The Role of Trade and Export in South Australian Politics

The Role of Trade and Export in South Australian Politics

South Australia’s natural resources, skilled workforce and research sector have attracted investment in world-leading projects. The state is a leader in the energy transition and aims for net zero emissions by 2050.

The state is governed by a bicameral parliament, with the House of Assembly representing individual electoral districts and the Legislative Council comprising members elected at large. Its judiciary system includes the Supreme Court, the District Court and the Magistrates Court.

Trade and Export

South Australia is known for its world-class products and services, including wine, grain, iron ore, and petroleum. Its central location, access to seaports and established export networks make it a prime manufacturing and distribution hub for the Asia Pacific region.

South Australian exports have increased significantly as a share of GDP in recent years. This has been driven by a growth in demand for natural resources and services, as well as rising living standards in the region. This has offset a reduction in the relative value of some commodities, particularly in iron ore and coal.

In 2015, South Australia’s top exports accounted for over half of its total output. In terms of product groups, agricultural goods and mineral fuels accounted for most of this revenue, with mining commodities (particularly iron ore and gold) making up the remainder. Services also continue to grow in importance, with education-related and personal travel, as well as professional services, among the top 15 export categories.

The state government is responsible for a broad range of public functions, including higher education, health, social services, police and prisons, roads and water supply, as well as the conservation of land and marine resources. It is assisted by a network of local government areas, each controlled by councils elected by property owners and residents.

The State Government is a leader in the transition to a clean energy economy, with the twin goals of reducing state greenhouse gas emissions by 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050. This is supported by a modern regulatory system, an abundance of natural resources and a research sector that has produced internationally recognised expertise.

Project Energy Connect, a new interconnector between South Australia and New South Wales, will allow green electricity from South Australian solar and Tesla Powerwall home battery systems to be exported to NSW, while increasing power system reliability. This is just one example of a state government committed to driving economic growth through attracting new investment and expanding exports in sectors of competitive advantage.


The South Australian government (often referred to as the South Australian Government or SA Government, and more formally as His Majesty’s Government) is a democratic administrative authority that governs the state of South Australia. It comprises the South Australian Parliament and a range of agencies.

The state’s government is responsible for state-level education, hospitals, public housing, prisons and police, roads, water supply and land resources. Its parliamentary system is based on the Westminster system, with the legislative power residing with a House of Assembly and Legislative Council. The political party or coalition of parties that win the most seats at a state election forms the government. The leader of the winning party becomes the Premier.

A large percentage of South Australia’s income is generated through the primary industries such as grain, vegetable oil and wine, and livestock. The Department of Primary Industries and Regions is responsible for the prosperity of these sectors, as well as agribusiness.

South Australia’s government, like all Australian governments, is subject to frequent changes in leadership and policy. The state is led by a Premier and Cabinet, headed by the Governor General of Australia. The state is divided into 47 electoral divisions, each represented by an elected member of the House of Assembly. The Electoral Commission of South Australia conducts all South Australian state elections, and fees-for-service elections and ballots for organisations such as community groups, committees and boards of directors and enterprise agreements.

In the early twentieth century, South Australia’s premier, Don Dunstan, strove to make his state the technological, design, social reform and artistic centre of Australia. The success of this vision depended on a thriving economy, and the growth of industry was underpinned by high levels of effective tariff protection. As the economies of other states industrialised, these advantages diminished.

Despite the rapid economic growth of the 1930s, progress toward popular representation remained fitful. In 1894, well in advance of most other democracies, South Australia extended the vote to women. The Women’s Suffrage League, founded by Mary Lee and Mary Colton and later joined by Catherine Helen Spence, led the campaign. By the 1960s, it was widely accepted that the electoral system grossly underrepresented metropolitan Adelaide.


South Australia has a strong economic base with mining, agriculture and energy at its core. South Australia’s primary industries and agribusiness contributed $17.3 billion to the economy in 2021-22. They are responsible for 51% of all merchandise exports. The Department of Primary Industries and Regions (PIRSA) is focused on the prosperity of these sectors.

PIRSA is the lead agency supporting the Premier and Cabinet by developing policy and delivering programs to realise the government’s vision for South Australia. The department works across the value chain to support the state’s growing industry and its global competitiveness.

It focuses on the areas of food security, rural and regional development, sustainable land management, industry research and innovation. It also oversees the development and promotion of South Australia as a world class destination for investment, tourism and trade.

The Australian state of South Australia is a parliamentary democracy with its own system of government, independent of the Commonwealth. This system is based on the Westminster system of Parliamentary government in which the Government is formed by a party or grouping that has the majority of seats in the state’s House of Assembly or by a coalition.

South Australia has a long and rich history of progressive social reform. For example, it was the first of the Australian colonies to allow women to vote and stand for election to parliament. This was largely thanks to the efforts of the Women’s Suffrage League, which lobbied for over a decade.

Other social reforms included the establishment of free public libraries, kindergartens and schools. In addition, the statewide school holidays were made permanent and a state pension was established in 1897.

There is also a strong tradition of political activism in the state, with many community groups and organisations working for social change. Some of these are specialised in specific issues such as disability, indigenous rights or the environment. Others are more broad based, seeking to promote general community wellbeing and providing services to members of the state’s diverse population. These groups include community and cultural organizations, churches and charities.


South Australia is a highly image-conscious state with a strong commitment to culture. The state’s leadership is focused on promoting the image of South Australia as a centre for technology, design, social reform and art. The image is supported by a strong focus on education at both the primary and secondary levels.

The State has a reputation as a leader in environmental and climate change policy. It is a leading global player in renewable energy, and is well-positioned to harness the opportunities that climate change brings. South Australian policy makers are identifying and managing climate risk and opportunity across their assets, operations and activities. The State has a strong legislative and regulatory framework to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition to a net zero emissions economy.

Despite the state’s image-conscious leadership, the state is facing a number of significant challenges. Economic growth has been slower than the national average since the 1990s. The government has implemented debt reduction policies and is pursuing new opportunities for growth in the information technology sector, grain and wine exports and mining activities.

Since gaining self-government in 1856, South Australia has had a radical form of democracy – the world’s first constitution to give all adult males (including Indigenous men) the vote, introduce secret ballots and adopt the idea of one person one vote. The state’s Old Parliament House is a heritage-listed site that is a central symbol of these reforms and the progressive ideals that drove them.

Despite the enduring progressive political environment, this research finds that equity as a goal of HiAP shifted from being articulated in the 10 Principles to slipping out of prominence within SA Government documents that identified and articulated government priorities and actions. This was the result of deep institutional barriers to addressing equity including the dominance of neo-liberalism. These findings were confirmed by a series of interviews and workshops conducted with key policy actors as part of this project. Interviews and workshop data were analysed using qualitative analysis software NVivo. Thematic analysis of the interview and workshop data was discussed and debated at regular research team meetings.