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Jan 30, 2013

What's wrong with Tasmania, Australia's freeloading state?

Tasmania lags the nation in all important economic and social criteria. In an essay for GriffithREVIEW, Jonathan West says a malaise has descended over the Apple Isle. Its industry is broken and its people fear change.


For most Tasmanians a darker reality lies behind the seductive tourism brochures showcasing the state’s pristine wilderness, gourmet-magazine articles celebrating its burgeoning food culture, and newspaper stories gasping at a world-leading art museum. Tasmania ranks at the bottom among Australian states on virtually every dimension of economic, social, and cultural performance: highest unemployment, lowest incomes, languishing investment, lowest home prices, least educated, lowest literacy, most chronic disease, poorest longevity, most likely to smoke, greatest obesity, highest teenage pregnancy, highest petty crime, worst domestic violence. It seems not to matter which measure is chosen, Tasmania will likely finish last.

Why Tasmania is such a long-term underperformer, and what might done to improve, are important questions — not only for Tasmanians but also for the nation as a whole. In fact, it can be argued what’s happening in Tasmania is not an exception but a microcosm for a major part of Australia; it is already typical of non-metropolitan regions and might represent more of Australia’s future. One advantage in Tasmania, however, is that because it is both a “region” and a state, data and other information are available that allow us more clearly to see patterns that remain buried among bigger aggregates in other states, which elsewhere combine the big cities with non-urban regions into a comforting average.

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 difficulties are most obvious in the economy. Tasmania’s unemployment rate in October 2012 stood at 7.7%, by comparison to the Australian average of 4.9% — a difference of nearly three percentage points or, expressed more starkly, a rate of joblessness more than a third greater. In 2012, the poor performance of the Tasmanian economy was a dominant topic in local public discussion. It felt depressed. Traditional industries, particularly forestry and energy-intensive manufacturing based on hydro-electricity were in sharp decline, while tourism and service sectors were sluggish and appeared unable to pick up the slack.

The fate of the forest-products industry was emblematic of Tasmania’s challenges. Plunging global wood chip prices, rising Australian exchange rates, wages set by booming mining industries, tightening environmental regulation, and internationally effective campaigns by environmentalists, combined to lose customers in high-paying markets such as Japan and Europe and make the industry uncompetitive in growth markets such as China. The industry collapsed as revenue dived and costs spiralled. It had became increasingly uneconomic to harvest the trees, transport them for processing, transform them into sawn timber, plywood, or wood chips, freight them to markets and replant the harvested areas. It was estimated in 2012 that Tasmania would lose $50-100 per tonne on exported wood chips at prevailing world market prices, and the industry needed to export two million tonnes to break even. The state-owned entity that managed the public forests, Forestry Tasmania, was haemorrhaging cash, at the rate of an estimated $30 million a year.

“It is important to understand what it is about Tasmanian culture and society that permits such an abrogation of responsibility, a refusal to confront reality.”

Forestry is only one example; other resource-dependent, processing-intensive, export-oriented industries suffered similar fates. The vegetable processing industry had all but disappeared and energy-intensive metal processing was in jeopardy. Clearly the forestry industry had reached a watershed, and would need to change, or perish. But the industry appeared unable, or unwilling, to change, and most. Tasmanian politicians’ response was to deny the need, blame the Greens, or delay the inevitable. The industry, strenuously backed by the Liberal Party and key Labor figures in Tasmania, essentially demanded the “right” to endless public subsidies. Any serious discussion of a new future for the industry was ruled out of bounds, for fear of offering succour to the conservation lobby.

It is important to understand what it is about Tasmanian culture and society that permits such an abrogation of responsibility, a refusal to confront reality.

The challenge is not that the scale of job loss is too great to be made up by growth in other sectors. Rather it relates to failure to take the action required to bring opportunities to reality, either in forestry or other areas.

The economic problem Tasmania needs to address is not especially large. A common mainland misconception holds that Tasmania’s economy is ‘dominated’ by forestry. When questioned, respondents (including in Tasmania) estimate that it accounts for “about 20%” of Tasmania’s economy. This perception arises from the disproportionate share of media attention on environmental issues that swirl around forestry. But it’s not accurate; Tasmania’s economy is not forestry dependent. By 2012 just over 1% of jobs in Tasmania were in forestry, and even less depended on native-forest activity.

Nevertheless, the shrinkage of the forestry sector poses important challenges for Tasmania. The best available data available revealed the Tasmanian forestry industry had shed about 3500 jobs between 2008 and 2011. With a full-time workforce of 153,000 in 2011, these jobs accounted for just over two percentage points of Tasmania’s unemployment rate, or a third of the unemployed — roughly the disparity between Tasmania’s unemployment rate and the mainland average.

But two additional aspects of the forestry sector give it particular importance. First, the industry was concentrated in rural and non-metropolitan regions, which have historically had few alternative sources of non-government employment. Declining forestry jobs has eroded these communities’ confidence. With mainland states booming in resource sectors, displaced Tasmanian workers left these communities, stripping them of some of the most economically productive and vibrant members. Forestry has also historically contributed a disproportionate share of Tasmania’s tradable sector. The great majority of forest products are sold out of the state, a large proportion out of Australia. This is important because traded sectors tend to exercise greater leverage over the economy — they can grow much faster because they tap larger markets and have higher “multipliers” of associated economic activity.

One might imagine that responding to the decline of the forestry sector would be a high priority. An effective response would not be too difficult. The challenge posed by the decline of the forestry sector is essentially to accelerate economic development sufficiently to create about 3500 new jobs in sustainable industries, with an emphasis on the most affected regions. Success would overcome the damage inflicted on the Tasmanian economy by the decline of its forestry sector and align the unemployment rate with the rest of the nation. To be more ambitious, creating 10,000 new private sector jobs would inspire a boom in Tasmania, and essentially eliminate unemployment.BUT THERE ARE OPPORTUNITIES …

The evidence suggests opportunities abound in Tasmania. Economically speaking it should be easy to create these jobs. In fact, Tasmania enjoys natural and human-created advantages that offer sufficient potential to exceed these targets. But potential does not equal achievement, of course. Tasmania’s most important development and growth opportunities are not on track to meet these goals. All Tasmania’s main fields of opportunity are effectively blocked from realising their true potential. Growth has been curtailed so it cannot even compensate for employment losses stemming from forestry. How the blockages develop, and why they are not removed, is the important issue.

But first the opportunities. My colleagues and I at the Australian Innovation Research Centre recently prepared a report for the Commonwealth Department of Regional Development that identified six main areas of opportunity: wine, dairy, aquaculture, horticulture, mining, and tourism, especially “experiential” tourism related to wilderness and the island’s gourmet products. Conceptually, good opportunities are those in which a community already has a demonstrated strength and path to greater capability, and which combine strong growth prospects with good wages and wealth-creation potential. It is obviously not desirable for any community to deepen reliance on sectors with low wages, low growth, and weak capabilities.

A quick review reveals that even any one of these sectors alone would offer the potential to close Tasmania’s unemployment gap, if sufficiently harnessed. If Tasmania were to increase its share of Australia’s wine production, for example, from its present 0.5% to equal its share of Australia’s population (just over 2%), that increase alone would create more than 2000 jobs. Technically, such an increase should be straightforward. Tasmania enjoys probably the best climate in Australia for high-value wine production and its wine is in strong demand. Similarly, in the dairy industry — with arguably the nation’s best natural conditions for milk production — and horticulture, and aquaculture, production and employment could easily double.

But while opportunity is abundant, actual growth is retarded. Two obstacles hold back development across all these sectors. First, all these opportunities involve close interaction with the natural environment ­– demanding better use of land, water, and sunshine. But change in land use in Australia today almost always requires government approval, and in the context of bitter dispute over environmental issues, approval processes in Tasmania have become highly contested, politicised, and complex. As a result, approvals for new projects in Tasmania are more uncertain, risky, expensive, and lengthy than elsewhere — and uncertainty, risk, expense, and length are all deterrents to new investment.

Second, all the opportunities require mutual co-dependence between growers and processors and coordinated investment: grape-growers and winemakers; dairy farms and milk dryers or cheese plants; poppy growers and pharmaceutical manufacturers; tree growers, harvesters and forest-product producers; fish farms and seafood manufacturers. Expansion in growing requires expansion of processing, and vice-versa. But with different owners and divergent interests, growing and processing participants are often unwilling to commit ahead of each other, and development-throttling stand-offs ensue. Couple that with heightened suspicion between buyers and sellers, politics, and differential rates and forms of return, and what should take months, takes years; what should take years, takes decades.

