects of the devastating Great Depression, it sought to challenge – even revolutionise – many of the precepts of economic thought.

In addition to discussing technical matters, Keynes addressed a topic more profound and philosophical, and that we still grapple with today.

And that topic is our collective ability to contend with ideas.

Let me read one sentence from the book that goes to the heart of the matter:

The difficultly lies, not in new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.

In 2017, South Australia is experiencing fundamental economic change – change that is exciting, often unpredictable and sometimes unnerving.

In the manner suggested by Keynes, this process involves not just our accepting of the new but also transitioning from the old.

And this is being demonstrated quite dramatically in certain industries.

In the case of the automotive sector, for example, it involves closing our last car-making plant – at Holden’s Elizabeth plant on 20 October – at the same time as we explore the enormous potential of driverless vehicles.

In the field of energy, it means phasing out the dirty, inefficient fuel of coal while we show leadership in renewable sources like wind and solar, and in battery storage.

Finally, in manufacturing, its means moving up the value chain into more high-tech areas.

Nothing illustrates this particular trend more than the fact that where once South Australia made washing machines, we’re now building naval frigates and we’re poised to construct a fleet of hugely sophisticated submarines.

Where once we were known for making the iconic Hills hoist, we’re now well placed to become the industry hub of a new Australian space agency – a development I was delighted to hear announced at the International Astronautical Congress.

South Australia is today leading the world in a range of other areas, too.

For instance:

  • we’re turning our parched outback into fruit and vegetable farms through the use of solar thermal energy;
  • we’re seeking to make Adelaide the world’s first carbon-neutral city;
  • we’re running participatory-budgeting programs that are improving communities and winning awards at the United Nations; and
  • we’re building the foundation for a whole new industry – the Ageing Well sector – through the introduction of “living laboratories”.

When you look at the areas in which South Australia is currently excelling – or has bold plans for the future – there’s a clear theme.

The theme is that many of the things we’re pursuing – many of the social and other reforms we’ve made in the past 180 years – were at some point considered radical or unrealistic.

And this brings me back to the topic of ideas – especially the implicit challenge being set down in the coming 11 days by Open State.

South Australia is standing on the world stage this week – and is gaining global attention all year round – because we’re a place synonymous with ideas.

We’re managing to escape from the sometimes restrictive nature of old ideas.

And we’re coming up with and realising new ones.

Most important of all, we’re not afraid.

We’re not afraid to have heated debates, we’re not afraid of controversy, we’re not afraid to ask difficult questions, and we’re not afraid to seek solutions to apparently unsolvable problems.

For me, Open State is the embodiment of this ethos – this preference for anticipating change, not merely responding to it.

It’s a forum in which people from all over the planet come together to explore ideas and to collaborate.

It’s a forum that has the potential to practically improve people’s lives and create the jobs of the future.

And it’s a forum that shows that – rather than a mood of apathy and cynicism – there is, in fact, a thirst for debate and a desire to talk positively about the future.

Consistent with what I said about understanding the value of ideas – about the imperative to entertain bold and even unpopular ones – I hope you’ll make the most of Open State.

When you look through the Open State program and see events relating to robots and artificial intelligence…

…to the nutritional value of insects…

…to the future of friendship in the digital age…

…to the concept of going to work and having a career…

…to the benefits of mental illness…

…to the end of journalism as we know it…

…to the “outrageous” suggestion that citizens rather than only politicians should decide how to spend government money…

…I hope you’ll go along to those sessions, exercise an open mind, and entertain ideas that are original, confronting and – in many cases – way ahead of their time.

Watch Open State keynotes via live websteam, and catch-up on some of the smaller events when videos are uploaded later. Or follow along with the hashtag #OpenState17 

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