Tasmania – the sadder state

You internationals might want to pass this one by (or not) as it’s very Australia/Tasmania-centric. I just had to get it off my chest.

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Tasmania is a beautiful island. There are so many wonderful places to visit and things to see.

Binalong Bay, on Tasmania’s east coast, is still one of Australia’s best kept secrets. It’s getting harder to find a reasonably priced holiday rental there, but a sunny week in Binalong will take years off the way you feel.

Our rugged west coast is full of natural, mountainous gems – the Franklin River, Strahan and the Henty Dunes. Even the moonscape of dowdy Queenstown is worth a look at least once, if only so you can experience the hairpin-infested road out of the town.

Living in Tasmania is relatively easy, too. Whilst daily essentials cost a bit more, housing is cheap compared to mainland prices and even in Hobart, the state’s capital, a commute of more than 30 minutes would be rare. Personally speaking, I have to cross a bridge and proceed through to the other side of the CBD and if I leave at the right time, I can get there in no more than 20 minutes.

So with such beauty and relative ease of housing and movement, why is it that people seem to be queueing up to leave?

Tasmania is uniquely placed, both in terms of its geography and its politics. Physically, we are pretty much at the end of the world. The only place of note that’s further away from places-that-matter is New Zealand. One of our more colorful former Prime Ministers once remarked that Australia was located at the arse-end of the world. If that’s the case, then Tasmania is the sphincter.

Politically, Tasmania is unlike any other place in Australia. Whilst the Greens movement has gained some traction in Australian federal politics, Tasmania – which is the home of the Green movement worldwide – now has a genuine three-party polity, with the left-leaning Labor Party currently holding down minority government with the help of the Greens whilst the right-leaning Liberal Party continue their own struggle for an identity here.

Post-WWII, Tasmania has predominantly leaned to the left of the political spectrum. From 1934 to 1982, that’s 48 years, there were only 3 years of conservative rule in Tasmania. We are not a rich state. I moved here in 1995 when the Liberals were in power. They lost ground and formed a minority government after the 1996 election and then Labor took over in 1998 and have been there ever since.

Labor’s current grip on power looks tenuous. The 2010 election saw both Labor and Liberal parties winning 10 seats each, with the remaining 5 seats going to the Greens. Labor agreed to lead a minority government in partnership with the Greens, which is where we’re at right now.

And it’s bloody miserable.

To be fair, it’s not all the government’s fault. State income from the federal government has fallen due to lower tax receipts. We have a consumption tax here in Australia and the GFC scared most people into saving rather than spending. Lower consumption means that the government has either had to slash and burn expenditure or raise income from elsewhere and the resultant political finger-pointing has become unbearable.

Aside from the external factors, there seems to be a constant anti-progress, anti-development stance here in Tasmania that has effectively placed a giant wet blanket over our day-to-day lives. We’re like a population of adult-sized teenagers with nothing to do except wander around and admire the views.

It seems that nearly all plans for significant development are stifled by a small group of very loud protesters claiming the land for one thing or another. If it’s not sacred indigenous land, it’s the home of a rare parrot, or a particular species of tree, or a threat to our cultural heritage (which is ironic because our history only dates back a couple of centuries, and if we keep going the way we’re going now, our collective cultural heritage in 2212 will include several generations of people who did absolutely nothing. Your great-great-great-great grandkids will be proud, I’m sure).

Don’t get me wrong. I like the environment we have here and I’m respectful of Australia’s indigenous population. I want us to do the right thing by everyone. But it seems that here in Tasmania you can’t develop a roll of film, let alone a building, without someone starting a protest.

We need to embrace progress because if we don’t, we won’t have a culture to preserve. Cultures are built around people doing things, forming traditions. Culture is the product of action. A culture based purely on societal abstinence is not one I’d like to be part of. Making sure they’re the right actions is key, but inaction is just as big a killer as the wrong action.

Tasmania has so much going for it but we cannot support ourselves if we don’t make it easy for people to not just visit, but also invest. We are a long, long way away from the resources that communities need to be prosperous and yet we seem to take pride in establishing gigantic barriers to entry at every opportunity. We should be inviting those resources in with open arms. Yes, we need to preserve our tourism assets, but we also need to allow people with the requisite drive and money to come here and build new tourism assets.

As James Packer, one of Australia’s most prominent businessmen, recently pointed out in an interview on 60 Minutes, most of the world’s tourist hotspots involve man-made attractions OR significant man-made assistance to natural attractions. Yet Tasmania seems to consistently shut the door to such ideas. (And no, I don’t want one of James Packer’s casinos here, either, but the principle he put forward is still relevant even if his business isn’t an attractive one).

