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From the Paradise of Dissent to the Paradise of Diversity

The economic future of South Australia

March 15, 2014

Credit: TUBS - Wikimedia

The Australian economic historian Douglas Pike called South Australia’s social experiment of the 19th century the “Paradise of Dissent”.

Now, in the 21st century I think we are becoming the “Paradise of Diversity,” in terms of our diversified economy and our multicultural sophisticated globally connected society.

Why? Because in my home state of South Australia, we have managed to combine economic innovation and social innovation.

It is no accident that Lonely Planet, which is not known for exuberance, now compares Adelaide, the state capital of South Australia, to Paris and puts it on its list of the top ten cities of the world to visit.

South Australia is one of Australia’s smaller states, with a population at just over 1.6 million people, most of whom live in Adelaide.

Unlike the rest of Australia, South Australia was not settled as a convict colony but as a colony for radical non-conformist dissenters. They were looking to practice different religions freely (which is why Pike chose the title of “Paradise of Dissent” to explain the origins of South Australia).

Leading Australia toward enlightenment

As a result of South Australia’s unique beginnings, we are very proud of our “firsts” in South Australia – in both our economic and social history.

On the social front, South Australia was the first colony in Australia to have votes for women in 1893 and the first place in the world to allow women to stand for parliament in 1895.

In a country where aborigine rights have had a sombre history, South Australia, in 1976, was the first state to appoint an Indigenous Governor. South Australia was also the state where the first land rights, race and sex discrimination acts were passed.

On the economic front, South Australia was the first state in the country to pass town planning legislation, appoint a town planner, establish a chamber of commerce and establish legal trade union rights. The state invented a simple new property rights record-keeping mechanism known as the Torrens title system, which is now popular in many parts of the world. South Australia also provided a sewage system by 1881.

Entrepreneurship with social justice

These achievements demonstrate South Australia’s unique economy and society. As the book “Why Nations Fail” by Daron Acemoglu of MIT and James Robinson of Harvard shows, combining institutions that support property rights with inclusive democratic rights is the secret to economic and social progress.

And South Australia is a good example of the Harvard/MIT treatise working in practice. We combine entrepreneurship with social justice, democratic rights with property rights. This merges two Australian values: the right to “have a go” (economic opportunity) and the right to a “fair go” (social justice).

As a result, we have been able to build a strong sustainable economy with equally strong social institutions.

In a global context, I see this whenever, as The Airport Economist: I meet South Australian exporters doing great things globally. From Michell wool in Shanghai to Shane Yeend’s Imagination, in our creative industries, and our young McLaren Vale wine makers taking their technology and skills to Mendoza, Argentina.

And globally connected citizens like filmmaker Scott Hicks and Peta Astbury have their equivalents in the business world.

I think of companies like Amigo, Laucke Flour Mills, Rossiters, Wallcann, Era Publications, Ceberus Sciences, Precise Advance manufacturing Group, Amorini Australia, APC technology, Norman Sheun Architects all doing great things internationally from an Adelaide base.

Generation Expat

I also think of this when I see some of our “Generation Expat” South Australians doing well from Shanghai to South London to Sao Paulo. Agent General Bill Muirhead has built up a great group of Young South Australians who are a diverse bunch of young people from all walks of life.

There’s Amanda Stranks, literally an Oxford Scholar, Hugh Bailey from Macquarie, Emma Kate Codrington, a young designer, Amy Lunn, Asian business and legal guru in Asia, and great young entrepreneurs like Anthony Ceravalo of ECNLive, Lance Stewart of Wavana, Andrew Grill of Kred and Lyndon Gasking of

The shift to a paradise of diversity is also reflected in the contributions of immigrants to South Australian society. Fifty percent of the state’s exporters are born overseas – as are two-thirds of our entrepreneurs. That underscores just how much South Australia has greatly benefitted from immigration.

The older paradise of dissent tradition is also noticeable as many migrants settled in South Australia to practice religion freely. For example, Adelaide has had at least four Lord Mayors of Jewish origin: Judah Solomon, Isaac Isaacs, Sir Lewis Cohen and more recently Henry Ninio.

This combination of economic entrepreneurship and social innovation makes South Australia very special. Any pet shop galah can offer to cut taxes and red tape, but its takes special leadership to develop a strong economy and a great society.

And that is how South Australia has transformed itself from the paradise of dissent of the 19th century to the paradise of diversity – both economic and cultural in the 21st century.


Lonely Planet has listed Adelaide, South Australia, one of the top 10 cities of the world to visit.

South Australia was settled as a colony for radical non-conformist dissenters, rather than as a convict colony.

This combination of economic entrepreneurship and social innovation makes South Australia very special.

South Australia has transformed itself from the paradise of dissent of the 19th century to the paradise of diversity.