I want to talk to you about universities as sources of economic and social renewal and hope. Also, the very important role that you—employers and industry—play in helping us to prepare people for a first, second or tenth job.
Let’s go back almost a decade. In a former life, I worked for the then Federal Minister for Innovation, Industry Science and Research. It was the height of the Global Financial Crisis, and much of the work was aimed at trying to keep car making in Australia. Mitsubishi was already gone but serious headway was being made with Holden, Ford and Toyota.
The peak of these efforts came three days before Christmas, 2008.
The Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Premier Mike Rann, and Holden Managing Director Mark Reuss came together at Holden’s Elizabeth plant to make a huge announcement.
Holden was to add a second line to its Adelaide operation, a new fuel efficient 4-cylinder car, the first small car for Holden in Australia, alongside the iconic commodore.
There was money from the State and the Federal Government. The media reported it as an early Christmas present for the more than 3,400 workers at Elizabeth—and possibly a new dawn for Australian car making.
The plant was shut down for the event—and it seemed like all the workers and their families were there to hear the news.
Kevin Rudd was mobbed as he moved through the crowd after the speeches.
When all the hoopla died down and the politicians had gone, I went out the back to have a sausage in bread.
I lined up behind a middle-aged bloke who had spent his whole working life at the plant. He was very polite and he introduced me to his son, who was a Holden worker as well, and his grandson who was tiny, but covered from head to foot in Holden racing team red.
I asked him what he thought of the whole thing. He paused and thenhe said was glad to hear his job was safe—for now—but that he had seen this kind of thing come and go.
I didn’t know what to say.
He knew it was all over.
And in the end he was right—the package worked for a while. The first 4-cylinder Holden Cruze rolled off Elizabeth’s production line in 2010 and the last in 2016.
Halfway through the run, Holden announced they would cease manufacturing in Australia, and did so last year.
So what do we do when economic circumstances, global shifts, evolving technology, mean that everything is changing around us? Where do we look for certainty, for renewal, for hope?
Well let’s look at what happened here on the ground. Not in theory but the reality.
For a long view, we need to look to the old Mitsubishi factory in Tonsley Park—it has been transformed by the South Australian Government, Flinders University and industry into Australia’s first innovation district.
The park is now home to more than 70 businesses, from startups to giants like Siemens. It is expected to attract $1 billion in private investment and is trialling driverless car pods for the Asia-Pacific market—which could be manufactured here as soon as 2020.
Tonsley Park is also working on industry 4.0, the so called “fourth industrial revolution”.
This next-generation advanced manufacturing is driven by automation and data, and a world in which the cyber and the human work hand-in-hand to create the parts and products that shape our everyday lives.
Over at the University of Adelaide, renewal comes in many forms but there’s ThincLab. sitting across three sites, it brings together students, researchers and entrepreneurs. Just one of the projects is Firma group’s mobile apps to detect melanomas.
Then there’s the partnership between UniSA and Precision Components to create the world’s first fully plastic automotive mirrors, and beyond that mirrors that turn sunshine into power.
These are the same people who are building environmentally friendly buses, and, back to where we started, they will work with race car manufacturer, Brabham, to build a new supercar at one of the former Holden sites.
They will build 70 cars; they will sell for $1.8 million—each.
These are all examples of transformation, universities and industry working with communities to revitalise economies and communities. To restore hope.
On the state-wide scale we can clearly see how important universities are to the economy.
- International students bring 1.2 billion to the economy here, third behind wine and minerals;
- Nationally they bring $32 billion into our economy each year, and supports 130,000 jobs;
- More than 5% of SA’s GDP comes from education: schools, VET and unis. This is higher than the national figure;
- Just walk around town and you can see all the recent building projects which have helped sustain 4000 jobs; and
- Nationally universities add $140 billion to the economy each year and spend over 10 billion on research and development.
But universities just don’t drive economic and industrial renewal. They transform the lives of individuals every day.
Last year we went to Whyalla to meet Chris Mills, one of David Lloyd’s students. He had spent 13 years on shift work at the Whyalla steelworks and it almost broke him.
Now he’s studying social work and things are looking up, but I’ll let Chris speak for himself.
We talked to Chris to illustrate the value of education as part of the UA campaign against cuts to student places that are making it so much harder for everyone who has the aptitude and the application to study at university.
But that isn’t what stays with me. It’s Chris himself. It’s the growing smile of a young man, with pride in himself and hope for his future.
Working with you, with communities and employers, that’s what universities can do. That’s what we can unleash—every bit of spectacular South Australian talent.