In days of sunshine, shelter Tasmanians from tempest to come (The Mercury Talking Point, 04/12/19)

Kym Goodes says it’s time to spread the wealth to address shameful disadvantage.

TASMANIA’S strong economy is a matter of pride.

It’s the foundation we desperately need and provides a strong base to build on. The challenge is to construct an economy in these days of economic sunshine that is robust, flexible and innovative so as to shelter all Tasmanians from the tempests that will come in decades ahead.

Describing a vision for Tasmania where everyone can have a good life is easy. Making it reality is more difficult. Investment over the past five years in infrastructure, tourism and other industries has provided preconditions for a strong economy. But there is still an uncomfortable reality. As the national economy starts to tighten, we need to counterbalance investment and consider different, more innovative ways of working in education, health and wellbeing — in skills, transport and more than just the most basic of essential services. If we don’t, the foundations will not support that vision. The foundations will not support all Tasmanians, only some.

Every day we hear stories of the health system failing — bed block, overcrowded emergency departments and problems with culture and relationships between the bureaucracy and clinicians.

What we don’t see on the front page are long-term outcomes of the gathering failure of our health care system — long-term outcomes like the median age of death in our most disadvantaged neighbourhood being 66, compared to 84 in the most advantaged neighbourhood.

We don’t see the housing stress squeezing neighbours, friends and families to the verge of homelessness.

We need to look for and invest in opportunities where all Tasmanians can prosper. And we can only do that if governments at every level are flexible, open to ideas, set bold targets and strict deadlines, breach the bureaucratic walls that remain 20th century constructs in a 21st century racing ahead at warp speed. The Tasmanian Government cannot afford to keep doing things the same way.

The review into the Tasmanian State Service is key to unlocking our potential.

The other key is us.

Tasmanians see the opportunities, they know what is needed. They have ideas but have not always had the right conditions to dare to aspire. For many, our history has been a lesson in precarious employment and long periods of economic downturn. Now however, where we have prototyped models that enable community-led approaches and investment in what is needed to succeed, we are seeing improved outcomes in employment and training. In these examples, we are seeing more Tasmanians able to fulfil their potential and experience economic independence.

We need the right investment from government to open up opportunities for all Tasmanians to prosper. And we need the right policy settings and systems to make that happen. For Tasmania to thrive long-term, we need governments to clear the path, not build obstacles.

No matter what the current economy looks like, we will not prosper long-term if we don’t get this next investment target right. There are two streams to these challenges that will create opportunity and provide the focus for where investment needs to be. First, for adult Tasmanians, our greatest challenges and potential still exist in the low levels of education, literacy and health outcomes of our population. For our children and young people, the opportunity to be the generation who no longer carries that ignominious Tasmanian legacy is our most golden. Improving outcomes for the next generation so they never have to live a life of poverty like many of our fellow Tasmanians is a legacy about which to be proud. And it is doable. But not without investment in our children, young people, their parents and grandparents.

Kym Goodes is chief executive of the Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TasCOSS).