Farming sector leading jobs growth in South Australia as employment bounces back — but tough economic work still to be done
FARMING has led a rebound in the state’s employment fortunes over the past year, as official figures show the sector central to starting up SA’s economy added more than 10,000 jobs.
Advertiser analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics figures has found SA jobs overall have made a comeback in the past two years, after a horror three-year run in negative territory.
It comes ahead of a state election next month where the future of the SA economy will be a critical issue, and the two major parties offer radically different plans for new growth.
Analysis shows that SA created 16,800 more jobs than it lost in the past half decade.
During that time, Australia overall added 993,900 more workers.
At about 7 per cent of the national population, SA created just 1.7 per cent of Australia’s new jobs in those five years.
The past year brought good news for agriculture, also a standout over the longer-term, as official numbers show it grew in 2017 from 31,400 workers to 41,500.
Solid expansion also continued in health, SA’s biggest jobs sector, which grew by 9700 to a total of 128,700.
However, the wind-up of carmaking in SA due to closure of Holden’s Elizabeth factory dealt a savage blow to manufacturing and surprise gains for the sector in 2016 were obliterated in the past 12 months as a huge 12,400 positions were shed.
Administration and utilities also suffered in 2017, despite high-profile announcements on new energy infrastructure.
SA Centre for Economic Studies executive director Michael O’Neil said much of the state’s employment growth over the past two years was linked to State Government programs including the jobs accelerator grant, which offers subsidies of up to $10,000 per worker.
However, he said the state was creating a situation similar to that which grew around Holden as taxpayer funds are poured into jobs that could be shed as soon as handouts were pulled.
Associate Professor O’Neil said SA’s turnaround in the last two calendar years, where the state added 20,400 jobs more than it lost, hid ongoing structural problems in the economy.
“The current data now is very much affected by the Government’s job accelerator grant,” he said.
“Most of the jobs created (in SA recently) seem to be under that (program).
“So, there was very little job growth in the private sector over this last few years, and then suddenly you get this big boost.
“That’s an oddity caused by the job accelerator grant.
“It is (working) in the short-term, but it’s not sustainable in the long-term that the Government actually subsidises private employment and there’s such big employment in the public sector.
“They are still not altering the larger trend, that employment is relatively static in SA.”
Mr O’Neil said major reform was needed to cut taxes and encourage the private sector.
He also cautioned that figures showing short-term job changes in specific sectors were volatile.
Winemakers Armand Lacomme and Prakeet Mehra of Riverland Vintners among the wine vats in Monash. Picture: Naomi Jellicoe
Primary Producers SA executive chairman Rob Kerin said agriculture was often overlooked for its contribution to the state economy and remained a leading exporter and employer.
“I think the importance of it has been a little bit lost,” he said.
“Most people used to have a connection to a farm, and that’s really disappeared in the last 30 years.
“There’s kids who don’t know where food comes from. But we are really kicking goals.
“Agriculture’s importance as an export shouldn’t be lost. That’s what brings money in to SA.”
Mr Kerin said wine and beef sales were standout performers in the state’s broader agricultural sector, amid growing demand for high-class SA products in both the United States and Asia.
Employment Minister Kyam Maher said SA’s food and wine was “regarded as the best in the world” and manufacturing must remain as a significant part of the state economy.
“Just as we are doing in agriculture, food and wine, we’re growing the jobs of the future in defence and shipbuilding, tourism, mining and energy, health industries, and IT and high technology manufacturing,” he said.
“Labor also believes manufacturing will continue to play an important role, particularly through our naval shipbuilding program and steelworking.”
He said Labor would continue to offer incentives for big companies like Boeing, Tesla and Technicolor to set up in SA if it secured another four years at next month’s election.
Opposition Leader Steven Marshall said SA had been “in the slow growth lane” for too long and must “create the right environment to attract investment and encourage businesses”.
“If a Liberal Government is elected next month, South Australians will see a different approach to the failed Labor policies that have been holding our state back,” he said.
“SA needs wholesale reform. Lower taxes, less red tape and a focus on skills development.”
Mr Marshall pointed to his existing pledges to cut payroll tax and household ESL bills.
Behind health, retail is the state’s biggest employment sector by numbers, with 93,800 workers.
Construction supports 67,900 jobs and manufacturing still employs 65,200.
Education is the state’s fourth biggest sector, despite recent losses, at 63,300 workers.
Public administration and safety rounds out the top five with 53,800 jobs.
BOOM THAT’S ONLY JUST BEGUN
AS GRAPE harvest kicks off in the Riverland, winemaker Armand Lacomme believes SA agriculture will continue to boom even further as demand for premium products grows.
The company he works for, Riverland Vintners in Monash, has seen a huge increase in production over the past three years as it pushes into the bulk wine market.
In that time, it has moved from crushing about 14,000 tonnes of grapes from around
the state to about 23,000 tonnes being booked in for this coming year.
“I think SA is a state where agriculture is booming,” he said.
“Whether it’s almonds, citrus and even dates are growing fast in the Riverland.”
At the same time, staff numbers have grown from 18 staff to 28 full time and another 20-odd people employed during vintage, that will now run for the next four months.
“Obviously, the industry is growing a lot of jobs,” Mr Lacomme said.
Yorke Peninsula farmer Mark Schilling said the sector still had the capacity to grow jobs and exports by “10 times”, but was often held back by “city centric” government policies.
“Agriculture is also a safe sector, because we produce food that people will always need,” he said. “We could have 10 times the amount of jobs. “We need enabling infrastructure.
“I have ministers here all the time, and it’s a constant battle to educate these guys.
“We need a decent container terminal and be better when it comes to exporting products.
“We also need courses that can teach kids around agriculture and working the system.
“Agriculture is the powerhouse, because we make something out of nothing.”
— Belinda Willis