By Jon Lamb
ADELAIDE — Speculation is mounting about when the Liberal state government will announce the date of the next election, due to be held by April. Preselection tussles are under way in the Labor and Liberal camps, and Premier John Olsen has begun regional campaign tours.
Since the 1993 election, the Liberals have failed to halt rising unemployment — the highest of the mainland states — or revive SA's ailing economy. The government's austerity and anti-worker binge has resulted in the loss of 12,000 public service jobs.
This year, Olsen has announced a series of multimillion-dollar projects to lift the state's growth rate above 1.5%. They include the Glenelg marina development, the expansion of Roxby uranium mine, and the extension of Technology Park.
The latest project is the proposed $1 billion rail link between Adelaide and Darwin, which Olsen claims will create up to 10,000 jobs. On August 23, Howard announced federal funding for the project, increasing the likelihood that a state election date will be announced soon.
Olsen has been attempting to paint a more "humane" face on the Liberals' slash-and-burn policies, and has employed a special advisory team to improve his image. On August 15 he declared that he "would like to dispel the view that our government's economic recovery lacks a compassion button", and that "care and concern for individuals is what drives us".
To help solve youth unemployment, Olsen announced that from August 31 the government would award contracts of $500,000 or more only to firms which have at least 10% young trainees or apprentices.
This is a token gesture, however. Young people have been among the hardest hit by the Liberals' cuts; youth unemployment is now 36%. Migrant and Aboriginal youth have been the worst affected, and have also had to deal with media hype about "youth crime gangs" roaming the streets.
Along with heightened racism, despair has resulted in an increase in deaths from drug and alcohol abuse. During June and July, 43 mostly young Aboriginal people around the state committed suicide — twice the usual rate.
The lacklustre performance of both Olsen and the Labor opposition has been reflected in recent opinion poll results. In June, an Advertiser poll revealed Labor running at 32%, the Liberals at 41% (down from 60.9% in 1993) and 11% undecided. Only 13% felt that Mike Rann was doing a "good" job as leader of the opposition. Labor has been plagued by financial problems caused by disaffiliation of key unions over the recent months.