The Need for a Vision

Tasmania’s government influences the performance of the state’s economy through its fiscal management and leadership role. However, the present state of play has government and the Parliament in a state of crisis and confusion. Even though some decisions are being made, each maybe rational in themselves, they are being made in isolation, as a reaction to events, and without the broader context of Government policy. When put together, the approach is one of caution and a loss of focus.

Fixing a problem, reacting to an event, is all very well, and a necessary part of government, but it is only a part. Governments have become managers of the present, with declining physical, financial and intellectual resources, rather than leaders with a vision for the future. The approach is now equivalent to moving the deckchairs on the sinking ship.

The time has come for a new narrative, one that can move us away from the present gloom and doom, one that can provide hope and optimism for the community at large, and provide a secure and stable climate for economic activity and growth. One that enables the State to become a net contributor to the country’s economy, and not a mendicant. It is only through growth in the economy that one can deliver jobs, wealth and investment, and provide the necessary funds to spend on the essential services of government.

The narrative can be very simple. It needs to be meaningful, and not just slogans such as “Go for Growth”, “Change for the Better”, “Facing the Challenge”, or “Turning Tasmania Around”. Slogans without substance are but platitudes and wear thin exceeding fast.

It needs also to encompass the philosophy of citizenship, as being part of something bigger than self.

Such a narrative could be for Tasmania to dramatically increase (even to double) its population within 40 years. Although this may sound fanciful, it is NOT a radical thought. Setting a goal such as this would be in line with thinking elsewhere, it would maintain the relativities with the rest of the Commonwealth (which could reach 40 million by 2050), it would engage the community in a debate on how to deliver on such a policy, it would provide a direction and encourage investment by both the public and private sectors towards achieving such a goal, and it would stimulate growth. And Tasmania is in the fortunate position of being reasonably underpopulated, so it could accommodate such change with little if no detriment to its “lifestyle”. In fact for many “lifestyle” would be enhanced.

However, it does involve change.

The critical issue for government in order to meet any vision of growth, is to ensure an adequate infrastructure. And the critical issue in the provision of infrastructure is to work to a plan, or vision. At the moment, there is none.

If the state embarks on a program of growth, (and it should), then it will involve in-migration, and will need to provide flexible living options throughout the state.

In-migration can be from a range of sources. People wanting to get away from the sprawling and crowded suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney, people wanting a better environment to raise their kids, sea and tree changers, migrants from other countries, establishment and relocation of government departments and agencies. Tasmania can accommodate them all, and promote itself as an ideal living environment for these people.

Further, the future for Australia could well be for a significant workforce residing on the eastern seaboard but working in the west and in the north of the country. Bernard Salt refers to a FIFO (fly-in, fly out) lifestyle, and it makes sense there will be a number of people who will want to live in Tasmania but for at least some of the time work outside the state.

One of the attractions for many will be ease of access on and off the island. In this regard, the availability of transport links to the mainland is a bonus and should be seen as such.

There is discussion at the moment about siting new defence bases around the national coastline, and Tasmania should be putting forward a case for a naval presence and base, linking in to a maritime and marine cluster.

There will need to be an adequate connection between the various centres, and a proper highway/railway system for the transport of people and goods connecting the three regions is an obvious priority. Broadband needs to be in place quickly.

The regional planning strategies will need to cater for an expansion of the population and establish zones where cheap land can be provided for housing. These areas will require access to services, and the existing provision of hospitals, health facilities and schools is an obvious drawcard. Water and sewerage schemes should link in to this zoning process to ensure an easy uptake.

Such an approach is vastly superior to a higgledy piggledy approach which could easily occur and has in the past occurred without these regional strategies in place.

The important point to make here is that any vision for growth cannot be made in isolation from a holistic approach to how it is to occur. Without a vision, none of this will occur.

There is an alternative vision, to keep things as they are. “I like things as they are”, “There is no need to change”, in fact, “Let’ stop doing things that do not equate with my lifestyle needs.”
This is no less a vision, and is being promulgated by certain groups within the community. But it is a “no growth” vision, and such a vision has its consequences. And those consequences are not pretty. What is concerning is that whereas a growth vision does accept newness, new ideas, new people, the alternative view excludes them, and the community becomes xenophobic.

It must be realised that the world does not stop, things don’t stay as they are, and Tasmania could be left further behind, so much so that we could become - like the Amish - an historical curiosity. A Georgian theme park on the edge of the world.

We can do better.