Visions need to be supported

LET'S get real!

Let's forget fluffy vision statements, long-winded meaningless economic development plans and soaring political rhetoric about how well we are doing.

We have to face facts, as uncomfortable as they might be.

Tasmania is in recession and urgently needs a change of direction.

We have the oldest, poorest and sickest population of any state, the highest unemployment, lowest workforce participation, lowest level of earnings and highest welfare dependency. And, according to leading economist Saul Eslake, state final demand (spending by households, business and the public sector) has suffered its most sustained fall in more than 20 years - while it's been rising across the rest of the country.

The number of new housing starts fell almost 25 per cent in the year to June and house values are in decline.

Consumer confidence is at its lowest level in 20 years.

In the June quarter, more than 50,000 Tasmanians were either unemployed or looking for more work. Many have given up trying to find work here and are flying out or moving out to find jobs interstate.

Labor has achieved plenty over 14 years in power and has much to be proud of, but a sure symptom of its tiredness was its failure to foresee and prevent the loss of Tasmania's international shipping service. This should have been the number one priority for a government in charge of a highly dependent export economy.

Instead, it was left to business to convene a crisis meeting, while the government mused over how ports could be converted into trendy cafe precincts.

If we are to pull ourselves out of this economic quagmire, business may have to do it on its own. It might be that business, rather than government, must inspire a new vision for Tasmania, a new mood of confidence.

A vision inspired by business is likely to be more pragmatic and employment focused than one inspired by this government - and right now we need a vision that places jobs front and centre, ahead, in most circumstances, of all other considerations.

A business inspired vision is also more likely to change external perceptions of Tasmania. We need to change the prevailing view interstate that Tasmania always has its hand out, can't pull its weight economically, is prepared on a political whim to close down an industry, and is a dangerous place for business investment.

Assurances by a Green-Labor government that Tasmania is business friendly will not carry as much weight as assurances by businesses that have invested here.

However, a vision is useless unless it is supported by values that are genuinely embraced by the community.

At Forestry Tasmania, we spent considerable energy developing values all staff could identify with. These were a down to earth set of values that all workers irrespective of seniority could understand and apply to every day decision making.

1.We care for people and our environment.

2.We get things done.

3.We think before we act.

4.We do what we say we will do

5.We are proud of who we are and what we do.

I wonder if the state could similarly adopt a simple set of easy to remember values that we could all embrace, and if so whether these values might help us overcome our differences and have us all working together.

Jim Bacon tried to do it through Tasmania Together - unfortunately the resulting document was cumbersome, difficult to absorb and therefore largely ignored by the community.

Let's get real. Let's keep it simple. Tasmania has four main wealth generating industries - mining and mineral processing, agriculture (and aquaculture), forestry and tourism.

These four are the foundations of the economy. They might not always be trendy, but they all play to Tasmania's competitive strengths. By all means, governments should encourage new and emerging industries to generate economic and employment growth, but these new sectors should be seen as additional rather than a replacement for the traditional industries.

We cannot afford to close down industries because they are not fashionable or politically palatable, or worse still, spend taxpayers' money to close businesses and make workers redundant. We need to cling to every job like it was our last.

In a few short weeks, I will become one of those to leave the state, but unlike many others I am not leaving because there is no work for me here. I am grateful for the job offers received since leaving FT but perhaps, like the government, I need time out - a chance to re-group, reflect on the past and think about the future. Tasmania has been very kind to me and I hope to continue to be involved in the state, even if for the time being, it is from afar.

- Ken Jeffreys was a former senior adviser to the late Premier Jim Bacon and former corporate affairs manager for Forestry Tasmania.


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