If the pandemic really is the portal to a new future, Tasmania has the ability to create good jobs and brighten the future for thousands, writes Adrienne Picone.
NOW is Tasmania’s time to shine.
Now is our best opportunity in 100 years to put to bed the mainland states’ vision of Tasmania as mendicant.
As writer Arundhati Roy put it back in April in a piece published in The Financial Times, “the pandemic is a portal” and we have the opportunity to step through it to a new future.
As borders open and Tasmanians take tentative steps into what we hope is a post-pandemic period, now is the opportunity to rebuild our systems and our people — to position our state and our people at the front of the leaderboard.
Although COVID-19 was not something we had ever seen before in Tasmania, not one of the systemic issues we face in our collective rebuild is new.
There is no denying the time to rebuild is now.
The only real question remaining is whether we are open to rebuilding from the foundation up or if we prefer to just slap on a new coat of paint and be pleased with how well it covers the cracks.
Cracks like our entrenched lack of affordable housing that has led to families escaping domestic violence waiting more than a year for a home where they can restart their lives.
Cracks like our jam-packed emergency rooms that bear the pressure of insufficient access to affordable primary health care in communities around our state.
Or the 120,000 Tasmanians living in households that spend each day finding new ways to stretch inadequate incomes to pay for basics like food and electricity.
This week marks national Anti-Poverty Week with awareness being raised around the country about the barriers to opportunity entrenched in our communities.
Tasmanians can no longer afford to place these issues in the too-hard basket, applying a lick of paint here and there while our systems fail to deliver outcomes and improve lives.
While the federal government has for now chosen to deny certainty of an adequate income to our state’s 39,000 job seekers, our state government representatives are in a position to rebuild systems that would give these struggling households the same opportunities as their friends, family and neighbours.
By choosing to build more social housing more quickly, our government can provide homes to those who need them and create meaningful jobs in communities to the tune of three full-time equivalent positions for each new social home built.
By investing in adult and digital literacy as well as access to low or no-cost devices and data, our government can improve educational, health and employment outcomes while ensuring we can all stay connected, informed and safe in the face of the next health or environmental crisis.
By acknowledging the need to reorient our economy to ensure the jobs created are in growth areas and provide adequate hours and reliable income levels, we can lift tens of thousands of women and young people out of poverty and precarious living.
As the delayed Tasmanian State Budget — to be released on November 12 — draws closer and the Premier’s Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council’s (PESRAC) community consultation process gets under way, there are signs that our leadership can see the potential for meaningful change revealed by COVID-19. For all that it has taken from us, this pandemic has allowed all of us — including our decision-makers — the freedom to step back from life as usual and see Tasmania’s entrenched issues and the consequences of increasing inequality from a new perspective.
We encourage you to talk to people in your local community and your parliamentary representatives about how Tasmania can take the lead by investing in our people.
While the pandemic has forced this moment upon us, what we do next is up to all of us. Will Tasmania walk through the portal to an improved future where every Tasmanian has the same opportunity to live a good life? Or will we simply let this moment pass, put systemic change in the too-hard basket and continue on the path we were on before COVID-19 changed everything?
Adrienne Picone is chief executive of the Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TasCOSS).