“These are not problems with which ‘market forces’ can readily cope, or which private investors acting alone are like to overcome.”

These are not problems with which “market forces” can readily cope, or which private investors acting alone are like to overcome. Government needs to co-ordinate and facilitate development or it doesn’t happen. But in Tasmania, government tends not to act and the obstacles remain.

I’ve become convinced that the underlying reason for this is that the Tasmanian community actually does not want government to overcome these obstacles — or at least, it does not want it enough to sacrifice existing amenity for those obstacles to be removed. In Tasmania, we’ve arrived at a situation in which if any interest group regards itself as disadvantaged by a development proposal — whether materially or in terms of its values — there is insufficient weight on the pro-development side to push through resistance to change.

The first source of this resistance is demographic. Only a minority of Tasmanian households derive their income from participation in the private sector, and few indeed are dependent on the portion of the private sector traded out of the state. The 2011 census revealed that over a third of Tasmanian households derived their sole or primary source of income from a Commonwealth government payment: old-age pension, disability, supporting parent, and, of course, unemployment.

While the census does not record the proportion of households that derive their income from a government job, almost another third of the Tasmanian economy was made up of public services (health, education, welfare, administration, policing) and government business enterprises, which includes everything from the ports, railroads, shipping, buses, three electricity corporations, forestry establishment, maintenance, and harvesting, gambling, horse racing, motor-accident insurance, irrigation development, and management of tourist and cultural sites.

On top of this, it is estimated that up to 10% work for a private corporation whose sole client is government: road construction, building maintenance, or outsourced government services in the welfare sector.

These numbers suggest as little as a quarter to a third of Tasmanian households derive their livelihood from the genuine private sector. Of them perhaps a third gain their income from wholesale and retail trade and associated logistics, another third from residential and commercial construction and maintenance. The clients of both these groups depend largely on public-sector incomes, leaving only about 10% of all households making a living from the traded private sector.

Tasmania can afford this lop-sided economy only because for every dollar Tasmanians contribute to the national tax kitty, they receive back $1.58 in benefits and services.


The implication of these statistics is that only a small minority of the Tasmanian population has a direct personal stake in economic development.

While most might broadly favour economic development, they will not personally benefit from it. Not even the tax revenue that ultimately funds their government-derived income originates from Tasmania. Its security is not determined by the performance of the Tasmanian economy. Much more important is the far-away national economy, fuelled by the even-more-distant resource boom. Even without the boom, most government-backed incomes are regarded as solidly secure.

When a particular economic development is proposed and would necessitate some inconvenience or clash with values, which most ultimately do, few Tasmanians have an immediate stake in making a compromise. Little is lost personally by opposing the development or delaying its introduction. If government attempts to expedite the proposal, a large number of Tasmanians will oppose such action as improper. Instances of inconvenience mentioned by opponents of particular projects include more trucks on the road, difficulty finding parking, lights on the horizon from off-shore aquaculture developments visible from the twice-yearly-visited holiday shack, spoiled views of natural features and, of course, environmental and humanitarian concerns. All are real concerns, but only a population whose income is independent of the performance of its private businesses will come to privilege such concerns, no matter how minor, above the need to earn a living.

Such economic independence provides fertile ground for the widespread commitment to environmental values and Green politics displayed by the Tasmanian community. Perhaps most importantly, independence from the performance of the private economy provides a weak basis for constructing a constituency for a coherent and agreed economic development strategy.

Progress is made only if no one disagrees.

Demographics and income sources have coalesced to create a specific culture in Tasmania, or more accurately two cultures: a substantial “underclass” and the other of a smaller, comfortable, government-dependent middle class. The dark side of Tasmania’s enviable emphasis on a laid-back lifestyle is a culture of low aspiration, especially among the underclass. A recent study undertaken by an educational foundation unearthed the startling conclusion that a large proportion of Tasmanians specified not being educated as an important aspect of a “true Tasmanian”, and even a good person. Educated people were regarded as “less Tasmanian”, and probably worse people, not the sort with whom one would want to enjoy a beer: full of themselves, stuck up and less reliable. (In addition, some parents don’t encourage their children to become educated for fear education would make them more likely to leave the island.)

In other words, not only did education undermine many Tasmanians’ sense of identity, which they greatly valued, and place them at risk of becoming separated from their community, but education was believed to make them less-likeable people.

One upshot of this finding is that much policy aimed at encouraging young Tasmanians to become better educated was founded on the erroneous assumption Tasmanians would want to be better educated if only they could, and their failure to do so must be due to lack of economic means. All policies therefore aim mainly to reduce the economic burden of education.

But if, as this research suggests, the targets of these programs actually believe that education is undesirable, the real focus ought to be cultural change — which is never easy. Wages for unskilled labour, among the world’s highest, make the choice to be uneducated in Tasmania even more feasible and sustainable.

“In reality, that’s what we see in Tasmania: supporting the underclass is an industry in itself.”

The problem of the underclass is rarely discussed in Tasmania. It’s not even identified as such. We refer to the underclass as “disadvantaged”, as though their circumstances were something imposed from outside, for which the “victims” bear no responsibility. The fact the Tasmanian underclass is white, not an ethnic minority, helps to make it less visible. Once the issue is defined as “disadvantage”, policy tends to be directed towards providing more resources, to overcome the disadvantage.

But if the source is ultimately cultural, providing more resources risks making the underclass’s under-achieving choices more feasible. The risk is that it reinforces and reproduces the problem.

In reality, that’s what we see in Tasmania: supporting the underclass is an industry in itself. The mayor of one town hit by the decline of the forestry industry suggested a refugee centre could be established in his district, which would offer the benefit of attracting more welfare services and boosting the local economy.

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.

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.

*Jonathan West is director of the Australian Innovation Research Centre and lives in Tasmania’s Huon Valley. This essay is taken from quaterly journal GriffithREVIEW39, released this week.


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69 thoughts on “What’s wrong with Tasmania, Australia’s freeloading state?

  1. klewso

    Define “improve”?

  2. Phen

    buy a dictionary mate.

  3. klewso

    I’ll have to, someone’s ripped that page out of my “Gunn’s Gay” version.

  4. Wombat

    The author – his ‘body’ and this academic blinkered view of whats wrong is – are exactly whats wrong. The commonwealth all but shut down Tasmanian commercial fishing – Hundreds of tassy jobs, subsidising supposed economic reform of fisheries and funding unis intent on venting frustration from not being able to tackle forestry – closing fisheries instead. Then there was the brainless decision to convert the valuable timber of Tasmania into woodchips – instead of timber – another few hundred jobs gone. Then the feds think it would make a good mine – especially the Tarkine – another few hundred or even few thousand tourism jobs lost. Now the forestry and academic land managers thinking they can ‘channel blackfellas’ – is burning the place to a crisp as it highlights how it operates with colonial impunity – and supported by greens who think knowledge of how the bush works comes from universities where botanists burn to get more plants. The rest of Tasmania loses water,fish and tourists and gets bad publicity and burned landscapes. Tasmania and Tasmanian’s punch well above their weight against all this. the best thing the mainland could do is take back it more recent visitors, evict forestry completely to a sheltered workshop offshore somewhere and restore the fishing industry – banning marine bureaucrats from ever setting foot on the island – and ban think tanks on the way back across bass strait. Anyway – the same is happening on the mainland it just takes longer to screw a bigger island – but we have got a good start with wrecking the barrier reef and turning the rest of the ‘big island’ into a quarry that belches foul water – so Tassy my ‘win’ by standing still economically.

  5. MD

    Of course, one of the reasons for Tasmania’s underperformance status that those with talent, drive, and education do what happens in most regional areas. They leave. It breaks my heart. I’d be interested to see a response to this article from the Tasmanians in the Crikey stable (we know who you are!).

  6. steven nobol

    opinion reported as fact.. no thanks Griffith REVIEW

  7. Chris Williams

    I think West is a bit hard on Tasmanians. In fact more than a bit hard.

