Lift Tasmania off the bottom of the table or we will all pay, says Adrienne Picone.
IT has been widely acknowledged across the political spectrum from our experience of COVID-19 that a healthy population is the essential ingredient of a healthy economy. It was pleasing to see evidence in this year’s state budget of a shift towards prioritising investment in people’s health and wellbeing through the COVID-19 recovery.
At the CEDA State of the State address in September, the Premier spoke of his compassionate vision for Tasmania: a Tasmania that “no matter where you live, no matter your background, no matter your circumstances — opportunities will be here for a better life.”
Thursday’s budget provided the Premier with a real opportunity to bring that vision to fruition. While it was encouraging to see increased emphasis on investment in programs and services that directly improve lives, such as food relief, mental health and volunteering, a lion’s share of expenditure went to hard infrastructure projects such as roads and buildings as a means to short-term economic recovery.
Recently, a woman shared her story of living a life on the outer and getting by on a pittance. She had moved back to Tasmania to be closer to her sick mother and sold firewood from her home to make ends meet. She spoke with us about her aspirations for the future, of hope and the lack thereof.
She said, “once your mind’s not worried and you can sleep, you can actually get everything else in order. You can start to make some better decisions for yourself. Not having to worry if you’re going to make it through the fortnight and still have food. Being able to look forward to the week and put energy into other things and starting to create your future.”
There was little in the budget to assure Tasmanians living on the outer that a better life was not far away. Structural, intergenerational barriers to a better life remain unaddressed.
While an investment in roads and bridges will produce infrastructure to get us where we need to go more safely and efficiently, it is a direct investment in our greatest asset — our people — that sits at the heart of successful recovery, rebuild and increased resilience. Now is the time for investment in solutions to the entrenched issues that have been a handbrake on prosperity:
- INCREASING our affordable housing construction targets: so every Tasmanian has a place to call home.
- IMPROVED HEALTHCARE in local communities: so every Tasmanian has access to the services they need, when and where they need them, to live healthy lives.
- RAISING DIGITAL and adult literacy rates: so every Tasmanian is connected into education, employment and our community.
The most glaring deficiency was the lack of investment in the digital access and skills of Tasmanians who remain digitally excluded. Without targeted investment to get on top of the digital divide, Tasmanians will continue to be locked out of our education system and miss out on jobs as they become available in the post-COVID-19 economy.
A lack of action to lift Tasmania off the bottom of the table for digital inclusion will cost our state in the long run. TasCOSS will continue advocating for urgent action and look for significant announcements in the next budget.
Tasmanians are looking for investment that will improve their bottom lines, give them security, protect their health and ensure we are ready to weather the next crisis. While this budget showed positive signs of what could be done in the short-term, we need to prioritise investment to rebuild the resilience of our population to withstand future shocks. If this crisis has taught us one thing, it is that a healthy, supported population sits at the heart of Tasmania’s successful recovery.
Adrienne Picone is chief executive of the Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TasCOSS).