CROWDS flocking to Adelaide’s Botanic Park for the recent WOMADelaide festival were treated to an innovation: a talkfest on top of the music. Together with the twenty-six groups playing at the biggest world music festival outside Britain, where Womad started, “The Planet Talks” marked the Adelaide event’s twenty-first birthday. Concertgoers could wander from performances by South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela or Jamaican reggae artist Jimmy Cliff to discussions about food security, climate change and population growth with the likes of Paul Ehrlich, the American population biologist, and Ian Lowe, president of the Australian Conservation Foundation.
“Debate on these issues has become so uncivilised in Australia,” says Ian Scobie, WOMADelaide’s director. “The advent of minority government has turned political debate into grenade-throwing. This puts it back as a conversation to enrich people’s lives.”
It’s a very Adelaidean perspective. And South Australia seems to be looking for such innovative spirit on a broader front, as it charts another economic watershed. Few states would have watched more closely the Reserve Bank of Australia’s decision on 7 May to cut the benchmark interest rate to 2.75 per cent. Economists saw the move as an effort to bring down the value of the Australian dollar, which had traded above its American counterpart throughout the previous eleven months and for much of the previous two years. The high dollar had made it harder for manufacturers to export goods and compete against cheaper imports; and nowhere has the impact been felt harder than in South Australia, where manufacturing comprises a bigger share of the economy, 10 per cent, than in any other state…