It's time to get back to basics

MY VISION for Tasmania is for a place that provides the opportunity to have a job, be well educated, be healthy and prosper, and a place that attracts back many of our young, who have left for greener pastures.

I was fortunate enough to come to Tasmania on a working holiday in 1975, and lucky enough, because of my previous education, to be able to take advantage of the many wonderful things that Tasmania had, and still has, to offer. Tasmania is a great place to live, work and play, if you have skills, a secure job and income.

But I dismay at the current position of our state; by far the worst unemployment in the country, lowest participation rate, poor literacy and numeracy, low business confidence, lack of private sector investment and poor health statistics.

So where to start?

First and foremost it's about the economy, the economy, the economy!

If we have a weak economy and declining jobs, we cannot afford all the things we need and want.

We must recognise that the Tasmanian economy is driven by the private sector and indeed by the major industries that export to the world and create genuine wealth for our state. These businesses should be nurtured and encourage to re-invest. We should concentrate on developing mining and mineral processing, agriculture and high quality food, tourism, advanced manufacturing and education.

I despair at what has happened to the forestry sector in recent years!

Many companies closed or contracted, with the loss of thousands of jobs.

Forestry must again be a core part of our economic future and all levels of government need to provide the certainty of policy to encourage the private sector to invest and create jobs.

Tasmania needs to show that it is open for business and investment, with consistent policy and regulations to help overcome issues of risk.

Secondly, education must be a long-term priority. If we still have the poorest literacy and numeracy in the country, something has gone seriously wrong.

Call me old fashioned, but how can we train people for the jobs of the future if they have numeracy and literacy problems? We need to get back to basics.

Children must be taught to read, write and understand basic arithmetic in both primary school and in the home.

Only then will they have a solid foundation on which to build a future.

Thirdly, health. The developed world is facing a growing health crisis and Tasmania is no different.

My particular concerns relate to the increasing demands on our health system of "lifestyle diseases," including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, smoking related conditions and drug abuse. I would like Tasmanians to be much healthier and living longer, by taking more responsibility for their own health. As one commentator recently put it: "we need to stop people eating, drinking and smoking their way into hospital!"

Finally, government. I believe that we need a strong, majority state government that establishes priorities, has a clear direction and provides certainty in decision making. Equally, we need a responsive, but leaner public service.

It appears that in the short term, we need an economic stimulus.

Why not a structured program and commitment to investing in state infrastructure? This could include, finishing the NBN rollout, an expansion of natural gas network in major population areas, more irrigation schemes, fixing the Brooker Highway and making the Midland Highway a dual carriage way.

This will take significant capital, but it could provide the economic stimulus the state needs over the next five years!

Tasmania has been a wonderful place to work, live and raise a family and I am forever grateful for the opportunities that the state has given me.

My hope is that through jobs, investment and education this opportunity will be available to all.

TOM BLACK is the chairman of the Regional Development Australia Tasmania committee and a former Northern manager of DEDTA.

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