    West says provocatively that “It is important to understand what it is about Tasmanian culture and society that permits such an abrogation of responsibility, a refusal to confront reality.” However, his evidence on this score is not only at odds with what I have found on the ground – but weak in terms of evidence in the paper.

    More than that I think his conclusions are based on an erroneous assumption about Tasmania’s place in our national life and economy. That doesn’t mean it can’t lift its game in terms of social outcomes and productivity where it has advantages but I see no reason why Tasmania should be compared to other States with better outcomes – any more than any other similar sized region – just because its history has bequeathed that it is a State.

    West has a cheap go at Tasmania being culturally shallow.
    Admittedly my recent trip driving around the island hardly counts as in-depth research but I was very pleasantly surprised by the cultural richness of the place and what I can only describe as the modern feel of many of the places we visited. The old stereotypes of the six fingered married cousins were obviously hiding in their wood huts in the mountains out of sight.

    More than anywhere else in Australia, in Tasmania there is a strong sense of history and of the need to preserve natural and man-made heritage. In the coutryside one finds rich treasure troves of local made produce of the highest quality – and not expensive! And not just food but local art and bookstores to die for. There is also quite wonderful modernity in the cities where you can eat and drink in style which is anything but backward. And as for MONA which West scoffs at – not only is it truly world class – it is packed with Tasmanians soaking up the cultural impact. So I completely reject the label of cultural shallowness. If it is there it would seem it is fast disappearing! (and MONA is helping Tasmanians see the benefit in that, if those I spoke to are any guide).

    Perhaps what West – and anyone else who thinks similarly – needs to do is to stop thinking about Tasmania as an island when trying to dissect it socologically, and accept that it is not so different to many regions of Australia. How different is Tasmania, for example, as a retirement village to other coastal regions of Australia which are likewise not ‘economically productive’?

    The fact that the eastern mainland coast might be full of multi-millionaire retirees, whereas Tasmania’s retirees are less well-off should not be regarded as evidence that Tasmania is not lifting its weight! On the contrary, it means that Tasmania is providing the kind of haven for poorer retirees that these mainland regions no longer provide. The need for the nation to subsidize them with pensions should be seen as no more a burden than having a national capital with public servants all in one place in Canberra (Note I’m from Canberra) or ensuring other subsidies to regionally-based industries deemed to be of national priority.

    While I accept that Tasmanians should be taking obvious challenges like increasing their wine export quotas etc I don’t think their ‘failure’ to do so is linked to some psychological defect. Indeed the unstated suggestion in West’s argument – quite appalling in my view – is that Tasmanians are like this because they like being uneducated. To the extent that this it true of Tasmanians it is probably no more true of other similarly isolated regions of Australia denied educational opportunities.

    West says a survey found that for many Tasmanians their self-definition of being a ‘real Tasmanian’ meant being un-educated. OK, that is not, in my view, what I think is healthy for self-respecting Tasmanians to feel is quintessential about themselves but I wonder how this compares with other regional parts of Australia? Remote (and not so remote) parts of Queensland and WA perhaps? And where was that show in Sydney again – oh yes Sylvannia Waters – defined by education you reckon?!

    It seems to me that if there is mendicant mentality in Tasmania the source of it can easily be discerned and that is that Tasmania is overgoverned. It is not that Tasmania’s lack qualities not shared by other Asutralians it is that they have politicians whose numbers are such as to make them more politically sigificant than they should be.

    I believe we could see improvements in Tasmania’s focus on productivity in key industrys if it was freed of the structural burden of so many politicians. What I am saying is that while it might be an island it would be better if politically it became a Commonwealth Territory like the ACT and the Northern Territory. With fewer politicians Tasmanians might find they are electorally less important to the nation which will throw themselves back on their own resourcefulness more. But it would also be one which would better allow us as a nation to see Tasmania as an integral part of the nation which fulfils a unique role. The ACT but more especially the Northern Territory are recipients of Commownealth funding in recognition of their uniqueness which the lack of Commonwealth political representation does not otherwise safeguard. Tasmania could be the same and with its status as a Territory might be spared the kind of pop-psychology denunciations of the kind made by West in this article.

  8. Wexford

    Wombat, you’re echoing back a lot of the article (although you mention forestry a lot, which is relatively insignificant) while somehow disagreeing with its conclusions. This is not to say that your arguments aren’t valid, but you seem to be missing the picture that the article has drawn.

    MD makes a valuable point, which also reflects the “regional” nature of Tasmania. It is for that reason that the higher-value industries need more shepherding by the government, for there will be nobody to work in them if they keep moving “to the mainland” once they get a decent education.

  9. Stephen Luntz

    I can’t speak to the accuracy of the causes of the problem proposed here, but it is clear to me that there are a lot of economic opportunities there for Tasmania that are currently being missed.

    For example: I have friends who are honey connoisseurs and have been raving about the wonders of Tasmanian leatherwood honey. I thought I would give it a try, so I dropped round to a local store that specializes in stocking products with a regional identity – eg Margaret River wines, dried fruit from the South Australian riverlands. There was South Australian and Victorian honey, but nothing from Tasmania. I started looking, and in an shop crammed with things that proudly identify themselves as from every state and NZ, the only Tasmanian product was smoked salmon.

    No cheeses – even from King Island. No craft ciders, no wines, none of the other things Tasmania’s rich soils would produce in abundance. I started looking elsewhere, and while I eventually found the honey, and good cheeses Tasmanian cheeses are pretty easy to get, most of the other things seem to be really hard to get and lack promotion.

    I don’t know exactly what the solution is, but there have to be plenty of jobs there for the taking if they could just find ways to export quality foods across Bass Strait.

  10. Boerwar

    The biggest export by value from Tasmania is young university graduates. They have cost Tasmania (and the Commonwealth) a motsa. Just when they are ready to produce, they leave.

    Quite a few get to their late thirties or forties and get to hankering to return.

    Any strategy to invigorate Tasmania would have to include ways of encouraging repatriation of the investment in graduates.

  11. David Hand

    I’m shaken.
    We have an economic rationalist writing an erudite case for economic change in Tasmania in Crikey! What’s going on?

    Tasmania, land of the freeloader and home of the luddite.
    Australia’s only Green-run government.

    Tasmania where anyone with get-up-and-go, gets-up-and-goes.

  12. Phen

    Plus, worst of all – Ricky Ponting is from there.

  13. taz

    Having just returned to the ‘mainland’ to live after a two-year stint of residing in Hobart for personal reasons – something I was able to do as I run my own business and my clientele are based on the Australian mainland or overseas – I do not think Jonathan’s West’s comments are harsh. They are realistic. And he offers positive solutions to the state’s inbuilt inertia.
    His point about education particularly resonated with me. The state schools finish at Year 10. Students who wish to go on to Years 11 and 12 must go to various colleges set up in the cities to complete their education so that they can go to university. This immediately disadvantages students living in the impoverished rural areas who cannot afford to be educated in Town. No wonder kids are under-educated. The expectation that Year 10 is the end of formal schooling is reinforced in the local papers which publish endless photos of school formals for 15-year-olds.
    I attended school in Hobart at the time when the ‘matriculation colleges’ were being introduced. At the time it was thought to be a good thing as it provided a ‘segue’ between school and university. I thought it was a good idea then. It worked well for me, but I was in a demographic that suited it. As it was, as soon as I’d completed my matric (as it was known) I went to university on the mainland. Many people did. Many people still do, as Jonathan infers by saying “In addition, some parents don’t encourage their children to become educated for fear education would make them more likely to leave the island.” And many people don’t come back.
    I believe Tasmania is a wonderful place to live if you have an income and/or are employed. If you don’t you are shackled in all the ways the article mentions.
    I just hope that people can see beyond the article’s accurate assessment of Tasmania’s thinking, and take on the valuable suggestions he makes about how the state could improve itself.

  14. Chris Williams

    David (11) – you mean like David Walsh? The creator of MONA who the Monthly Magazine of July 2011 informs us was a “working-class boy from Hobart’s struggle-town suburb of Glenorchy.” http://www.themonthly.com.au/arts-letters-amanda-lohrey-high-priest-david-walsh-and-tasmania-s-museum-old-and-new-art-2918

    You mean that sort of get up and go?

  15. Jared Hill

    Amusing how defensive people have gotten reading this. Argue with Jonathan’s opinions as much as you like, the statistics speak for themselves.

