Greg Barns is a thoughtful commentator who is often at his best when he
is at his most provocative. However his suggestion in yesterday’s Hobart
Mercury that Tasmania should give up its sovereignty and join
Victoria is way off-beam. Barns writes:

That Tasmania
should continue to be a sovereign state is increasingly hard to sustain as a
serious proposition.

It is a state which cannot hope to adequately meet the
challenges and expectations of the 21st century, without being part of
a greater and more sophisticated governmental and community structure such as
that which exists in a state like Victoria.

It is pure folly to think that the political, legal and
social infrastructure of this island of less than half a million people can
ever attain a consistently high standard. This is a state that does not even have a specialist
children’s hospital. A state that does not have a specialist children’s
court…

The fact that
Tasmania’s population is less than half a million is no bar to being a viable
state within a Federation. Indeed Iceland – with barely 300,000 people, a more
narrowly-based economy than Tasmania and arguably not much more isolated – is
not merely a state but a fully-fledged nation, and moreover one with the
fifth-highest standard of living in the world. Likewise Malta, a small island in
the Mediterranean – as much isolated from mainland Europe as Tasmania is from
mainland Australia, and with a population of about 400,000 – has no difficulty
functioning as a nation.

In the Federation
most similar to Australia, Canada’s Newfoundland and Prince Edward Islands have
populations of 516,000 and 138,000 respectively, and their viability as distinct
Provinces is unquestioned.

Tasmania
certainly is more backward than other States in some respects – and liquor
licencing, which Greg mentions, is a good example of that. But in a number of
other respects, including its laws relating to the legal status of gay couples,
and its recognition of people of Indigenous origin, it is (now) ahead of most
other States. And when it comes to shopping hours regulation, it is Western
Australia (with a population more than four times as large as Tasmania’s) which
is still in the dark ages, not Tasmania.

Yes, the
Hare-Clark system has from time to time allowed people of limited talent and
ability to enter the Tasmanian Parliament. But so too have the electoral systems
used in mainland states, in which a majority of seats are safe for one of the
major political parties and so are frequently filled by time-serving
nonentities.

And yes, Tasmania
is burdened by a distinct parochialism which dictates that each of the three
major regions gets everything that the others get.

But if Tasmania
were part of Victoria, it would have no more clout than (say) Gippsland or the
Wimmera, and would be as neglected as they are. Yes, there would be a
specialist children’s hospital in “Vicmania” (or would it be “Tastoria”?): it
would be in Melbourne. And there probably wouldn’t be a medical school in Hobart
at all: Tasmanian medical students would be commuting to “their” State
capital.

I know from my
own experience that it can be difficult and frustrating arguing for change in
Tasmania. I’ve been doing it, on and off, for longer than Greg. It’s
incumbent on those who want to see policy change, or improvements in some aspect
of Tasmania’s governance, to make better and more convincing arguments. It won’t
help to see Tasmania’s identity submerged within the Victorian
milieu.

When the time is
right, I want to go home to Tasmania – not to relocate to another part of
Victoria.

Peter Fray

Save up to 50% on a year of Crikey.

This extraordinary year is almost at an end. But we know that time waits for no one, and we won’t either. This is the time to get on board with Crikey.

For a limited time only, choose what you pay for a year of Crikey.

Save up to 50% or dig deeper so we can dig deeper.

See you in 2021.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

SAVE 50%