It is an exciting time for Tasmania. Our economy is growing, visitors are coming to the State in record numbers, more of our young people are participating in school, and billions of dollars will be invested in job-creating projects over the next ten years. Now is the time of opportunity including to make sure that the growth is sustainable, and that more people can prosper. We need to unlock the potential that is dormant in our communities. We need a game-changer strategy.
Our people are our greatest asset. As any successful business person will tell you, no matter how much you invest in your business, in its infrastructure, its equipment, the latest technology, a business will not be profitable or sustainable if you don’t equally invest in your people. That’s why large organisations prioritise managers of “people and culture” – because people are the most important part of any business. They are critical to its success.
Tasmania is no different. When you map investment in Tasmania from the three tiers of government it is strong in infrastructure – in irrigation, in tourism, in roads and in energy projects. And when you look at a map of Tasmania you can also see the vast World Heritage Area — one-fifth of our island protected for future generations. What you can’t see on that map is the one-quarter of Tasmania that is locked up because of a lack of investment in our people. That must change.
Around 120,000 Tasmanians do not have the opportunity to live a good life. They try to live on less than $433 a week while finding the resources to look after their family, and to look for work. They have to make choices that many of us aren’t forced to make – for example, to move out of major population centres due to a lack of affordable housing. They are faced with other barriers beyond their control like a lack of access to reliable, affordable transport that can get them to services, training and work. They experience cultural barriers like prejudice, stigma and exclusion. And they face very personal barriers with low levels of literacy, dental problems and poor physical and mental health.
The potential of one-quarter of our people to participate in the social and economic opportunities our state offers and to live a good life is denied them by barriers that are not of their making. Turning that around would be a game-changer for the future of our state.
Inequality is one of the wicked problems. It can feel too big and too hard to change. But we can and we already are. In communities throughout Tasmania local residents are taking the steps to make a difference. Community led. They are turning it around.
In the partnership between TasCOSS, the TCCI and the State Government we are working to turn it around. In the Derwent Valley, the South-East, the Break O’Day municipality and now the West Coast, community members are coming together to find ways to get local people into local jobs. They are asking people what their hopes are, what the challenges are, and what the solutions could be. And, with funding from the State Government, they are trying different ways of doing things, connecting job seekers with employers and building on the resources and strong connections within their communities. They know that the problems are not the fault of individuals and so we must share the responsibility, together as a community, and as Tasmanians.
This work is a strategic investment by the State Government in people. And we need a lot more of it. Just like strategic investment in irrigation has led to an expansion of our agriculture sector, so we must now make a significant strategic investment in our people so everyone has the opportunity to participate fully in life on our amazing island.
It’s time to shine the spotlight on investment in our people — our soft infrastructure — investment that matches and exceeds our investment in hard infrastructure.
We have been here before. We have seen strong economic times. But we haven’t tackled the deep disadvantage that has excluded many in our population from participating and therefore sustaining our economic growth. To quote Santayana, “those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it”. We must not condemn another generation of Tasmanians to being locked out of the opportunities ahead.
— Kym Goodes, CEO, TasCOSS
This editorial appears as the foreword to the 2018 Tasmania Report, published in partnership with the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (TCCI) and Saul Eslake.