    Tasmania lags behind on almost every statistic available, health, education, welfare dependence and social metrics, efficiency of government services, economic growth. The list goes on.

    Any proposal to effect change in Tasmania is always met with opposition, from any industry development (eco-tourism, residential, forestry, aquaculture, further hydro-industrialisation) through to redeveloping the waterfront for shared use, or to petty issues such as red awnings and heritage issues, or trying to replace a 30 year old concrete eyesore at 10 Murray St. Anything involving real estate development is exceedingly difficult. Any change proposed (Tas Tomorrow reforms, 4 school terms, amalgamating councils, rezoning land, reforming sewage/water) is met with violent opposition and almost always fails.

    Yes, we are over governed. 29 local councils and 2 houses of state parliament for 500k people. Yes there is a localism and regional “Nth vs NW vs Sth” mentality. But beyond the lethargy or psyche of the average Tasmanian, we also suffer from the same thing that affects Australia and most developed 1st world democratic countries – political leadership. Except in Tasmania it is more pronounced than elsewhere in Australia due to the smaller talent pool.

    These problems are inherently solvable, but there is no political vision, leadership or capacity to institute change. The stock we have of political leaders in Tasmania is depressing to say the least. No one has any real policy ambitions, and in the State Opposition’s case, no actual policy position. But it is almost not their fault, it is a result of the career opportunity in Tasmania and high achievers leaving for Melb, Syd or abroad. So it comes down to experience, and if you took out all the state politicians who were previously State sector employees, union officials or lawyers, there would be very few left with any outside experience to bring to the table.

    How do we solve these problems? Change will not occur that results in a negative impact on people, unless the alternative is worse. So unless the Feds threaten to significantly change the policy of horizontal fiscal equalisation, State government will not change, reform or evolve.

    There is a fundamental belief that Tasmanians are entitled to the standard of living, wages and social entitlements as “mainland” Australia, such as health, education, job opportunities and welfare.

    We are not, unless we equally contribute to earning and maintaining those benefits as a whole.

  16. WTF

    I’m lucky enough to live in Tasmania and even luckier that I do so by choice. This is spot on in so many ways it is frightening to read. Well done!

  17. Microseris

    DH “Australia’s only Green-run government”? Greens hold the balance of power much like the Lib Democrat’s do in the UK, so how exactly do they run the government?

    I suppose you would prefer a Liberal government like that of the dodgy and incompetent Robin Gray found to be deceitful and dishonest by a Royal Commission, or perhaps even Labor’s (Gunn’s can you do me a cheap reno) Paul Lennon?

  18. Chris Williams

    Jared (15)
    You really feel that Tasmanian leadership is so much worse than political leadership anywhere else? (I’m with Microseris (17) on this one.)

    I’m not going to argue that it might be marginally worse but it can’t possibly be so bad to account for Tasmania’s statistics.

    That’s why I think the problem is structural. Tasmania gets the largesse – and the outlook it has – because it has lots of political representation and therefore clout in Canberra. It is this political power which ‘dis-incentivises’ its productivity.

    This is why Tony Abbott can offer a local hospital there $1billion in order to buy government, and inefficient industries get propped up with massive subsidies.

    The Northern Territory, by comparison, might be getting huge payouts for supporting aboriginal communities but it is targeted assistance. By contrast with Tasmania there is little incentive on any federal political leader to try and massively buy off the NT because the handful of local politicians will rarely if ever constitute a significant block of numbers.

    Same as with the ACT’s four polticians. The ACT gets subsidised for the upkeep of the parliamentary triangle and a nod for the additional health and education costs it bears from people in surrounding NSW but otherwise its “go fend for yourself”, which creates the incentive to be leaner, more productive and occasionally innovative – no matter how bad the leadership might be! And believe me its been world-beatingly bad here in the ACT at times! (Having said that minority government has plans to lead us into another round of massive overspending – but this will be our debt problem not the rest of the nation’s problem)

    So I think the numbers do matter.

  19. Holden Back

    Summary of Chris Williams’ post: Brian Harradine.

  20. Jared Hill


    I agree, my comment about political leadership was less about blame for letting the status quo continue downwards, but there is no ability to drive structural reform to fix it.

    It would be interesting if Tasmania was hit by a new Abbott Government stick that effectively threatened the removal of horizontal fiscal equalisation by redistributing the GST on a per capita basis. I am not suggesting that wouldn’t be exceedingly bad for Tasmania in the short term, but as I said, people won’t accept hard decisions and adverse change unless the alternative is worse….

    There is no doubt the whole democratic system of pork barrelling exists. Howard was a master of it (Bass and Braddon in Tasmania’s north for instance have gold plated highways for a very small population, compared to Denison and Lyons in the mid and south of Tas which is the main highway), and middle class welfare nationally is another example. Trying to sway an electorate with a hospital in Devenport against all state planning and policy, which then got handed back to the state..another sad example.

    I agree, there is little incentive to change when there is a big bucket of money going to the consolidated revenue of State Government budgets.

    Although that said, I don’t agree there is much political clout in Tasmania. Maybe its been different the last 2 years under minority Fed government and Wilkie popping his head up every 2-3 months, but if Red or Blue had a large majority, Tasmania’s 5 seats would basically see us forgotten about on the Federal level. This issue is at a local level when any citizen can ring/email a local alderman or minister and get on their back, and these politicians are too concerned with dealing with petty issues rather than perhaps telling the individual their personal issues come second to the greater good of society?

  21. Venise Alstergren

    For heaven’s sake folks. Tasmania is like a remote town in East Gippsland. It is cut off from the rest of the nation.

    It is a place where, it could be said, the intelligentsia is represented by the local librarian. Anyone who can actually think is called a leftie, and a reader of Crikey. Beanies are endemic and, the jewel is the major art gallery whose excellence-I’m told- only reinforces the mediocrity of the rest of the island. Mentally, the politicians are second-class Queensland pollies; (and more second class than that is not possible) Nine months of the year the sea is cold and grey. And, as the author says, anyone wanting to succeed has to go he big smoke to do so. The fishing industry has taken over the position timber-and the Hydro Electricity Corporation used to have. Older people from the mainland frequently opt out by going to live there. And young people nearly go mental for lack of something to do. And the neighbour’s news is your news before it actually happens. Both places live off the benefit of the mainland government.

    Some people may regard the above paragraph as a nasty swipe at Tasmanians. It isn’t meant to be. It is merely what happens to a place which is cut off from the mainstream.

    Perhaps an airlift could be organised to ‘bus’ people to the other parts of Oz for a large dose of reality.

  22. David Joseph

    Imagine If Tassie were a Duty Free state with special banks like in Switzerland??? But, as the author observes, the Tassie maliase can be seen as a microcosm of large parts of Australia (indeed the World – look at Europe!)and by this I mean to say, and understand the situation to be, a function of a deculturalization process that has been festering and growing over several decades, resulting in a real loss of faith – faith in ourselves as a culture and as a civilization. Like most of the rest of the Western world, Australia and perhaps especially Tasmania, is hobbled with a bureaucratic nightmare preventing a freedom of spirit and anything that may suggest a gung-ho mentality. In other words, it has become almost impossible to do anything…

    We cannot ‘fix’ Tasmania or even Australia without first deciding what it is that we are and what we want to do – that right has been removed and can never be got back, because there no-longer is anymore a “We” or an “Us” in this country, or, for that matter, in many countires invaded by Economic Rationalism and the demands of the Market Place for ever-increasing novelty and monetary exchange…

    Multiculturalism is a function of this social reality and it has a severely debilitating effect upon our identity and our spirit, as distinct from old-fashioned cosmopolitanism. It is tantamount to being a Sin to be Proud and the Parliaments of this country are simply abrogating our sovereignty to the questionable values of the UN… Tasmania is, indeed, a microcosm of this state of affairs. But, like another reviewer has suggested, maybe it would be a good idea to encourage the return, the repatriation, of departed graduates unto Tasmania.

  23. Phen

    Time for some tough love maybe? The rest of Australia should secede from Tasmania and let them sink or swim accordingly….

  24. Jenny

    Actually, Phen, moving there and seceding is exactly what I’m planning if Abbott wins the federal election!

