February 14, 2013
Inglis Clark Centre for Civil Society has been holding the Denison Debates and public lectures about Tasmania. Where does Tasmania’s future lie? Has Tasmania reached a ‘tipping point’, politically, economically and culturally? Is is an island of broken dreams for those on welfare, with poor health and low educational qualifications. One view is that Tasmania is a basket case subsidized by the rest of the country--it's a “mendicant state”.
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 petty crime, worst domestic violence.
This is an underclass that helps to reproduce underachievement, generation after generation. Jonathon West, Director of the Australian Innovation Research Centre at the University of Tasmania argues that:
Demographics and income sources have coalesced to create a specific culture in Tasmania. More accurately, it is two cultures – one of a substantial “underclass”, 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 under-class.
His argument is that the problem is culture not economic disadvantage. That implies that even if they realise the awful truth about themselves, they are powerless to do anything about it. This is Tasmania as the failed state thesis.
West’s thesis is that Tasmania’s economic and social indicators are the worst in Australia because our high dependence on government welfare and employment means there is no incentive to overcome political and cultural barriers to personal improvement and private enterprise. Since Tasmania is a flawed and failed place so change can only come from outside.
Rodney Croome states that prejudice, ignorance and shallowness characterise the current national debate on Tasmania and its future:
On the political right the island is portrayed as the kind of poor, tree-hugging, gay-loving, welfare-dependent, enterprise-free society Green-dominated Labor governments inevitably create...The anti-Tasmanian myths perpetuated by progressive intellectuals are less obvious but just as self-serving. Debate on Tasmania is framed in terms of a unique ‘moment’, ‘watershed’ or ‘tipping point’ where the island faces the choice between embracing the creativity and innovation of the elite few or being held back by ‘local resistance to change’ and ‘stuck in the mud of the past’.
He adds that as with the Right’s story about Tasmania’s poverty and weakness, the cultural left’s wipe-the-slate-clean-and-start-again story about Tasmania’s future is based on the assumption that mainstream Tasmanian politics and society is fundamentally flawed, destined to failure and in need of rescue.