With the state in such dire need, you would hope that our leaders would have something relevant to say about fixing things. Unfortunately the two major parties are deeply involved in be-suited finger-pointing exercises in what is almost a direct reflection of the dire state of our national parliament. “Yes we might have a deficit but it’ll be a smaller deficit than theirs.” Someone please put a pillow over my face and press.

One side is wounded and the other can smell the blood. Any chance of reasoned debate is therefore out the window.

But our noble Greens leader did have something interesting to say recently. In commenting on the recent state budget, he proposed the following:

A GREENS government would introduce a State Wellbeing Index to measure Tasmanians’ quality of life in a holistic manner, party leader Nick McKim said yesterday.

“We all know that money isn’t everything and other jurisdictions are moving to develop their own wellbeing indices to measure how their economies are faring but also how their people and their communities are faring,” he said.

I’m keen to know how much he’d be willing to spend on this Schmindex in order to tell us how happy we all are.

Are we really meant to take this stuff seriously?

Aside from the fact that it’s a complete waste of public money, does anyone believe that a government would set this Index up in such a way other than to report on what a wonderful job it’s doing? This man is one of two alternative Premiers in this state and the way the polls are going right now, there’s a real chance he could be Premier after the next election. Is he going to give us more than hocus pocus and health spas?

Mr McKim also proposed no investment in better roads (our main highway is a death trap), nor any further partnerships with Australian football clubs (we don’t have our own team in the national league, so we subsidise two clubs to play a few games here per year). Given that I’m a keen recreational driver and a mad football fan, you can imagine how well I’d be doing on this proposed Wellbeing Index.

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Something else caught my eye on the way to work this morning. On top of this hotel at the busiest intersection in Hobart – the ABC roundabout- there’s a new billboard:

The billboard is actually part of what seems to be a new viral marketing campaign for products or people unknown, but it seemed to fit the mood here in Tasmania right now.

Want to develop a new apartment building on a long abandoned Pizza Hut site? Can’t. Not for 10 years, at least (they just broke ground a few weeks ago).

Want to put a chairlift up to the top of Mount Wellington? Can’t.

Want to have a responsibly managed forest industry? Can’t.

Want to develop some very ugly structures and thereby beautify and make useful one of the prettiest harbours in Australia? Can’t.

——

Mrs Swade and I are considering leaving the state at some point in the near future. I think we’ll be following in the footsteps of quite a few others. The number of For Sale signs on front lawns is increasing from week to week.

We’re working towards our own exodus right now with ventures in several fields of interest that will hopefully give us the freedom to do it on our own terms with little-to-no stress. That decision is based more on family than the rumblings in my bones that you’ve been reading about here.

Tasmania certainly has its charms, but a lack of leadership chutzpah is holding this place back and when you’ve only got one life to live, best live it amongst conditions that make you and your loved ones happiest.

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24 Comments

    1. David, I think we will most likely return to Victoria eventually. I grew up in Melbourne but I’m a small town boy now. You can keep your traffic. I’ll head for the country 🙂

  1. LOL. “State Wellbeing Index”.

    Now imagine living in a country that consistently scores very high on whatever lists published by the UN. (http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/)

    In Norway the socialists have avoided building infrastructure, maintaining schools and other state owned buildings, and have made sure that although the health sector gets an insane amount of money most of it is lost in the extra bureaucracy. If anyone complains, they are shown the ratings from the UN and asked to leave.

    Those ratings are the worst thing that could have happened to Norway.

      1. No, I think we have all the socialists we need up here. 🙂

        If only… If only we could round them all up and put them on an island somewhere!

        BTW: The University of Gothenborg claim that 67% of Swedish journalists are aligned with the redgreens…

        1. You might be able to fit all the Greens on King Island and keep the rest of Tasmania Green free. Better still, keep Australia Green free!

  2. In a way I can relate to all this.. Seeing the way in which politics in the Netherlands were going, the insane coalition that was based there, the fact that those who need support were getting less and less. The stupidity of not being able to build due to some weird rat living somewhere, in short, unfortunately this type of behaviour as you describe Swade, is to be found in other places as well.
    Hence us uprooting and vanishing into the sticks, into a rural area where one can be oneself. Where (and that is a contradiction with the general ideas about our new homeland) bureaucracy isn’t as bad…

    There are a lot of properties here where you and the mrs could land and be happy mate.

  3. nicschel….

    why do I get the feeling you are talking about the A4 motorway around Leiden, a notorious botttleneck, they even had to build the HSL underground….

    A friend of mine once said that anyone who has desires to be a politician should be euthanised on the the spot. It’s bad enough having MPs, Councillors and PMs who’ve never had a real job.

    1. Tassie changing government won’t mean a thing in terms of bill payments. You wealthy westerners will be stuck with that for the next few decades, I’m afraid.