  25. Randy ROSE

    This article was extremely depressing basically because it seems right! Unfortunately both of my kids have left and live on the Mainland

  26. Patriot

    Too much deadbeat hippy trash there. Expel them from the Commonwealth. Problem solved.

  27. Venise Alstergren

    JENNY: If Tony Abbott wins the next election I’m going to go and live in Argentina. I’ve even chosen the exact spot.

  28. Abel in Tasmania

    I currently work for the state service in Tasmania, having come from the mainland 2 years go, and I can certainly attest that this article is a truthful representation of the situation within the state.

    1. Nepotism is rife. If you didn’t go to school with someone from Tasmania, or are not related to someone who is a 4 or 5 generation Tasmania you will not get a job. In one job interview I was asked by someone who is now quite high within the service whether, ” I was an axe murderer” as I had a promising career on the mainland and they couldn’t understand why I wanted to come to the state.

    2. Any from of education especially university qualifications are frowned upon. Tasmanians usually say that a university education is worth nothing, it’s practical skills that count, and that anyone can obtain a university education. This is somewhat true, as surprisingly a university education in Tasmania is worth nothing. Firstly there are no careers with any real chances of progression, secondly, if you have a university education you will be feared and regarded with suspicion as you are seen to be elitist, and third, career progression, whatever little there is in Tasmania, is based on nepotism or how many pints you can put away at the pub or both. Noone I work with has obtained their current positions through education or any for of competency, noone has a qualification, positions are ontained solely through who they know or who they are related to. It was a miracle I won my current position, must not have been any Tasmanians applying……

    3. Don’t try to change anything !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’Don’t try to change anything !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Didn’t I say don’t try and change anything !!!!!!!! One thing Tasmanians hate more than anything else is a university educated mainlainder that comes to their state and tries to modernise their processes or their technology. Tasmanians will fight tooth and nail to keep things the way they are. If you try to do anything to bring them into the modern world they will run you out of town faster than an angry mob chasing Frankenstein’s monster. Tasmanians like things how they are, they don’t like the modern world. Tasmanians only do what they want, they don’t care what the mainlanders do, this is because Tasmanians think they are unique, irrespective of the 200 years of scientific knowledge attesting to the contrary.

    4. Never critically analyse anyones ideas. Tasmanians are all related, your analysis will have them band together and run you out of town faster than a Vampire at a garlic convention. After all, you can’t have an outsider criticising your family.

    5. No decision, and following no change, can be made without everyone agreeing and being happy. Despite the fact that 50 people can be happy with a change and only one person upset with the new direction, the change won’t happen. This is because both State Service managers and Tasmanians in general feel the need for everyone to be 100 percent happy with every change. As a result, nothing changes in Tasmania because you cant make everyone happy all of the time. The safest option is to not change anything or wait until the person who is unhappy with the change dies or retires. As a result, nothing changes. Didn’t I say, don’t change anything!!!!

    6. Finally, for all those people from the mainland or overseas willing to invest or do business in Tasmania, stay away!!!!!! Tasmanians won’t do business with you! This is because you are not Tasmanian, you are not related to anyone in Tasmania, your company isnt already established in tasmania for at least the last 100 yearys, you dont have any sales people related to Tasmanians, and you are probably well educated, but most of all, it’s because you are a herald of change and all change must be stamped out like a cancer.

    I’m really frustrated with Tasmania, it’s a state of fantastic opportunities and a potential second to none. This is why I came to Tasmania, because I believed that it was the state of dreams but maybe I was just dreaming. It could be an economic power greater than any Singapore, pity it’s people are so short-sighted or maybe just lazy. Bring on the next beer, me and the cuz will be right!

  29. David Hand

    Thank you for your link to David Walsh. I found it a vety interesting article. The fact that he made his money from something other than the art he promotes threough MONA is both an endorsement of the underlying theme of this Crikey item and also a symbol of what is possible within Tasmania from entrepreneurship. I hope his ventures within the Tasmanian economy such as art, hospitality and tourism are successful. Tasmania needs anothet 10,000 people to follow him rather than the pilgrimage to Centrelink.

  30. Chris Williams

    Holden Back (19)
    Brilliant! I must learn such brevity!!
    Chris W

  31. Lucy Michaels

    I’m curious to know if the people who are against this arrive have ever lived anywhere other than in Tasmania. Having lived in six different cities in Australia, including three capital cities other than Hobart I have to say I was slightly embarrassed at the Tasmania I returned to nine months ago.

    Having spent the last nine years defending the island state to mainlanders I was sad to not only see that most of the things in this article are spot on but that Tasmanians themselves are in denial denial denial.

    Tall poppy syndrome runs rampant here and when combined with an overabundance of bureaucracy the result is a state that is gradually becoming less intelligent, less motivated and less responsible. I have never witnessed so many people thinking that its all someone else’s fault.

    Are these the hallmarks of narrowmindedness or lack of education? We have both here so you decide.

  32. Lucy Michaels

    * article, not arrive.

  33. Rortydog

    The author states:

    “If Tasmania were to increase its share of Australia’s wine production, for example, from its present 0.5% to equal its share of Australia’s population (just over 2%), that increase alone would create more than 2000 jobs.”

    Tasmania’s wine is already disproportionately in the top quality bracket, so the total volume percentage is irrelevant. I hope the author’s other stats and suggestions are better grounded.

  34. Graham R

    The solution is simple – merge Tasmania into Victoria to form a single economically viable State. And while we’re about it merge South Australia and Northern Territory for the same reason.

    Australia is ridiculously over-governed and has some failing States: both problems solved with one solution.

  35. Salient Green

    The Author cites “wine, dairy, aquaculture, horticulture, mining” as potential for Tasmania but as an orchardist in a winegrowing and dairying region, none of these industries are doing well here on the mainland either.
    Neoliberal policy of free trade fundamentalism is killing jobs all over Australia for local producers, processors and manufacturing.
    The only reasons some of other states are doing better is because they have vast reserves of mineral resources, are over-exploiting their environmental resources (MDBasin) and their economies are propped up by unsustainable population growth.
    South Australia could be called a freeloader state and until recently, so could WA.
    It’s a nonsense claim.
    All you have to do is shift some lines on a map as suggested by Graham R above and you suddenly have a so-called profitable state but it’s BS because the region is still unprofitable.
    Make a state out of the northern part of Victoria and the western part of NSW and you have another ‘freeloader state’.
    The Feds need to drop their ridiculous obsession with ‘free’ trade and implement policies which give Australian industry a fair go against imports and a fair go against supermarkets.

  36. owlcode

    Aah, nostalgia.

    Life in Australia: Launceston http://youtu.be/mlklnP25_2A

    And Hobart http://youtu.be/b69NkdZHM-U

  37. emma

    I am deeply disappointed that West’s article was written with the same tone of failure that he claims is endemic to Tasmania.

    I speak as a Tasmanian who left at 18 for mainland opportunities. Not out of love for my state, it’s people, culture and environment, but to peruse a career path that simply didn’t exist at home.

    Many of my Tasmanian friends who are abroad have expressed their desire to return. We think of Tasmania as our home, despite 10 years or more residing elsewhere. We talk proudly of the pristine beaches, the quirky country pubs and opp shops, the bustling waterfront during summer, fresh and delicious produce, MONA (how we celebrate this!), the space for artists, the new vision for bringing the University into the CBD and the cleanest air. We are not blind to the issues Tasmania faces. Yesterday, I was speaking with a close friend currently in NYC about how Tassie requires outside financial investment and inside inspiration. How convenient that many Tasmanians abroad are building skill-sets, are learning to be innovative thinkers, and are passionate for change.

    I thank West for his insight and for posing some solutions to Tasmania’s flailing economy. However, I ask West what the point of his article was? Solutions framed in failure do not inspire people to act … or to return.

  38. Sinny Cool

    The article is fun.

    I’m tempted to point out that being written by somebody holding the office of Director of the Australian Innovation Research Centre, perhaps he is better qualified to comment on the fruits or otherwise of groundbreaking Tasmanian research such as the Menzies Research Institute’s work in Tasmania, or the Tasmanian Leukaemia Foundation, or the breakthrough research into MS, or the breakthrough Tasmanian Devil genetic tumour research, of the TasICTC CSIRO research centre … but no, he wants to talk about forestry.

