Watch — McKell’s Ed Cavanough addresses Adelaide audience at the launch of the McKell Institute SA/NT

McKell Institute SA/NT was launched by Premier Peter Malinauskas to a packed room of union, business, civil society and government leaders at Adelaide Town Hall on 27 March, 2024. McKell’s Ed Cavanough addressed the room, detailing McKell’s story and outlining why establishing a footprint in SA was so important.


Can I begin by recognising we’re meeting on Kaurna land and pay my respects to elders past and present.

And can I thank Robert Taylor for welcoming us all here this evening.

Can I also acknowledge the esteemed guests we have with us in the room:

  • Premier Peter Malinauskas
  • Former Premier Mike Rann
  • Attorney General Kyam Maher
  • And every Member of Government and Parliament who is with us.

I also want to thank our partners who have helped get us to this stage:

  • Dale Beasley
  • Josh Peak
  • Bernedette Mulholland
  • Abbey Spencer
  • And every other McKell partner who has travelled interstate to join us.

And folks I must say at the outset, some 9 months after getting the opportunity to run this organisation nationally, it’s a joy to be officially bringing McKell roadshow here, to my hometown, and to celebrate with so many friends the official launch of the McKell Institute’s South Australia & Northern Territory branch.

Some of you are familiar with the McKell Institute and what we do.

But I wanted to briefly share our organisation’s story, before explaining why this expansion into SA is our natural next step.

In 2012, the McKell Institute was founded in Sydney.

The idea was to build a research institute, and a forum for ideas, that wasn’t beholden to any one benefactor or any one government.

That while progressive in its values, wasn’t affixed to any one party.

And that wasn’t just focused on ideas aimed to provoke, but on identifying ideas and their pathways to implementation; informed by a political awareness; and made feasible through a willingness to build coalitions.

Our Institute takes its name from a war-time Labor Premier of NSW, William McKell.

It took that name in reference not to his flair, but to his approach to change making.

Bill McKell was aspirational about the future.

But to get things done, he straddled the old-world binaries of labour and capital to win, and hold power, and build a legacy — taking the values of a poor kid from a broken home who built a career in the trade union movement all the way to the heart of a modernising state government.

But it remains a fair question — why is a Sydney based organisation named after a former NSW Premier setting up shop in in Adelaide?!

The answer really is this — much of the material difference that everyday people feel from good progressive policy occurs because of the decisions of state governments.

Our Institute will always have a voice on Federal Issues — but it is at the state level where I’m most ambitious about our impact.

In 2017, we launched our Victoria branch; in 2018, we set up in Queensland.

Tonight, we launch an SA branch, from which we will also be serving the Northern Territory — home to 250,000 Australians often left out of our national conversation.

And in opening this branch, we are closer to being a truly national domestic policy think tank — an organisation not stuck in any one city, or focused on just one level of government.

We’re building an organisation that works with unions, business, government and civil society in every single Australian jurisdiction, that aspires to be informed not just by our partners, but by the lived experiences of everyday people, too.

 And I see no better place to nurture this kind of policy endeavour, than South Australia. 

And the reason is this — a generation ago, this state was on its knees.

When I was growing up, it was mired in the long tail of recession.

Today, it is the envy of the country.

I don’t say that lightly – I say it as someone who spends every other week away from Adelaide, observing, in real time, the changing attitudes people hold towards our state.

That evolution hasn’t been an accident.

It has occurred because our state often takes big swings, imagining and implementing bold ideas — even when its back is against the wall.

This success is aided by South Australia’s enviable political culture — one that often rewards the big thinkers.

Where opponents, as the Premier noted on election night, are adversaries, but they’re not enemies.

It’s a culture that encourages serious debate — and offers little electoral reward for the voices consumed by the clutter of our national life: the imported grievances, and the divisive cultural crusades, that are often cynically, falsely attributed to working people.

This comparably healthy political dialogue is, I believe, a precondition to progress.

And it is genuinely cross-partisan.

We’re also joined tonight by Rob Simms from the Greens, and SA Best’s Connie Bonaros —serious policymakers lifting the tenor and quality of our public debate.

Thank you for being here and thank you for your approach to politics.

So, South Australia’s got some momentum.

But we can’t take that for granted.

Traditionally, South Australia’s had its challenges.

And too often, it has been vulnerable to decisions made beyond our borders.

In late 2013 — when General Motors accepted Joe Hockey’s invitation to leave our state, thousands of SA families were immediately imperilled.

My new colleague, Dr. Gemma Beale, recognised the significance of that chaotic moment.

She’d soon connected with 30 workers whose lives were thrown into chaos by the Holden closure.

For three years, she tracked their post-closure lives, which informed her PhD on industrial transition — a project that recognised the costs South Australians can pay when they fall victim to decisions made in distant boardrooms, or cabinet rooms — but had very little to fall back on.

Gemma’s doctorate was informed by the lived experience of South Australians.

And it’s her unique ability to incorporate the stories of everyday people into robust policy research, to produce practical policy solutions, that gives me every confidence that this branch will thrive under Gemma’s leadership.

Gemma, I can’t wait to see what you will achieve in this role.

Our shared history proves that SA can be a place where big things happen.

But realising that promise isn’t a job just for government.

While we believe firmly in the power of government, we also know governments aren’t omniscient.

They can’t see every challenge, or predict every opportunity.

They need help, sometimes a nudge — from good faith actors.

And in front of me I see a room full of those actors:

  • Heads of trade unions.
  • Heads of industry groups.
  • Representatives of SA’s leading companies.
  • Not-for-profit leaders.

That is a natural McKell Institute coalition — and we’re eager to work with you all in the years ahead.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’m honoured to introduce a leader tonight who embodies the approach to policymaking I’ve just outlined.

The Premier has an ambition for our state — and pursues a brand of progressive politics focused more on outcomes than on posturing.

The Malinauskas Government also recognises that good policymaking comes not just from their ideas, but from the expertise and the experiences of our whole community.

When Peter Malinauskas assumed the Labor leadership in 2018, his approach to policy making became immediately clear.

He could have taken the easy path of a small target, two-term strategy.

Instead, even through the maelstrom of COVID, the Premier and the Labor team crafted a big-target agenda for the future.

It meant that on election day, voters had a genuine choice.

They had ideas like:

  • Universal early childhood education.
  • An Indigenous voice to State Parliament.
  • A major expansion to social housing.
  • A future-facing hydrogen jobs strategy.

…all on the ballot.

Big, evidence based, challenging propositions.

The Premier’s success — at the election, and since — lay not just in his ability to communicate this vision, but in the substance of what he was communicating — a manifesto for a fairer, more economically complex, more aspirational, South Australia.

It’s a model of politics that the McKell Institute admires, that the South Australian public clearly demand, and which serves as a refreshing template for the rest of our country.

And with that, ladies and gentleman, to officially launch the McKell Institute SA/NT, it is my pleasure to welcome the 47th Premier of South Australia, the Honourable Peter Malinauskas.