A State of Crisis

We have been living in a world of complacency while the economy slowly goes down the gurgler - like a frog in water, slowly heating.

The recent round of economic statistics continues to highlight the fact that the Tasmanian economy is in trouble. The young are moving away, retiring sea-changers are arriving. Over 60% of our population depend on government, either for employment or support. For them, the state of the economy is not important – they will be OK. The essential problem facing our community is in fact this very fact – this disconnect.

The high levels of unemployment, underemployment and the low participation rate emphasise the fact that for those who do seek employment, jobs are scarce. Saul Eslake continues to point out that our education system is turning out many who are ill-equipped to enter the workforce, but nothing seems to change. For the education system, the beat goes on.

Many of our established enterprises are facing difficult times, and our manufacturing sector is hurting. A serious impediment is that those who can otherwise be the major source of employment are turned away by the overly-rigid regulatory regime. Jobs are a product of investment – no investment, no jobs. Investors have become nervous about investing in us. The recent round of political debate surrounding the decoupling of our resource base from economic activity has done immense damage to our brand. Even Tasmanian money is finding a home elsewhere.

For those who wish to stay and work here, the cost of moving goods is prohibitive. Decision makers are seeking the magic bullet answer – we hold committees of inquiry, have task forces, and seek public consultations - but there isn’t one. We must look to resolve this in an integrated way. It requires a combination of responses, all of them already known, on our roads and by rail, in our ports, across Bass Strait, and internationally.

Government (state and local) is responsible for ensuring that power and water services are being provided, but without any real reference to the fact that these are economic costs as well as essential services. The recent transfer of liability for the Tamar Valley Power Station is a case in point. The debt will have to be met from somewhere, and it is pretty obvious where that somewhere is.

At such times as these it is easy to be gloomy, and this note can be seen as a reflection of this. I wrote a report into the Tasmanian economy over two years ago- “Constraints and Opportunities”, and most if not all of what was written then is just as relevant today. Which reflects a distinct lack of urgency to resolve these issues. The situation is not so bad as to be irreversible. However, things will have to change. A change in direction is badly needed. A change of government is of itself not the answer, so much as a change of approach from within government, of whatever hue.