    It’s rather ironic that the rational and rigorous logic that must accompany research has been swept aside in favour of an emotive title to his article that poses a simplistic self-serving question which assumes it’s own premise; the most common example being the old legal chestnut where the prosecutor leans forward and asks the husband in the witness box: “So, when did you first begin beating your wife?” Of course if the husband attempts to answer that question he is bound by the premise that he does in fact beat his wife… and so it goes with his article.

    However, I won’t take issue with those things because I generally agree with the trends he has identified. My premise is that we are in an ongoing global state of decay and collapse and that the periphery always collapses first because those at the core running everything tend to direct the remaining resources to their own ends and constituencies.

    How silly to suggest that a place like Tasmania should continue to grow when faced with the disadvantages of transport and scale when even the automobile industry is collapsing despite massive and frequent cash injections from the government, and Australian mining is no longer making it’s promised profits. Let alone because we outsourced everything to China’s cheap labour and non-existent environmental laws and then have to spend $30 billion a year importing fossil fuel to run all our cars so we can commute from our massively mis-allocated suburbs to and from work so we can earn money to maintain our housing bubble and fill those houses with cheap Chinese goods to continue to live our lives of comfort.

    He’s just another person who fails to appreciate that we’ve generally reached the end of growth (See. http://www.csiro.au/files/files/plje.pdf ) and that the apex of our civilisation’s trajectory is behind us, whether that is measured in our lost ability to put men in space eg. the US inability to send men to the International Space Station and rely on Russia’s old 1960’s rocket science to do it for them, or our Australia wide inability to educate our children as well as we have done, our inability to provide the pension at 65 as we used to, our closure of hospitals and reduction in health spending, ad nauseum.

    Finally, his article is directed to what purpose? I care about the air-worthyness of just the single aircraft I happen to be in at the time – not the viability of the aircraft industry and the failure of the Dreamliner.

    Thus it is that within even a totally failed State there are bound to be active and successful people, enterprises, towns and industries; I contend that it is possible to thrive simply by recognising what is happening and being early to grasp the opportunities that always accompany any form of change.

    Those who do not recognise that a) there is a change b) it’s for the long term c) the trend is away from global growth industries and fossil fuel dependencies and towards localisation, are going to suffer the most. Those who try to hang on as long as possible to the failing status-quo and keep relying on growth will be the greatest losers in the end.

  39. Joda Adams

    An insightful piece. What has been largely overlooked however is that confidence by both business to develop and the community to support that development is influenced by the States leadership.
    Tasmania received a large influx of new arrivals in the previous decade. For a time newcomers to the State looked to have altered the cultural fabric. There was inherant optimism in the population with fresh opinions and new ideas. Some, like me, a returned Tasmanian seeking a better way of life for my family brought home a wealth of professional and life experience and a willingness to contribute to the discussion. This was almost immediately squashed by an insipid political culture which insulates poor achivers and from the outside appears to be riddled with cronyism. Confidence to support or oppose development was shaken in this state when the Lennon Government chose to ignore the planning rulebook and bend the rules to favour mates. Regardless of whether you opposed that particular development or industry as a whole this was a stark demonstration of a government willing to change the rules mid game and if there’s once certainty in business, uncertainty in any form is deemed a risk. If you dont have confidence in a government or government endorsed process why would you invest here?

  40. Anthony

    The cultural attitudes described are unfortunately accurate. It is a beautiful place to live and bring up children but it is also one of the most frustrating places I have lived. Despite what you hear the quality of our tourism services are crap, you will pay too much for too little, accommodation is expensive and tired unless you go premium. The regional and coastal towns are terrible at service delivery and public transport is poorly organized and executed. Compared to South Island New Zealand we are decades behind. We have huge areas of national park and world heritage that essentially the only activity allowed is walking. Shouldn’t we be exploiting this land for recreation tourism with wider reach. The greens just want to lock up the land (preservation) whereas the forestry industry wants to chop it down for peanuts and lock it up to keep the protesters out.

    True there is a huge non aspirational base that see little value in education and general society down here demonstrate huge resistance to change, listen to ABC 936 for proof. I think they have it too easy, including those with money. We have huge tracks of Tasmania owned by a small proportion of the population (they call them the forty families?) that don’t have to do anything to maintain their lifestyle. People often show concern that more mainlanders will come to the state and spoil such a lifestyle. It could be noted that Tasmania has one of the highest rates of multiple house ownership in the country.

    The other thing you will notice about Tasmania is that it is predominantly white. It has the highest proportion of Australian born citizens in the country. The low levels of immigration contribute to the small minded approach that is so prevalent. We miss the innovative social networks that ethnic families bring.

    I don’t have the answers, our education system isn’t great and if you get really sick I would advise a move interstate, unless you want to wait it out! Leadership is the main problem, it manifests itself as a microcosm of the state at large. I am unimpressed with all political parties, there is no one that inspires. I think we need to be Jeffed. We need a leader who has a vision who can lead. The people with jobs don’t need it though, many are happy with the lifestyle and don’t want it to change. If you have work down here life is great, you will not get change from the people. I see nothing changing. An election will see more handouts to buy the votes. Who’s leading the way to an economically and ecologically sustainable future? Maybe we are a strange form of socialist society, government gets gst money and use it to create the industry that is the ‘government’.

  41. chris crerar

    That is a welcome post script Joda. Tasmania does not have a political leadership that is working honestly and freely for the future prosperity of the state. Instead, it promotes mediocrity and the status quo, insulates the under achievers and tries to convince a whole swathe of Tasmanians that, somehow, we can move forward whilst looking in the rear vision mirror. It’s depressing that despite having so many opportunities and ingredients for a bright future (as many have outlined here), Tasmania’s political leaders many Tasmanians unfortunately do not want to openly embrace and cultivate these opportunities. How often do we hear Tasmanians declare that we don’t want any more people here, or that tourism jobs aren’t real jobs, or that the wilderness can’t be an economic driver (or from the point of view of some environmentalists, that the wilderness should not be exploited economically)?! I believe we need at least an extra 300,00 (tax paying) people to be sustainable and just across the Tasman sea in New Zealand tourism jobs are real jobs and the environment and the wilderness are huge economic drivers. But will Tasmania’s traditional political and, indeed, Green leadership start being frank about this potential? It’s so black and white here – chop it down or lock it up… I think we need to begin talking about finding some middle ground.

  42. chris crerar

    should be 300,000 extra people…

  43. Chris Williams

    Graham R’s (34) idea is the way to go.

  44. Tim

    Nothing that losing statehood and joining Victoria can’t fix.

  45. Jenny

    VENISE (21): Me encanto Argentina, puedo ir con usted en su lugar?

    ABEL (28): I’m sorry you’ve had such a terrible time in the state. While I agree with many (but not all) things in the original article, I must take issue with your comments.

    I worked in Tas State Govt for more years than I care to admit, and in the areas I worked the vast majority of professional and support staff were from interstate or overseas with a small minority of us born in Tas. Change was constant and no one was related to anyone.

    When I moved to Melbourne the job I moved for turned out to be a disaster. The most unhealthy, dysfunctional workplace with a mentally unstable boss who bullied everyone out and a few lackey managers doing her dirty work. But I didn’t blame all of Victoria for the fact that I walked into a dud job. I just left, spent six months unemployed, then found a new job. This one isn’t perfect either, but the issues are still about the workplace, not the state.

    If you hate your job so much, leave. Set up your own business/practice or work elsewhere. You say there are “fantastic opportunities and a potential second to none” so grab one of those opportunities and lead by example instead of contributing to the whining and negativity.

  46. Philip Amos

    As a Tasmanian ex-pat living in the big smoke, I was initially defensive when I read this article. But now after some reflection, I think it is spot on. I completed my tertiary education in Tasmania, and hung around for a few years trying to progress my career (if only i had ffth generation networks for a cosy job in the public service!). It was too depressing so I gave up and moved to the mainland.

    For years after I moved to the mainland, I craved the slower pace of Tasmania, the greenness and its quirkiness and the ability to be so close to nature, so easily. I questioned the sanity of people that lived in big cities, paid high rent and travelled an hour each way for their sh*t job. Why wouldn’t you just move to Tasmania for a better quality of life instead?

    But here’s the rub: that’s actually how the rest of the world lives, and it’s those people who toil in big cities and sh*t jobs that subsidise the way Tasmanians get to live.

