Mike Rann: Dared to be Bold
On Monday this week Mike Rann gave his last public lecture as the Premier of South Australia. In the audience at the University of South Australia’s Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre was Bob Hawke himself. The old man was something of a theme, not just for Rann’s lecture, but for his nine years in government.
Coming into office in 2002, Mike Rann faced similar problems to those Hawke faced in 1983:
Unemployment was high.
Kids were dropping out of school, and out of their future.
Our traditional manufacturing sector – whitegoods and car components – was under stress, as was our State’s ageing infrastructure.
We were derided as the ‘Rust Belt State’.
And our State’s collective psyche was characterised by insularity and self-doubt.
It was always better somewhere else.
We were in danger of defining ourselves by what we couldn’t achieve, rather than what we could.
Rann also faced a problem that Hawke, with his 25 seat majority in 1983, never faced: a hung parliament. He formed parliament with the support of a former Liberal MP, Peter Lewis. “The prudent course,” said Rann in his lecture, “would [have been] to protect our supposedly fragile coalition by avoiding all potential pit holes.” Instead, following the advice of Bob Hawke in one of his 1979 Boyer Lectures, Rann’s minority government thought big. Under Rann,South Australia has generated more wind energy than the rest of Australia put together, it’s attracted the lion’s share of geothermal investment in Australia and now boasts a clean-tech industry hub at the site of a former Mitsubishi plant. At that hub the Sustainable Industries Education Centre will teach more than 8000 students a year – training them in green jobs. State wilderness areas have been increased 26-fold. Rann nominated as his greatest failure his inability to abolish the South Australian Legislative Council.
The benchmark that Rann set for his government was to be – like Hawke’s – “a government that was pro-growth and pro-business, but at the same time a leader in social justice and the environment.”