By ANZ chief economist Saul Eslake, edited from his speech to the Tasmanian Council of Social Service in Hobart yesterday

economy may be doing well – both by historical standards and by
comparison with other states – but on a wide range of social indicators
the island state continues to rank poorly in comparison with other
parts of Australia:

  • Tasmanians earn 20% less, on average, than their mainland counterparts;
  • The net worth of Tasmanian households is nearly 31% less, on average, than that of mainland households;
  • Fewer than 57% of Tasmanians of working age (15 and over) are
    employed, compared with nearly 62% of mainlanders, and of those
    Tasmanians who are employed, 68% have a full-time job compared with
    over 71% of mainlanders;
  • Of those Tasmanians who are unemployed, nearly one-third have
    been unemployed for more than a year, compared with just over one-fifth
    of unemployed mainlanders;
  • Tasmanian children are more likely to be born to a teenage
    mother (7.2% of all births) or without an acknowledged father (6.8% of
    all births outside marriage) than children in any other part of the
    country except the Northern Territory, are more likely to die in
    infancy (7.0 per 1 000 live births) than anywhere else except the
    Northern Territory, are more likely to have a natural parent living
    elsewhere (29.5% of all Tasmanian children) than anywhere else in
    Australia (23.3% of all Australian children) and significantly more
    likely to be living in a household where no resident parent is employed
    (21.1% of Tasmanian children under 15) than in any other State or
  • Tasmanians are less likely to make it to 70 (76.3% of men and
    84.5% of women) than residents of any other State (78.7% of all
    Australian men and 87.1% of women), are more likely to have a
    disability (22.6% of Tasmanians) than Australians as a whole (20.0%),
    and are more likely to commit suicide (15 deaths per 100,000 of
    Tasmania’s population as against 23 for Australia as a whole);
  • Tasmanian households are significantly less likely to have a
    computer at home (51%) or access to the internet (41%) than residents
    of any other part of Australia (66% and 53%, respectively), including
    rural and regional areas of mainland States (61% and 47%, respectively).

Although these statistics show that the incidence of poverty
is greater in Tasmania than anywhere else in Australia except the
Northern Territory, the detailed results of the ABS’ most
recent survey of Household Incomes and Expenditures show that
(contrary to what I expected) this is not because Tasmania’s least
well-off households are poorer than the least well-off households in
other States. In fact, the below-average incomes and net worth of
Tasmanians as a whole are due to the incomes and wealth of
the richest Tasmanians being significantly below that of the
richest households on the mainland.

So if the relatively greater incidence of poverty in its broader sense in Tasmania is not
due to relatively lower incomes and wealth then what is the reason?
Generalizations are probably dangerous but I would venture to suggest
that – although there are almost certainly other factors involved as
well – the most plausible single explanation is the lower level of
educational attainment of Tasmanians, compared with other Australians.

Tasmanians are less well-educated than mainlanders, with 44.1% of 15-64
year-olds not having completed Year 12, compared with the national
figure of 32.3%, while just under half of Tasmanian 25-64 year-olds
have post-school qualifications compared with 57.5% of all Australians
in that age bracket.

detracting from the importance of needs in areas such as health or
housing, improving the quantity and quality of education received by
Tasmania’s children ought to be an integral part of any long-term
strategy aimed at reducing poverty and deprivation in the island state.

Read Saul Eslake’s full address here.