    When I go back now I feel nostalgic and sad for the place. The economy can’t rely on exceptional people such as David Walsh to keep it afloat. It absolutely needs to get rid of the vested interests and disproportionate anti-development voices.

    Until educated, entrepreneurial types start to hang around in Tasmania, developing primary industries and tourism is definitely the way to go.

  47. Venise Alstergren

    My analogy linking Tasmania to a hypothetical town in East Gippsland was correct. Except I don’t think anyone in East Gippsland would be as the commentariat have so graphically illustrated.

    It was this scenario that Melbourne went through before the first wave of post war immigrants hit us. Photographer Max Dupain captured shots of pre-immigration Australians. The people’s faces were pinched and narrow whose expressions revealed an insular self-satisfied contentment with misery.

    Perhaps today’s migrants don’t wish to go there? Pity!

  48. taz

    I totally agree with post 38.

  49. Salient Green

    I totally agree with post 38 too.
    From further reading, the states with healthy economies are being propped up by the mining boom.
    The mining boom being enjoyed by resource rich states is the reason for the very high dollar which has devastated Tasmania’s tourism and export industries.
    The GFC has taken a larger toll on Tasmania’s economy as it has a larger reliance on exports.
    Overseas customers still suffering from the GFC just aren’t buying.
    I reiterate that there is no investment in the industries the author mentions because there is no money in them. There is a glut of wine, depressed milk prices and masses of cheap imported food.

  50. chris crerar

    yes, but Tassie still doesn’t play to it’s strengths…

  51. Venise Alstergren

    HOLDEN BACK: (19) Exactly! And adored by the Rabbot, because itsy witsy Brian was responsible for the Rabbot getting the portfolio of health in Howard’s government.

  52. Salient Green

    chris @ 50, here is an interesting link to the top 10 contributors to the Tasmanian economy.
    The author should have read this site and made some recommendations on how to improve the outcome from each sector.
    Feel free to do so yourself.
    I understand there are some mining projects in the pipeline which will help.
    As a 3 times tourist to Tassie I still have a hell of a lot more to experience and everyone I talk to has an experience I have never heard of. More promotion could be the go there but I think it wouldn’t hurt to open up a few more wilderness areas with some very environmentally sensitive and exclusive resorts.

  53. Andy F

    A nail on the head article. I’m a returned Taswegian, and all of the comments from those who have returned resonate for me. I can’t add anything which would add any more emphasis to the frustration, anger and disappointment already shown. The fundamental requirements for change have been identifed and re-identified. Like reform of planning schemes. Action……almost zero. I helped push reform, but with 27 councils no one will move! Their idea is the best.

    It is interesting to see people like 38 who are most likely described well by Jonathan West and are unlikely to be generating any income which doesn’t source from the government. Wonderful philosophy. No real or even pie in the sky solutions, just philosophical retoric. Extactly the problem West is describing. The hollow nothingness of the philosphy is sad, but also contains real challenges; our fixation on continual growth is a whirlpool which ends up where?

    However all of this conversation is fantastic. Tasmania, and perhaps Australia’s, fundamental issue is a lack of trust founded on a lack of openess, and then truely listening. With a small population the fear of opening up and saying something which may lead to longer term isolation is real in Tasmania. Very few people on this blog use their real name, even me. On the otherside, there is This conversation is captivating and exciting. Every person here

  54. Salient Green

    Well then, what are Andy F’s “real or pie in the sky” solutions? What reforms did you push? Perhaps your own philosophy is hollow and only too easily seen through. Did you think of leading rather than pushing?

  55. Terry James

    What’s wrong with Tasmania, Australia’s freeloading state?

    Jonathan West Crikey Wednesday 30 January 2013-02-01

    The title is a bit rough but the article has a sting of truth to it. There are of course many factors that affect the performance of Tasmania, that is part of the Federation of States that makes up Australia. There was a time when Tasmania saved Sydney from starvation, the wheel turns and all that.

    I would suggest that isolation and population are Tasmania’s biggest challenges. Bass Strait is an expensive bit of water and together with the Victoria Port’s rip-off charges and multiple handling, lead-times etc, it is a big trade barrier for Tasmania to overcome. The Bass Straight subsidy is yet to achieve realistic payments in order to make Bass Strait our ‘highway’. That same barrier impacts on tourism and travel generally and until the recent decrease in airfare costs, led to an inward looking population with a resultant conservatism.

    A population of 500,000 has resulted in a small gene pool from which to select leaders and so voting for footy players or the rich, powerful and well connected became rife. Nepotism and cronyism continue to flourish. Apparently we the voters do not learn. The small population means that we lose out on economies of scale and together with low wages results in less wealth running through the community.

    A critical comparison of Tasmania’s unemployment figures might show a similarity to some parts of regional Australia eg Northern NSW and that the unemployment figure there would be higher than Tasmania, which is after all treated as a regional area.

    I can’t find another Tasmanian who does not agree that we are over-governed. We can’t afford our existing governing structures and they do not seem able to prioritise spending. We were governed by big business for a while and look how that turned out. What should have earned for us cost us. It will take a bit of time to get the public’s trust back.

    No contest, we argue forever about issues and seldom arrive at reasonable outcomes.

    But, other states have had the benefit of natural resources including mining, tourism and climate. The road, rail, and air routes concentrate and deposit people in those areas. Tasmania does not have the Great Barrier Reef (QLD mightn’t have it much longer either). We don’t have huge coal and gas reserves, nor have we received the huge government spends on those areas. It’s not our fault that the business capitals of Australia are Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

    Cuts to Federal government job numbers during the 90’s impacted severely on Tasmania

    What did/does Tasmania get out of the Bass Strait oil and gas fields?

    What defence force spending does Tasmania get? Where would South Australia be without defence force contracts?

    The Tasmanian government’s horse racing industry subsidy is unfathomable to most of us.

    Inshore aquaculture is nearing capacity and the next step (offshore and onshore) will require huge investment.

    Comparing Tasmania to New Zealand is ridiculous. They’ve got 5 times the population.

    We might yet see the day when Tasmania’s forests, natural beauty and climate bring visitors from a jaded northern hemisphere and enable us to ‘earn our keep’ from Australia’s cool temperate National Park (Tasmania). We can’t afford the upkeep in the short term and you might have to help a bit.

    Our job is to get smart as soon as possible, encourage sustainable development and spend wisely.

  56. Venise Alstergren

    How much would it cost to build a bridge? Gina Reinhart could fund it and we could name it after her.

    Sorry, joke in poor taste. But, Tasmania is just too far away from the mainland. It shouldn’t be a case of Australia propping up Tasmania. Rather it should be a case of Tasmania making the mainland want to come to it. (In numbers far greater than any tourist bureau can come up with.)

  57. bill perry

    Jonothan West paints a depressing picture of our island state. It reminds me of the old adage that there is a little bit of truth in everything. In comparing New Zealand with Tasmaia for example, he states that NZ doesn’t have a big brother to run to for help when it needs it. NZ is a sovereign country with a population approaching 5 million. It is also lucky in having a close relationship with Australia which gives it many advantages in trade etc. Would Mr West also like to compare us with Iceland? Another sovereign country, but with a population somewhat less than Tasmania. Iceland is relatively isolated from the rest of Europe and has recently survived a financial crisis. It has less than 1% of arable land and survives on fishing, geothermal power and tourism among other things. It is similar to NZ in that it is independent. It does not have the interference of another level of government. It does not have sister or (big) brother states with enormous natural resources and yet it survives. If this is possible, why is it not possible for Tasmania to thrive,with all of its wonderful natural gifts and the economical support from Canberra. In truth we do. We are part of a federation of states. Not merely an offshore island. We are part of a Commonwealth, not a separate entity. Over the years this state has contributed well above its weight in all fields in peace and war. We have nothing to be ashamed of. In past years, we contributed more in resource wealth it is true, but we also shared that wealth as in “common” wealth. I take exception to Mr West’s use of terminology such as “underclass”. I am angry with his assertion that Tasmania is a basket case bludging on the rest of the country. Mr West should travel more. Compared to most of the world, this is a paradise.

  58. barry butterworth

    This is an example of how academics denigrate bogans in public. Obviously, all the free loading uneducated government employed uncultured hopeless nobodies should get a real job, like in wine industries, or in gourmet organic primary produce, because I’m an educated wanker with money to spare and expensive taste. It’s not about government inaction in relation to education, it’s because Tasmanians are all f$&@ing bogans!

