The state’s had its AFL victory, now we need a win for Tasmanians doing it tough (Mercury Talking Point, 09/05/23)

Dr Charlie Burton, Acting CEO, TasCOSS

The footy stadium deal means governments cannot argue they have no money to help those living in poverty, writes Dr Charlie Burton.

Just last week and with much fanfare, Premier Jeremy Rockliff announced a new stadium and AFL team will change the course of history” for Tasmania.

The proposed 23,000-seat stadium could be filled five-times over with the number of Tasmanians living in poverty.

For those Tasmanians, a new stadium will not change much.

The Tasmanian and Commonwealth Governments have committed a whopping $745 million towards a stadium at Macquarie Point and upgrades for York Park (UTAS Stadium) in Launceston.

Given the increasing number of Tasmanians who cannot afford the basics of life, such as shelter, food, energy and health care, TasCOSS and the community services organisations we represent are concerned that the core responsibility of both governments — to support the wellbeing of their citizens — is slipping out of focus. Instead, overlooked in favour of large, legacy infrastructure projects.

A new stadium is out of step with the priorities of the vast and growing number of Tasmanians who say the rising cost of living is their number one issue of concern.

They tell us that they need a home to live in, affordable rents, food on the table, assistance with spiralling energy costs, access to affordable health care, and help to meet their household bills.

Even after these first-order priorities, a new stadium doesn’t rate a mention.

While few dispute there is merit in Tasmania finally gaining entry to the AFL, governments can no longer use the excuse ‘the budget can’t afford it,’ if significant funding can be found for a new stadium.

Investing in Tasmanians to ensure they can meet their basic living needs must be the priority of government.

Not only because it is the right thing to do, but because the economic and social returns to Tasmania in the long-term will be greater than the returns from a new stadium.

There are clear, evidence-based measures our governments can take which will make a tangible difference to the lives of Tasmanians living on low incomes. Such measures could include boosting the paltry rates of JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and Commonwealth Rent Assistance — which, far from being safety nets, actually trap people in poverty — capping rent and electricity price increases, extending access to concessions, and providing free public transport for Tasmanians living on low incomes.

We also desperately need investment in the community services that support Tasmanians in need. As it stands, Tasmanian Government funding to the organisations that provide these services is simply not enough to cover their costs, let alone surging demand.

This is resulting in more and more Tasmanians being unable to access the help they need at a time they need it the most.

The upcoming federal and state budgets will show us where government priorities lie.

If they choose to change the course of history by lifting one-quarter of Tasmania’s population out of poverty, that is something we would all cheer.

Dr Charlie Burton is acting chief executive of the Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TasCOSS).