  4. Gee! just when I was thinking I wouldn’t mind moving back to Tassie one day.

    Well I guess Mildura should be on your list of possibilities Mr & Mrs Swade: Lots of sunshine, the river, and miles of flat roads to launch your cycling /get fit campaign on. Not quite sure who would service your Alfa but there is a strong Italian community here!

  5. Swade,

    It looks like you are living at one end of the pendulum. Soon enough, you will swing to the other end: whoever gives politicians enough cash can do what they want, no matter the long-term effects.

    Neither end of the pendulum is a great place to be, and I seriously doubt that there are many places that aren’t at one of the two extremes. If there are, I would love to hear about them.

  6. Thank you for sharing- this was really interesting! It also seems that there seems to be quite a bit of the “Can’t” thinking going around lately. I saw quite a few parallels here to what we have going on in the US. To say it’s frustrating is an understatement.

    As an example, it perhaps not a coincidence that most of our great man-made works (Hoover Dam, San Francisco Bridge, Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, etc.) were built more than 50 years ago. We’ve since regulated ourselves to death, and our administrative (read- unelected) agencies have run amuk. That, and there is ALWAYS a vocal environmental group to contend with. In my experience, they are not the most reasonable folks to deal with, but that’s another story.

    In the meantime, at least Tasmania has views. There’s always a bright side :).

  7. Geez, thought I was reading an op-ed piece from Fox News in the US. I am saddened people feel so strongly about this – especially Saab enthusiasts. Do we really want to go back to waterways that catch on fire, groundwater that is contaminated by numerous pollutants, the list goes on and on. Of course, now we have just shifted our past problems on to the developing world. So has anything REALLY changed? Oh yes, the “Western” world has lost numerous jobs, and the fat cats continue to line their pockets with money looking for short-term profits while failing to realize the long term consequences for the masses. I think Bernard has it right, but the whole freaking world is so divided right now, it’s ridiculous. Too many people seem to base all their opinions on what the loud mouths on TV are spewing both from the left and the right, although I admit, I do lean left. I also understand the need for responsible growth, responsible regulation, and responsible capitalism. Humans are too lazy for true socialism, sadly – but some things should be non-profit – such as healthcare. I know I don’t have all (or most) of the answers, but spewing more venom isn’t going to help the situation. Just my thoughts…

    1. I should add that the country of Bhutan has had a GNH (Gross National Happiness) Index for quite some time. There was a nice write-up about it in National Geographic last year (I believe).

    2. Fox News? Venom? Wow. Very harsh and you obviously don’t know me at all.

      I’m actually very sympathetic to the Green movement. We plan to build a new home when we move that’ll be built according to all sorts of efficiency principles and living here in Tasmania, with all this unspoilt beauty, has made me appreciative of the work environmentalists do. Compare the green skyline here with the suburbs of Vancouver where the treeline has been razed for sardine-style housing and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

      BUT……

      Take in what I said in this piece. This Greens leader has a distinct possibility of becoming the most powerful leader in the state within the next two years. That’s not an outside chance, it’s a real possibility, albeit within a minority government context. As the prospective guy in charge, his budget response was formulated around “money isn’t everything” and a government sponsored Wellbeing Index. I need something a little more serious and realistic from someone with that potential responsibility.

      I have seen more waste within government buildings here in Tasmania than you could believe. We can’t afford folly like this and as he is an alternative premier, responsible for policy here, I want to hear more from him that the possibility of him applying his own wellness principles to a state of over half a million people.

      I’ve voted left most of my life. But just because I believe in social justice, a fair go for everyone and caring for people’s opportunities doesn’t mean I endorse waste like this or the restriction of opportunity where it should be in the state’s interest to develop.

      1. I think that your cynicism about government programs is well founded. A ‘well being’ index? Even if we subtract the self-flagellating potential, it assumes that all people want essentially the same things. Somewhat senseless to even contemplate, really.

      2. Sorry to use Fox and venom in my response, it was a bit harsh. The sad reality is there is a tremendous amount of waste from both the left and the right. I haven’t looked at his State Wellbeing Index idea, but I’m sure it is modeled after Bhutan’s and while it sounds absurd (and may be), I wouldn’t be so quick to discount it. I urge you to find the Nat Geo article on Bhutan and read it. I lived in Vancouver and while it looks like sprawl, it is the second most densely populated city in North America after New York. There are over 2 million in Metro Vancouver and many are living “skyward” not outward. Not to say it isn’t happening, just much less than in places like Seattle or Brisbane. As far as eggsngrits comments about “Right to Work” states somehow being better for all, I don’t agree. Perhaps in the short term, but the label is highly inaccurate. Once they have successfully banished unions, it should be renamed “Right to work for less and with less benefits.” Just wait. As for corruption, a study released in March by the Center for Public Integrity shows that 4 of the 8 most corrupt states are “Right to Work” and quite conservative. On the other hand, only one “Right to Work” state made the 5 least corrupt, at #5, Nebraska. The other four all strongly left leaning including #4, California.

