Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Tasmania: Champagne tastes on a beer income

By Jan Davis 
Tasmanian Farmers & Graziers Association
First published in the Mercury
Also available at the TFGA web site

Photo sourced from [here] from an earlier article by Jan Davis

Everywhere you go you hear it. Our car, steel, manufacturing industries are uncompetitive and in decline. No local people are prepared to come onto farms and pick fruit and vegetables and do the hard yards. The housing market bubble is about to burst. The strong dollar is a nightmare for exporters and a wipe-out for inbound tourism and education industries.  Governments are focused on second order issues and money is being wasted on pork-barrelling.

Politicians know it but won’t talk about it. Public servants are either unwilling or unprepared to speak out; or when they do, their advice is ignored. The unions know, but their survival depends on a rapidly out-dating paradigm. Academics know it also, but often choose not to engage in real world debate. Businesses are generally too busy keeping their heads above water to focus on anything other than tomorrow.

The truth is that Australia is no longer the ‘lucky country’.
‘We’re doing better than most’ is only partially true. We have a massive natural resource base and a long history of managing it effectively to deliver economic outcomes. The mining boom has propped up our economy over recent years; and agriculture has played its part too. Without these advantages, we’d be where the rest of the world is now.

Even with this leg up, we’re struggling with a two speed economy where many dual income families have trouble paying for the basics of life.

The reason? In a world where everyone is competing for scarce resources, people in less fortunate countries will do whatever it takes to get out of poverty and to live in a safe environment. Yet we’ve taken our ‘lucky country’ status to heart and become complacent.  We have expectations of a lifestyle way beyond the nation’s capacity to continue to deliver: our wage costs make us uncompetitive; and we have a system of welfare and entitlements that are not supportable without diverting resources from infrastructure and production. The end result is we are spending more than we can afford.

‘Champagne tastes on a beer income’ is what my nanna would have said.

Whilst this is true across Australia, it is writ large in Tasmania. We have a small population base, and an even smaller industry base – and that is being lost in a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ scenario. We’ve become accustomed to having our enviable lifestyle funded by the hard work of other people in other states. And this has earned us the reputation of always having our hands out for yet another hand out.

Image for Call for Moratorium on New Mines in Tasmania. ‘Shree’s deception makes them unfit’
Photo sourced from [here]
Tasmanians may have their heads in the sand about their economic reality -
 just like this unfortunate Tasmanian devil has been stuck in a bore hole
 We’re on notice about this – the economic boom states have made it clear they’re not keen on continuing to subsidise what the WA Premier calls ‘the mendicant state’. So we are kidding ourselves if we think that our lifestyle can be sustained without painful change.

If we’re honest, most of us understand that. The challenge is to do something about it before we hit the wall and have no chance to manage change. Individually, it is hard for us to make a difference; but as a community we can drive change.

If that’s going to happen, though, we need leadership that can develop strategies that will enable us to maintain our hard-won benefits; while still competing in a global marketplace.

That’s what the coming state election should be about. We all need to put aside petty political posturing and focus on developing a clear plan to help us navigate the challenges that are ahead.
In other words, we need leadership with the vision, courage and commitment to tell the truth – and to lead for the future rather than the next opinion poll.

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