Old attitudes not part of the future

WHEN I first sailed to Tasmania 30 years ago I was captivated by its extraordinary natural beauty.

Here was a place with so much unspoilt, an increasingly rare treasure on a savagely exploited and polluted planet.

Equally appealing was the sense of a safe place to bring up my children. A place where people were decent and honest. I was impressed that folk would smile and say hello to strangers and return a lost purse; not rip it off.

I had never heard of cafe latte. Neither was I a city dweller. I was in for a few surprises when I later settled in Tasmania.

Alongside the friendly faces were feuds that are also a feature of a small community so often inwardly focused. I should have paid more attention to the puzzling incident in the Dover pub, when a local asked the name of our boat and all hell broke out because it was "Wilderness."

I learnt that in Tasmania a difference of view is cause for a vendetta, especially over the magnificent environment. In this safe place threats to the well- being of my family emerged when I became involved with local efforts to save forests and against establishment of a new woodchip mill nearby.

Some people do not react compliantly to intimidation, and I am one of them. Hence an unexpected political career with the Greens and my long and continuing involvement in the conservation movement, spurred also by my vision for Tasmania.

In the future Tasmania that lives in my imagination education is king. It is revered and sought after, acknowledged as the ticket to a brighter future for everyone, especially the disadvantaged.

We need to change churlish attitudes regarding finishing school. Attitudes that still pass from one generation to another. Our education should encourage the confidence to open our minds to consider and discuss ideas and opinions that are strange and different, rather than ritualistically vilifying such things.

This doesn't mean that ideas should be accepted uncritically, but that open and interested exploration will replace belligerent defensiveness. People will be inquisitive and actually listen to what each other say, responding thoughtfully rather than resorting to character assassination of whoever came up with something different. That strange coupling of subservience and a sense of disgruntled entitlement must go. Tasmania should be adventurous.

Will we ever overcome our deep-seated insecurity? Our economic future lies in exploiting our difference from the rest of the world, and yet so many want Tasmania to become the same. The cargo cult mentality rules.

Yet the occasional gobsmacking exception sneaks through, like MONA, and expectations of a shocked reaction are confounded by acclaim for the audaciously different, but only because the rest of the world came to see and said it was fabulous.

The most important and pressing arena for change is in our relationship to Aboriginal Tasmania. We must not only open our minds, we must open our hearts.

European invasion and attempted genocide wrought profound havoc, with a continuing legacy. I am deeply dismayed by the callous treatment meted out by government. How can we spend a decade formulating new law supposedly to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage, that then spectacularly fails to be properly respectful and to secure their heritage under their control?

No road or other development is more important. Tasmania needs a healing change in attitude. We must understand and act as though the economy is a tool for social ends and not a dictator to ride roughshod over the most precious things we have in Tasmania.

Peg Putt is a former state politician and leader of the Tasmanian Greens. She is chief executive of the environmental lobby group Markets for Change.

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