Unlock the last quarter of Tasmania (The Mercury Talking Point, 04/12/18)

Investing in people is the missing piece of the puzzle that will enable many more of us to share in the good times, says Kym Goodes.

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 10 years.

Now is the time of opportunity, including to make sure the growth is sustainable, and that more people can prosper. We need to unlock the potential that is dormant in our regions and our communities. We need a game-changer strategy. We need a strategy to ensure growth is inclusive and no one is left behind.

Our people are our greatest asset. As any successful business person will tell you, no matter how much you invest in your business, in infrastructure, 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.

About 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 not of their making. Turning that around would be a game-changer for the future of our state.

Inequality is one of those problems that 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 the Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TasCOSS), Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry 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 in their communities. They know the problems are not the fault of individuals and so we must share the responsibility 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 as investment in irrigation has led to expansion of our agriculture sector, so we must make a significant investment in our people so everyone has the opportunity to participate fully in life on our amazing island.

The strategic investment flagged by government in the Infrastructure Project Pipeline demonstrates the government has allocated over $1 billion to capital investment over the next four years. It’s time to shine the spotlight on investment in our people — our soft infrastructure — investment that matches the hard infrastructure spend and ensures all Tasmanians will have the opportunity to have Tasmanian jobs.

We have been here before. We have seen strong economic times. But we haven’t tackled the deep disadvantage that has excluded many 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. Let’s make this our game-changer moment.

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


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