13 December 2019
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An inspirational politician! Could the opposite be true?

My weekend piece always tries to look for something inspirational, educational and insightful. Its goal is not just to assist my readers to see things that can give them a competitive advantage in life and in business, as the two are related, I’m also keen to develop ‘me’ as well.
 
This is my disciplined process to improve Peter Switzer and it’s with this in mind that I have to admit I was inspired by a politician this week!
 
No, it wasn’t anyone in Canberra — that seems like an impossible dream nowadays! — it was the Small Business Minister in the South Australian Government, Martin Hamilton-Smith (pictured).
 
Recalling that SA seems rusted on to Labor Governments nowadays and the Premier, Jay Weatherill, Martin sounds more like a Liberal than a Labor man, which in fact makes this MP even more interesting!
 
And that’s because he was the former leader of the Liberal Party in SA, then became an independent Liberal, and was recruited into a Jay Weatherill minority Government, when the Premier desperately needed votes!
 
Did I imply this is an unusual politician?
 
In fact, he’s not just the Small Business Minister he’s also the Minister for Investment and Trade, Minister for Defence and Space Industries, Minister for Health Industries and Minister for Veterans’ Affairs!
 
Clearly, he’s got a good work ethic, which could come from his former lives as a senior officer in the Australian Defence Force and the family childcare business, which employed around 125 staff at six business sites in two states - South Australia and New South Wales - and involved in the construction of new facilities and the trading operation of the enterprises. He later became President of a South Australian-based childcare association and National Secretary of the Australian Confederation of Child Care (ACCC) and was editor of the ACCC national magazine from 1995 to 1997. These bodies represented the small business sector of childcare before federal and state parliaments.
 
Did I say he has a good work ethic?
 
More than that, he’s actually a politician who can speak and hold a room, as I saw last Tuesday in Adelaide when I was asked to do a keynote speech for the Minister’s annual Small Business Statement. And it was a speech that taught me a thing or two about not writing off the state of South Australia.
 
I have to confess I didn’t cover the State in my speech because I thought it might not be great news but Martin didn’t miss it out, telling us how the doomsday merchants had misled a lot of us.
Here’s what I learnt from the Minister:

  • The SA small business sector contributes $35 billion to GDP.
  • It has one of the nation’s best trend unemployment rates of 5.6%.
  • A recent ANZ Bank Stateometer ranks the State economy as “growing above trend and accelerating”.
  • The South Australian businesses survival rate is at 57.2% – the highest in Australia.
  • On the CommSec State of the States report, SA jumped from 6th to 4th,  behind NSW, Victoria and the ACT but ahead of Queensland!
  • The same report in July revealed SA was the number one state for business investment.
  • I could go on but the reality is that SA is a state on the improve, with even BHP set to reignite its Olympic Dam project.

So why do we people from the thriving, driving Eastern-states have such a negative view on SA?
 
The closure of Holden and what was predicted may have clouded our judgment. Four years ago, news services told us that the state’s 140,000 small businesses were staring down the barrel of economic disaster, due to the Holden closure but the Minister said the facts of today overshadowed the doomsayers of yesterday.
 
“The forecast was for double digit unemployment, the collapse of manufacturing and an exit of almost every automotive component supplier,” he said. “Fast-forward four years and the small business sector, working closely with the State Government, helped achieve this result. Furthermore, in the past 18 months, 24 new investment projects have been secured by Investment Attraction South Australia (IASA).
 
“These projects will create 7,085 jobs for South Australians – seven times the number of jobs that went with Holden.”
 
Martin talked about how 200 jobs were lost when Coca-Cola closed its factory in SA and this captured news headlines for five days. However, the same news services failed to report on the same day that Coke cancelled the ticket on 200 jobs, that the Minister and the Premier went and officiated at a new business that created 200 jobs!
 
As you can see, the SA picture is a lot rosier than many would have thought. And rather than lamenting the loss of a dinosaur car industry, the state looks like it’s leveraging off its competitive advantage in areas such as food, wine and technology.
 
The big reminder lesson for me is that you make major mistakes when you don’t do your own homework and rely on the headline observations of the media. And even more important for me is that this story made me recall a lesson that I’ve shared with you as a means for giving yourself a competitive advantage.
 
The great entrepreneurs are lateral thinkers, who look at what most people think and ask: “What if the opposite was true?”
 
Asking this question daily about so many issues, which you may take for granted, is the discipline that could show you insights that power creativity and competitive advantages for you, your business or your performance in business.
 
When John Symond took on the banks in the early 1990s, most of us never presumed a small organisation like Aussie Home Loans could make the Big Banks capitulate and cut interest rates by 2%. Given the competition that has flowed from that and the benefits we have all enjoyed from more players in the mortgage market, we were all lucky that John asked: “Is the opposite true?”
 
And when I look at an energetic and committed small business-oriented politician like Martin Hamilton-Smith, I dream about politicians we can be proud of and I optimistically think maybe even the opposite could be true when we think politicians are a disappointing lot.
 
I’m sure Hamilton-Smith’s political enemies will set me straight but I’ve seen probably 100 small business ministers since I ran the Australian Small Business magazine in 1992 and then was Small Business Editor for The Australian newspaper, and the current SA Minister is an absolute bottler, compared to so many second rate pollies who’ve held a similar post.
 
Getting inspired by a politician isn’t something that happens to me too often nowadays but, consistent with the crazy politics of today, a recent Galaxy poll predicts that Martin will get clobbered in the March 2018 State election!
 
I hope the opposite winds up being true.

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