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.
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.
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.