THE THOMAS PLAYFORD (PREMIER 1938-65) ERA ENCAPSULATES THE NECESSARY ROLE OF GOVERNMENT in protecting South Australia’s interests.
A social and economic conservative, Playford embarked on a splurge of socialism: nationalising banks and the electricity generation and delivery, huge infrastructure projects such as Morgan-Whyalla pipeline, and generous subsidies and incentives for business. Playford came to realise that South Australia had to guard its own interests against the bigger population and resources of the eastern states – and their influence on the federal government.
The South Australian colony basically started a capitalist project based on land sales, with the private South Australian Company dominant in the absence of British Government funding.
Second governor George Gawler ran the colony into early bankruptcy when he embarked on vital projects and programmes without official funding. But Gawler's commitment to government infrastructure set up the colony to make the most of future opportunities.
South Australia faced the effect of an interstate tremor during the 1850s gold rush, when diggers who left for Victoria took most of Adelaide banks' cash reserves.
Government action was needed. The colony’s novel strategy was to ask South Australian diggers to allow their gold finds to be brought back to Adelaide and turned into local coins. In this case, the governor Henry Young had been persuaded to overreach his powers to protect the colony’s own interests.
South Australia has often been a leader in ventures such as, ironically, moves to federate Australia. But it is has often found itself isolated in this leadership.
The latest instance has been in its use of renewable energy. Again, the state government in 2017 had to go it alone in securing the state’s own interests.