  59. Alex Russell

    I agree with WOMBAT – the Abel Tasman is an example. The head of fisheries at the Antarctic Division in Kingston claimed the quota was small. But wasn’t it Tasmanians who begged Tony Bourke to ban it?
    It does happen on the mainland also – too hard to build a wind farm anywhere – people have the idea it causes cancer!
    I am from Melbourne and live with my wife in South Australia. We’re both tertiary educated and love the lifestyle in Tasmania – but there is no future there for us.
    My sister-in-law is Tasmanian born and tertiary educated and runs her own business in Melbourne – nothing there for her either.
    My wife and sister-in-law are educated, they left.
    I didn’t agree with the open loop system Gunns were going to use for the pulp mill, but agreed with the concept – its an industrial area at Longreach on the Tamar…we need to do more value adding to our produce.
    Regardless of what we think or why these things happen – Tasmania is living beyond its means, it’s our own little Greece, and the state must prepare for the time the money dries up, it will happen.

  60. Chris Williams

    barry butterworth (58). Couldn’t agree more. This criticism of Tasmania is sadly typical of the undergraduate thinking which passes for intellectual comment within most of our ‘think tanks’. One despairs at the prospect of ever getting a mature SWOT analysis. These jokers arrived at the answer decades ago – deindustrialise Australia, smash the power of unions, rip the funding out of public education, turn everyone students into consumers (remember Dawkins was to the manor born) and give public infrastructure over to our daddy’s mates in the private finance industry. Then when you’ve totally deskilled, de-educated and de-industrialised Australia’s regions blame it on the fact that the people who are left are bogans and not like we better folk!

  61. Jennifer Juniper

    I left that oppressive angry place years ago and have no intention of returning. When I’m asked why I left I reply “Tasmania is broken and no-one (let alone the premier or anyone in the government) knows how to fix it…” Now reading this very poignant article I applaud Jonathan’s observation that is just not in anyone’s interest to attempt to fix it. The government vat is overflowing and public servants and bogans (sorry…the disadvantaged)are gorging. The misuse of government funds in Tasmania is abhorrent. The people aren’t friendly, the food isn’t good and the service is crap.
    Christ I’m glad I left.

  62. Salient Green

    @ 59, I’ll bet Tassie is glad you left. Pity you have to keep on bagging the place though. Dont’ you realise that you are stil contributing to it’s problems?

  63. Venise Alstergren

    BILL PERRY: A city/country/island is only as bad as the politicians allow it to be. The people elect their governments, so it’s not unreasonable to suppose Tasmania’s woes begin, and end, at the ballot box?

  64. Jim Lockhart

    An individual, a family, a town,a state, and indeed a country, cannot have pride and dignity and a comfortable place in the world whilst living on the handout of others.
    In Tasmania many have all but given up, or had taken from them, all but the most valiant attempts at self reliance.
    Just an observation Sorry no solution but I think every person in Tasmania could identify with, and place themselves within some part a Jonathan’s observations, with just a little bit of honest self examination

  65. Dr. S

    The entire of Australia is over-governed, not just wee Tassie. Dictating education, transport and health policy and spending at a state level is ridiculous. Hobart and Launceston are regional towns, and suffer the same problem as every other regional centre in Australia – isolation, decentralisation, low education and high unemployment. Australia is a ridiculously wealthy country that props up people who are unwilling to change. It is time for the Federal government to take austerity measures on our regional folk. There’s a bucket load of work across Australia, move toward it if you aren’t living where it is.

    I completed my undergraduate degree in Hobart, but literally left the day I graduated. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I’ve since completed a couple of higher degrees and lived in a several national and international cites. You see, I moved to the work. I organized housing, visas and learned other languages so that I could take advantage of what was on offer. Sure I had the luxury of being granted a skilled migrant visa, but none of it was easy – anyone else tried to deal with local French government? It makes my blood boil when I hear populations like Burnie demanding a hospital. You living there, is your choice. You shouldn’t be subsidized by everyone. All you need to do is look for work in Hobart, even across the water to Geelong or Adelaide. “Oh no, I don’t like cities” – then don’t expect the benefits of living in a city, such as public transport, multiple education options and major hospitals. It is economically impossible to sustain. The denizens of these rural centres are Australian citizens and can work anywhere in this prosperous country. They’re not refugees of some bygone war that can’t move for fear of death.

    I like to eat out. I do it several times a week. Do I get a tax break and handout from the Government to support my choice of lifestyle? Not a chance!

  66. taz

    Yes, Dr S. I left once I’d ‘matriculated’ and went to a ‘mainland’ university and then studied overseas. We’re the lucky ones. It’s easy for some people (and I’m assuming that’s you and me) to leave. But it’s not so easy for the people who are living in the rural areas, who are unable to go on to Years 11 and 12. And we come back when we choose to. As I do, and I despair when I read the local newspapers, watch the local TV etc. There are some truly great things going on in Tasmania. Wonderful, artistic people are moving there. The potential is fabulous. I don’t believe Tasmanians think they are refugees and deserve better. In fact, perhaps it would be better if they did.

  67. Overeducated

    Any economists in the house?

  68. Fred Flintstone

    yep. ex tasmanian here. living in melbourne now. went to uni of auburn in the united states for econ.

    this article absolutely hit the nail on the head. posts 58 and 60 are exactly what the author is referring to. don’t take responsibility, deny deny deny and when that doesn’t work get on the attack. attack those who wish you to change and god forbid actually take some responsibility.

    nobody in tasmania wants things to change. or at least, they don’t want to do anything to earn it. they’re quite happy freeloading. they have no drive to make anything of themselves and hate those that did. the very few that do claim to want change only ever proffer a solution that just happens to involve the gubbmint once again spending a boatload of cash on something that gives them something. when they say “we need” another hospital or whatever, what they mean is “give us” and “i am entitled”. the concept of actually earning/paying for something you receive is basically alien in tasmania.

    tasmanians have been given too much for too long and have come to expect it. which would be fine if they came to expect education or something else that yields a return, but it isn’t. it’s things like the gubbmint to give you free cash for the rest of forever if you have a child while you’re still in high school, or the gubbmint to employ you (once again GIVE you a job) when you never even finished school. even then they only want it right up to the point where they realise that employers actually want something for their money and they’re going to have to put some effort in, at which point they’re out. it’s all just too hard, so back to trusty centrelink we go. those with drive to make something of themselves quickly realise that anyone who will want to employ them when uni is over will be driven out of the state so fast it will make their head spin. if jobs are actually provided then tasmanians won’t have any excuse for their laziness. they don’t really want jobs – work is hard, and that’s why they resist every attempt anyone ever has to provide them with one.

    as the author said, they don’t want it to change. when economists talk about depression they’ve gone past poor economic conditions to the point where the very mentality of people has changed. it is a fundamental and deliberate change of terminology. what needs to be changed in tasmania is its very psyche and the only way this will happen is by force. as i mentioned earlier, nobody in tasmania actually wants a job, they don’t want to do anything difficult (i.e actually earn their keep) and the only way we’ll ever get them to do so is to, as i said, force them. in other words, cut the tax dollars off.

    but that will never happen. the government(s) need the votes (and being a state it has more seats than a territory, 5vs2 i believe) and if they cut the tax money off there would quite literally be riots from those capable of working but don’t want to (I AM ENTITLED), and the poor-hard-done-by-me act by those that chose to quit school at 15 to work at maccas and then had two kids before they were 20 to then live off of centrelink.

    tasmanians always have an excuse but never a responsibility. just ask one.

  69. Fred Flintstone

    bottom line: why would i go to work (work which, thanks to me dropping out of school in year 9 because school was too tough will only pay me $15/hour minus tax) when centrelink will pay me 2/3rds of that to sit at home and drink beer all day?

    does anyone really think it’s any wonder they resist investment (employment)? right now they can play the “there isn’t a job to go to” card to do exactly what they’d be doing even if there was – nothing. when there isn’t any work then there is no argument the government can make to deny them centrelink (hurr durr what are we supposed to do, there isn’t any work for us to go to) and so they get exactly what they really wanted anyway – paid to sit on their ass all day.

    they know exactly what they’re doing.

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