  8. Wow. Just wow. I agree with several above — I detest the polarized debates pitting one side vs. another without real resolution. Both extremes are not doing us justice. The problem is that these people have careers and re-election(s) hinging on winning at all costs, even if that means taking a stance that hurts most or all of the citizens they represent.

    I must say that it’s times like these that I love to live where I live. We are still developing land responsibly and irresponsibly (how much of each depends upon your particular point of view) and our economy is still developing and even growing, albeit more slowly than in 2006-2007. We were recently noted in the top ten cities for tech jobs in the United States, we are the number one US city for healthcare business, and we still have a reasonable cost of living index (Kiplinger ‘best value’ city) and low taxes (5th lowest in the country according to Bloomberg). Where is it? Nashville, Tennessee.

    Firmly a ‘red’ state, Tennessee has a pro-business climate and is a right-to-work state. Tennessee also has a very low level of corruption, primarily because we don’t buy much government in the first place. Combine those with the low tax rates and you’ve got a recipe for success.

    We don’t have all of the answers, but in keeping our government small and out of the way seems to benefit us. Plus, it means that I can enter the county clerk’s office with the expectation that with ten minutes and $50 or less I’ll be out of the office with a temporary auto title (with the permanent on the way via mail) or updated registration for any of my vehicles.

  9. Ah Swade, it’s not so bad. We need the Greens to pull those other dickheads into check.

    Imagine if the forestry disaster continues as it has done for the last 40 years – destroying our forests and selling them at a loss, subsidised by taxpayers, whilst lining the pockets of a few wankers in privileged positions. Actually, I think just that continuation is what Lala promised in the budget. Hodgman would be even worse though.

    A good thing Tasmania is such a nice place to live, but I agree – that only just tips the balance into the positive just now.

  10. I can really empathize with you Swade because I’m from Wisconsin, population 5.5 million, “America’s Dairy State.” Otherwise know as the “Cheddar Curtain.”

    For years we have been a 50/50 split state with the left destroying growth and prosperity, punitive taxes and businesses leaving. In November 2010 we elected a conservative administration in the both houses and a Republican Governor. We had a 3.5 billion dollar debt. Within a few months we went into a surplus, gained 30,000 jobs and the left started the third Gubernatorial recall in US history. it was begun the day after the victorious election. This was because state employees had to provide 5.5 % towards their own half of their pensions and 12.5% towards their health care. They went apoplectic.

    The election is on June 5th and if Governor Walker is re-elected it could be very difficult for the President to win Wisconsin in November. A loss would mean going back to a malaise, deficits, environmental zealotry and business leaving. A win will mean more prosperity and lower taxes. One only has to look at the ineptitude in neighboring Illinois or the state that California is now ensconced.

    The bottom line is that I’m in full combat mode now and the 9-5 Combi, cargo plane in back in it’s hangar and my Viggen is on the runway, waiting for a moments notice to scramble. I am very involved.

  11. Well, Steven.

    It sounds like the rare parrot is “The Norwegian Blue”. 😉

    Jokes aside, I really appreciate that you give this personal view of your current homeland. It is not something you would write to attract readers. This is something that you feel need to be changed for your homeland to live.

    And you can make a change. You have the capacity.
    But like you describe it is not all up to the Tazmanians, you rely on the mainland also.

    Having been born and raised in Norrland, Sweden, I recognize very much of your islands problems as you describe them. I choosed to leave my homeland because of the limited chances of practicing my skills as a mechanical engineer there. It is still not so good there in this respect, but it was even worse when I left.

    Two of my best friends from my youth now live there again, and I have been known to have said to them: “You are among the privileged, to be able to work and live there.”. And to some extent I still find that true, although it now seem very unlikely that I will ever follow their example. It is a place of my passed.

    For information, I found this picture showing how the population is scattered over Sweden, where they also make a comparacy in this respect with Australia. http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Befolkningstäthet
    I hope you get a good translation from Swedish.

    So….. you may not have the possibility to a multinational company setting up a giant manufacturing subsidiary there, but new IT-techniques sure still can put business there.

    The husband of my late cousin was at the time VP of a cellulose company here in Sweden. He said “Once China starts to get the same standards of living as we have here, we must close down our industries and live on tourism.”
    I then thought of Mallorca, the Canary islands and Greece, and did not find it particularly tempting.

    Tourism is not what we want, but my cousins husband, is still wrong.

    Regarding politics I would like to referr to Billy Joel’s song “Shades of Grey”.
    I am no longer is party-politic, but I am politic realizing that my opinion is much wider than to be framed into the collective of a party. I select only when I have to, in voting.

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