Monthly Archives: December 2013

Can We Eject Tasmania Soon?


Here’s a really interesting link about Tasmania sent in by Skarp. It’s a really interesting read. The basic gist of it is that basically Tasmania doesn’t get better because it doesn’t perceive the need to get better and has developed enough cultural inertia to the point where it will resist forming strong positions to change the status quo, which is basically having and keeping Tasmania as a state of freeloaders on the mainland.

The underlying problem is simple but intractable: Tasmania has developed a way of life, a mode of doing things, a demographic, a culture and associated economy, that reproduces underachievement generation after generation.

Everyone knows the problems; they are manifest, reported day after day. The reality is that Tasmania has bred a dominant social coalition that blocks most proposals to improve. Problems and challenges are debated endlessly, with no resolution. Most discussion avoids mention of the uncomfortable truths at the source of underperformance.

Ultimately, Tasmania doesn’t change because its people don’t really want to. They don’t need to change because their way of life is mainly financed by the mainland. Far from helping overcome this pattern, the nation’s resource-boom prosperity is enabling and cementing Tasmania’s under-achievement. It’s allowing the government to pay an ever-expanding proportion of the population not to work; it’s driving up wages, materials, transport, regulation, exchange rates, and other costs that make Tasmania’s traditional industries uncompetitive; and it’s allowing government to subsidise non-performing industries.

The result is that Tasmanians face little incentive or pressure to change. Unlike New Zealand, which has no rich big brother and must find ways to earn its own living, Tasmania enjoys a permanent and ongoing transfer from mainland cousins that reinforces failure.

The disgust is palpable. 🙂 Heck, I would admit to sharing in that disgust. The scary thing is that Tasmania stills sends Senators who have a disproportionate amount of power relative to population base. If Tasmanian Senators don’t want something, they can really veto stuff even if it’s necessary. Yes, I’m thinking of Brain Harradine, but to a similar extent Bob Brown. Now, Bob Brown is a hero to many people but when you do the sums, he did not represent any where near the same sort of population as a  Senator in NSW or Victoria would have represented. Yes, as Paul Keating use to call them, ‘unrepresentative swill’. To make matters worse, they’re representing people who eschew higher eduction and knowledge:

For the middle class — in Tasmania a much smaller group than elsewhere — education was seen as desirable, but only to a point. Valued above most other concerns was a modest, comfortable lifestyle, the kind that steady government employment guarantees. The ease with which it had become possible in Tasmania to reach this income level and enjoy material security meant that there was little incentive for more education. The introduction of the goods and services tax and the wave of new tax finance provided to Tasmania had facilitated this culture by driving a mini-boom in the early 2000s as the state government added thousands of new public servants and sharply increased their wages, to reach “parity” with the mainland. Flow-on effects raised housing values and precipitated a retail-consumption spurt.

The final source of blockage and failure to take advantage of opportunity is internal division. With prosperity seen to stem largely from government largesse, development in Tasmania is often regarded as a zero-sum game. If one sector or geographic region gains something, it is seen to come at the expense of someone (or somewhere) else. Hence, all opportunities are greeted with an outbreak of conflict over who should get what, usually between the northern and southern halves of the island. The mayor of Launceston famously stated it was more important to him that rival Hobart not be the site of any AFL games, for example, than that more were played in his own city.

Challenging this self-reproducing pattern of failure has not proven easy. Because its origins lie so deep in the culture and population mix, change can probably come only from outside. Either the national taxpayer and federal government will declare “enough” — though there’s little sign of this — or Tasmania will be altered by new arrivals seeking opportunity and a better lifestyle.

Somehow I doubt it. Which is why I want to plant the seed of change; Maybe they’ll change if they feared we would cut them off if they didn’t change their uncompetitive ways.

Some voices within Tasmania do argue that a government-dependent way of life is not sustainable. They believe we can’t go on and will be forced to change. But abundant government finance fuelled by the resources boom and a local demographic and culture that blocks change has rendered that untrue. The ultimate problem is not that Tasmania cannot afford its pattern of failure, but increasingly that it can.

I guess that’s where it leaves us.

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